My dad is nearing the end of his life. Last week he had a chest infection and the doctor told my mum to let us know that this could be the end. It wasn’t and he has rallied, but I went to see him today and he is not well.
He has been getting gradually more frail over the last three years and he’s been in bed for the last 18 months. It seems to me that what is happening to him is the mirror image of the start in life that he and my mum gave to me. There’s something very mysterious about a newborn baby, so much of her character and personality are yet to be discovered. As you nurture your child there is an unfolding and a revealing of who they are; you watch in delight as they become, as they explore the world, as they need you less, as they grow away. The future is heavy with potential and possibilities; everything is ahead and there is so much to look forward to.
And on this journey to death there is a drawing in, a needing more, a silencing of a once-strong voice, a diluting of a dominant personality. There is a sadness at what is being lost and a deep gratitude for all that has been. Everything is behind us. Without knowing it at the time, we have had our best conversations; we have survived our worst misunderstandings; we have shared our deepest belly laughs; I have had my last hug. My dad believes in a life after this one, but even so we are heading back into mystery and unknowing, into a place beyond language.
My sister prays for him to get out of his bed and walk again. I pray for a good end that won’t be prolonged. I think both of us in our own ways find this liminal space too uncomfortable and we want it to be over. If we will accept it, there is an invitation here to faithfulness and patience, to presence and reciprocity. I watch my mum with awe, who has bound her life to his for over 50 years. She has the tenacity and tenderness to walk this final stage with him with dignity and respect, and always with love.