Saturday, April 04, 2009

taking a quiet moment

Yesterday, after a year-long illness spent at home under the care of my mother and an absolutely amazing team from Hospice, my father passed away. He was in his own bed, in his own room, surrounded by his wife, children, brother, and the Hospice Chaplain.

Even though we had been saying goodbye to him for most of this past year, yesterday was harder than any of us expected. His death was peaceful, he was not in pain, and he knew we were there. But he, like his father before him, really did not want to go, and he had to find his peace with that as he left us.

We reassured him that it was okay to go, that he would be met by a pack of dogs: his boyhood dog Shadow, who waited for him to come home from school every day and then amazingly knew the day he came home from the Korean War and was waiting by the train track when he crossed it, Pongo our Dalmatian, Pepper the poodle who found us and stayed, Tika the Siberian Husky, Oliver the smart-as-a-whip pound puppy, and Buddy the white German Shepherd. My brother reminded him that he would see his father and mother, and more friends and family members who preceded him in death. He seemed to ease at the thought.

Sometime I might try to write down some of the many memories I have. We sat in the room after he left us yesterday, telling stories of our memories of him, breaking down in fits and starts as we needed to, and finding comfort in the haven of our parents' home.

His entire Hospice team was there, making sure things were taken care of so that we could do what we needed to as a family, and in a wonderful moment of serendipity, when the cremation service came to get his body, his Hospice social worker saw I needed some distraction, and asked me about horses.

She let me ramble on for ten minutes and then suddenly I saw her name tag, made a connection, and realized she had married into the horse family who owned the stable where I learned to ride, bought my first horse, and years later, taught both my children to ride.

Amazingly, she knew all the school horses I had ridden, and knew my horse's dam very well. She knew the ponies my children learned to ride on. And she had married the one member of their family who facilitated, so many years ago, the most wonderful of all my riding memories - cantering around a small lake on a trail that we often rode, feeling as free as the wind, as though I had shifted into some other dimension of water and forest and horses.

As my father's body left his home, I was back on that magical ride, and hope that in some way his spirit was having the same feeling of freedom and magic in the ethers.

I was incredibly touched by the sharing of hugs and "I love you's" that passed between my mother and this team of women who have spent the past year supporting her, taking care of my father, and whose job it is to guide families through the death process.

I can't offer enough praise or enough thanks for these women. They do their job so well.

For now, I'm taking some time off from blogging, as I think I need to open up some time to process other things, to enjoy the spring weather on the backs of Keil Bay and Cody, to work on my books, and to spend some time with my mom, who has given up so much of her own freedom over the past year to make sure my dad was comfortable and safe and as happy as he could be.

When I left November Hill yesterday morning to go to my parents' house, knowing it would be a day we had all on some level been waiting for, I encountered a large snapping turtle stranded in the middle of the main road. He was muddy and I couldn't tell if he'd been hit, but there was a fair amount of traffic, including big rigs going too fast for anyone's good. I couldn't stop, but I called home and told my husband where the turtle was. When I hung up I started crying, feeling terrible for the turtle, feeling like it was some sort of sign but too complex for me to sort out in the moment.

My husband called back minutes later to assure me he had gone to rescue the turtle, who had NOT been hit, and had moved the turtle to safety in the woods on the other side of the road. In some odd way the turtle's rescue became a comfort for me all through the day and evening.

Until I get back to blogging, enjoy the spring, live well, and travel safely.


Michelle said...

{{{hugs}}} to you. It sounds like your Dad had a very peaceful and loving end to a good long life. I'm so sorry for the pain you and your family are feeling, but revel in the wonderful memories, and keep his spirit alive within you and your family.

billie said...

Thanks, Michelle, for your wise words. And your blog, which has made me smile and reminded me that there is lots of freedom and magic and woods, not to mention some handsome horse flesh, right in my own back yard!

the7msn said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, Billie. My thoughts are with you and your mom and your family. Take good care of yourself and each other. I'm sure you'll find the peace you need amongst them and your animals.

MitMoi said...

Adding my thoughts to those here.

Enjoy the spring - and all that it symbolizes about rebirth, rejuvenation, and rejoicing.

Mit said...

I am so sorry for your loss. you are always so cheerful. I had no idea you were going through this.
you are strong.
my thoughts are with you.

billie said...

Linda, thank you. The animals surely do help.

billie said...

Mit, I think he held out for spring. It makes it easier, I think, to move through this process with the green season kicking off.

billie said...

Kim, I didn't write about this much and I'm not sure why. It definitely feels like a big marker in life, and pushes at everyone involved to sort out how to respond to it.

The most fascinating part has been watching my various family members manage difficult feelings in pretty wonderful ways.

Maddy said...

Your words, beautifully written, of your dad's passing reminded me of this little poem by Kahil Gibran.
"I have passed the mountain peak
and my soul is soaring in the firmament
of complete and unbounded
I am in comfort,
I am in peace.

I am so sorry for you loss.
Take care and be well.

Greta said...

Thanks, Billie, for sharing this personal, emotional experience with us. Simply put, I'm touched.

billie said...

Maddy, that is a lovely gift - the poem from Gibran. Thank you so much for sharing it.

billie said...

Thank you, Greta. Today my husband and daughter have gone off with Cody and the pony to do some Pony Club activities, and I had some time at the barn with the remainder of the herd, and some time to "sit with" all this for the first time in the barn. Which is in a way my church. It felt good to do that.

Matthew said...

I love that image of the barn as your church, a place of respite in a time of difficulty and loss and change.

This blog is something really special to me, and I look forward to reading it again when you start back.

Dougie Donk said...

I lost my Dad 5 months ago, so feel what you are going through. My thoughts are with you.

billie said...

Thank you, Matthew.

billie said...

And Dougie's person - thank you too. I'm sorry for the loss of YOUR father.

ponymaid said...

Oh Billie, you are in our thoughts.

Nachodonkey said...

I am very sorry for your loss. Your family will be kept in my thoughts and prayers.

Grey Horse Matters said...

I'm sorry for the loss of your Dad, billie. My thoughts are with you and your family. I hope this time of grief passes quickly as you remember all the good times.

We will all be waiting your return. Love to you and all the family.

billie said...

Thank you, Sheaffer and ponymaid. I so appreciate it.

billie said...

And Nacho, I thank you too. It's nice to get so many good thoughts sent to me here. I definitely feel them.

billie said...

Thank you, Arlene.

An interesting anecdote from yesterday. Sometime over the weekend I was standing at the kitchen window wondering how my dad is doing where he is now, and I thought "if you're doing okay, send me a sign via a bird in the backyard."

I waited for a few minutes and nothing happened, and I figured he was busy or else he just didn't like the parameters of my request! And I forgot about it.

Yesterday I was sitting here working on something and I kept hearing the most beautiful bird song that sounded like it was right inside the laundry room door. At first I thought it might be coming from upstairs and somehow was echoing oddly down here.

But it kept on, and I got up to go check it out. When I got to the laundry room door, I glimpsed a tiny gray and white and black finch, so tiny I couldn't believe it was making such vibrant birdsong.

I opened the door and stepped out onto the deck, and instead of flying away, the finch hopped onto the branch inches away from my face, and looking straight at me, burst into a 15-20 second song that was absolutely stunning.

The little bird looked like he was all decked out in a tiny suit: gray pants, white shirt, black jacket. And then it hit me: he looked like my father in the dashing outfits he wore when he was young. The moment I had that thought, the bird finished the song and literally darted off, in a streak of flight that seemed to begin on the branch and then just disappear into thin air.

It really made me smile.

Dawn said...

You are in my thoughts and prayers. What a beautiful entry and what a wonderful testimony to your father. Here if you need me.

billie said...

Thank you, Dawn. I have been thinking of you and Lela this week, and also thinking of kayaking when the pollen is done falling.

Whinny said...

Dear Billie, I'm so sorry to hear of your loss. It's tough. I know. I lost my mom on the 14th. It was sudden, and unexpected. She passed away in no pain. I now am without a mom and dad in life. It's a transition to be sure. To those with moms and dads still out up on them all you can and always, always tell them everything you would want them to know, because when they are gone, it would be a shame to regret something left unsaid. I have no regrets, but do miss them both terribly.

billie said...

Whinny, I'm so sorry about your mom. I know the unexpected death is harder to bear.

Thank you for your kind thoughts. I so appreciate them.

The Zoo Keeper said...


billie said...

Thank you, L. I appreciate that!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Oh Billie, dear blog friend, I'm so sorry. I've been away for so long and somehow I missed this monumental moment in your life. Please forgive me.
I am so deeply dorry for the loss of your Father.
I hope the time you've spent away from the computer has been very beneficial for you and a true blessing.
And I hope that your animals, family and friends offered you some beautiful solace and peace.

Your husband sounds like the most wonderful man.

HUGS to you Billie,

Victoria Cummings said...

Billie - My heart goes out to you and your mother and your family. How wonderful that you were all able to be there at home with your father and that he knew how much he was loved. He will always be walking beside you.

billie said...

Lisa, you have had your own things to deal with!! No need for apologies - and thank you for your kind words.

billie said...

Thank you, Victoria - I think you're right about the walking beside.

AnnL said...

Billie -- So sorry to be so late to this. I want to offer my condolences on the loss of your father. It's never easy to lose a parent, but he will always be with you. I shared my father's love of nature and birds and whenever I see a special bird (like the return of the herons last week), I feel his presence with me.


billie said...

Thanks Ann, I hope you're well - I have missed your blog posts!!