On this night, at the spring equinox last year, my dad died.
I had come back from a psychosomatic psychotherapy conference in Magdeburg, Germany, to the Groot Begijnhof, where I was staying in Leuven, Belgium, to learn that my dad was going downhill rapidly and that I should fly directly to California instead of going first to Ohio. Jettisoning my scheduled flight and making a rather unconventional booking on a different airline, I travelled for 24 hours: Brussels – Newark – San Francisco – BART – Pleasanton – Lodi – San Andreas, finally arriving in Murray Creek late on Sunday night. My dad was weak but had waited for me before really beginning to let go. As I have written elsewhere, my mom and all 6 of his kids gathered there to wait for him to complete his passage, through the next day, and then the long vigil on Tuesday night, until he reached his final breath in the early hours of the 21st of March, and breathed no more. It was an intense, painful process, like a birth. (see: www.murraycreek.net/elliott/robert/robert_kingwill_elliott.htm and
The days that followed his death were intense and difficult also, as we planned his memorial service and helped clean out his things and organize the place for what turned out to be an entire year of transition. Too alcohol was consumed, especially chocolate liqueur, and some unkind things were said. But it felt wonderful to take the time out from my work to just do what needed to be done.
And so our journey through a rocky time of turning began, in and out of sadness, finding joy where we came to it: graduations, weddings, conferences; retirement, partings, moves; new beginnings, greetings, initiations. We have each of us travelled far in the past year, since the last spring equinox, going in an out of light and darkness. Our mom has been on a kind of hegira, between the houses of her different children. Therese, a friend of my parents, moved into the lower house, where my parents had been living. Anna’s husband Jim has been enormously helpful in organizing the reconstruction of the upper house at Murray Creek (part of which had been pulled off its foundations when a huge, ancient oak came down in a freak snowstorm 3 weeks before my dad’s death).
In the meantime, my mom took on my dad’s mantle as a shaman and has been in daily conversation with him, as she searched for what was next for her. As I have recounted, my mom’s pilgrimage finally took her here to Scotland and her mission to Scottish Borders. I’m not sure, but that adventure seems to have brought something to completion in our process of mourning. Now she is back in Murray Creek, marking the end of winter and a year’s journey and mourning for us. We have gone through a year of days, marking each one as a day without his physically present, or at least always available at the other end of a telephone call. There have been many tears, even yesterday, as I approached this night. I think it has been a good process, in the end.
In the Jewish tradition, it is customary to say Kaddish for a period of time after the death of a loved one, and at the anniversary of that person’s death. Tonight, I say Kaddish for my dad:
…May there be much peace from Heaven,
and good life
and satisfaction, and salvation, and comfort, and saving
and healing and redemption and forgiveness and atonement
and relief and deliverance
for us and for all His people Israel; and say, Amen
He who makes peace in His heights
may He in his mercy make peace upon us
and upon all his nation Israel; and say, Amen.
(version from the Wikipedia entry “Kaddish”)