My father, Nick, was a successful international businessman and a vice president at Colgate-Palmolive before his retirement some 30 years ago. He's been living on the Outer Banks of North Carolina since then. He has recently had a series of health setbacks, culminating in a stroke that has left him weak but still mentally competent, for the most part.
I made a visit to see him this weekend, because none of us are sure how long he will continue to hold his own against age, and things are objectively quite dicey at this point.
I don't feel any particular fear for him, or the end of life, because I know that all of these things are well managed in the hands of forces much higher than we are. Despite the gravity of the situation, I feel a sense of peace and rightness; consequently, it's possible to include all of the current conditions in life without any anxiety or anguish. My father and I have a great relationship (it wasn't always that way, when I was young and impetuous) and I love him deeply; I know he feels the same way about me.
Despite the fact that he is exhausted, unable to communicate much, and living with one foot in worlds not quite connected with this one, spending time with him was a wonderful experience. It was enough to just sit there in the room within the presence of my father, within the presence of the sense of life itself, and take the situation in the context of the unconditional love that filled the room. My wife and my mother were there; we all simply sat with dad, while he faded in and out of consciousness and delivered a series of very humorous, somewhat whacko non sequiturs involving the fairly colorful hallucinations he seems to be experiencing these days. He has a sense of wry self-awareness about the situation; and there were some truly hysterically funny moments as he blurted out impossible visions and situations, which we all took in stride. Periodically, he reached out and held my mom's hand, and one was reminded of how extraordinarily gentle he really is, inside the hardened exterior he cultivated during his business career.
It was possible to see how thoroughly he is pared down to his essence. The essential love he has always expressed, the generosity and big-hearted attitude that he takes towards people and life, was there in spades, while the combative, argumentative, right-wing-conservative executive I grew up with seemed to have checked out of the room for other parts.
It's interesting to see how events at the end of life can peel away all the layers of personality on us, under such circumstances, and leave us with the person themselves: no-frills, none of the nonsense that life adds to who we are, but just us, as ourselves. The experience was reminiscent of what Swedenborg says happens to us when we reach the afterlife; but it begins now, before we leave.
It was possible, sitting in the room with my father, to truly savor that experience, and to discover a newness of purpose in the relationship; that purpose being nothing more or less than just being together. The communication was taking place on levels other than what we said; it was organic, even cellular. An energy filled the room; despite the mundane, everyday conditions, the situation seemed to be sacred.
The experience reminded me all over again of how essential love is to our inner and outer life. Putting that, the question of presence and love, a relationship to an inner energy, at the forefront of this exchange between my father and myself gave me the opportunity to have a real relationship within this moment.
I can't ask for more than that; in fact, it is more than I ever expected in life to be able to understand such things.
Moments like this are the ones where we discover what inner work is really worth; and nothing is more precious.