Today it’s been one year since I held my Daddy’s hand and watched him take his last breath. It was in his pale yellow bedroom overlooking the city he grew up in, in the hills of San Diego. And in all that time I haven’t written about the tender mercies I experienced that morning, or what I did with the rest of that sacred day. Well, now it’s time.
We had been there for nearly a week. Daddy had slipped into a coma and we knew his time was fading. In all that time we hadn’t seen a single hummingbird. Feeders surrounded his balcony because he liked to watch them from his bed. As I tended to my mother and spoke to him (because the nurses told us he could still hear us) I watched for those lively, happy hummingbirds.
But none came.
Not until the moment that his body grew cold and his hands held stiff. I held my mother. I let the tears stream down my face. We made sure he really was gone and nodded to each other that he was in a better place now. And then I saw it. Flying like a graceful dancer with beauty and life, zipping here and there outside the window, a hummingbird. Where we had seen none for days, there were now many.
Throughout the rest of the day, I continued to see them outside through the windows, on the balcony and at the park. I was so grateful, grateful for these little reminders that my Father was happy. He was soaring. His spirit still had life. He was no longer here, but alive somewhere else in the skies, in the heavens. That is what those little birds meant to me on that day. They were a comfort when my heart was cold. They warmed me, as little flying creatures continue to do so, as they seem to find me each time I start to feel weary. Sometimes they are dragonflies hovering around me children on a hike. Or a butterfly that follows me and tries to land on my arm.
I am so thankful for that continuing gift.
That morning I let the children say goodbye if they wanted to have one last moment with him here on earth. My oldest two did, and then it was time for us to leave while the body was taken away. I wasn’t sure at first what to do in a foreign town, in the heavy mood I was in. I decided what we all needed was some fresh San Diego air and a sentimental distraction. So we headed to the local park, one that was next door to a school my Dad attended in his youth. The same park he had played in as a child.
I was barely able to find a parking spot, it was so crowded! But I pulled in just as another car was leaving. And when I got out of the car I couldn’t help but smile. The plant beside me was a Bird of Paradise. There were several of them, bright and beautiful. These were the same plants that my Dad had joked about on SEVERAL occasions- try EVERY time we walked by one. The joke went like this: “Look out!”(cheezy pointing gesture) or “Be quiet!” (then whispering) “It’s a bird of paradise!” That joke never got old, every year that we visited San Diego and every time I heard him say it, it made me smile.
What made me smile even more on that day was hearing my kids say it. Once I told them what “Little Grandpa” used to say about those plants they were sold, making that joke every chance they could as we walked by their beauty. Especially my Michael, who is a budding comedian after his own Grandpa’s “Dad-joke” style.
I found it both ironic and precious that the park we chose to visit was having a HUGE birthday party! But in moments like these remembering that life goes on is more than important, it’s healing. And that’s what I kept thinking to myself as I watched my kids play. My daughter made friends with a little girl immediately and went running off to play soccer in the field, leaving me to watch the two boys…one named after my Dad and the other with a middle name that was chosen by him.
I saw them and the sense of adventure and play they had running through their blood and I remembered how beautiful this life is. And that’s something to treasure each day, no matter how hard that day might be. Especially on hard days. Even if you just lost someone. Because they aren’t really gone. Part of them lingers…
I saw my Dad in my own little Michael, as he did all sorts of silly “tricks” on the swing and wanted me to watch each one. “Look Mom! No hands!”
I felt alive when I saw his toothy smile! He is a dreamer and adventurer like his Grandpa!
He even stuck out his tongue like Daddy used to when he was concentrating!
I loved how he continued to show off for the camera… I loved the clouds, the green, all the beauty and life I could take in…
And then I watched my Sammy. Always busy. Ever moving. Always reaching higher.
His feet are so little, but still capable in their own way. Getting up the ladders and through the hoops.
It gave me hope that little by little, step by step, I would be able to get through this too.
So many smiles and leaps and life! I had to smile as I thought about my future surrounded by little people like these.
They are excited over the littlest things and keep going. They aren’t phased by anything for too long. And for their sake, I need to be that way too. I remembered that no matter my sadness I need to keep going, and I CAN be excited. That is what my Daddy would want. My Dad is SUPER. He’s raised me to be super too. And I want to be, as a person, mother and wife because I CAN be.
Driving home from the park, just like on the way there, every song felt like it was from my Dad. The song lyrics were uplifting, hopeful and comforting. And really, those words are immense understatements. But there are no words for moments that fill your heart with the comfort you are desperately seeking. When love pierces you in a way only heavenly help can achieve you feel immensely blessed. Those car rides with sweet songs strengthened me and allowed me to tell my kids truthfully that I was crying “happy tears.”
When we got home my Daddy was gone. But then again, he wasn’t. The sky looked like it was on fire. It was amazing. And I couldn’t help but think, “He’s painting the sky for me.”
What a humbling blessing it was to have these experiences that day. I felt cradled and carried. I felt my Dad so close, so near. I am very thankful for this special day in my life. I do still remember it like it was yesterday. And I don’t mind. If it was painful, it was equally inspiring and strengthening. I know without a doubt that life goes on. The spirit continues to exist. And I know my Dad is literally smiling over me. And I am smiling too. I am so very, very lucky.