The closeness and understanding that Dad and I shared began with our love of the beach and the waters of Lake Michigan and became deeper as we both became enchanted by Buttermilk Falls. Each spring, he would clear the debris from around the Falls. One year, when there was little flow over the top waterfall, he ran hoses from the stream above down in to the pond. Every fall, he looked for branches that might fall and damage trees and trimmed them. He moved rock around to better support the sharp slope of the land and prevent erosion. He would caution me to be careful as I climbed up the steep sides of the little canyon around the Falls, but at the same time he admired my agility and fearlessness.
As I grew older and more defiant against my mother’s invasiveness, he did not actually side with her, but he did withdraw, leaving things to be as they would between her and me. I wish he had stepped in and tried to mediate, but that was not the way of the times, and it certainly was not the way of whatever child-rearing contract they had between them. He was always the one to come find me after I stormed from the house; there was never any punishment from him, but there wasn’t any encouragement, either. I began to learn the sound of my father’s silence.
During the time I was discovering my meditation practice and reading metaphysical writers, I had the second profound experience with a family member passing away. A year after I dreamed of the gold chain that my Grandpa had given me breaking, and the coin it held crashing to the floor just as he was falling from cardiac arrest in his garden, I felt his presence quite strongly as I was meditating in my room. He was there for a long time. I felt peaceful and attentive. The hues of the colors in my room changed, as did the temperature. I knew that I had nothing to fear, I just needed to be aware. He had a message for me, one that I was to share with Dad: Nana was going to pass away very soon; Dad needed to go to see her and be with her.
Grandpa’s energy let me know that death was nothing to fear, and that he was very safe and very happy. He told me how much Nana had been suffering pain from the Paget’s Disease and the constant headaches it caused her. She was sad that he was not with her, and she was ready to be finished with this lifetime. His words were full of the same loving energy for life and the continuation of the inner spirit that the Grandmothers had shared with me many years before. It was this information that I wanted to share with my father.
The next morning, I found the words to give Dad this very important message. It was not easy for him to be away from work and travel from Illinois back to Connecticut, but he took me at my word and made the trip. He was able to be with her for a day or two before she died. We never spoke of it, except for the “thank you” he whispered to me as he hugged me when Mom and I arrived for Nana’s funeral.
One could wonder if the symptoms of Dad’s Paget’s Disease, which appeared soon after she died, were brought on by the grief of losing his mother. And, that could be a very realistic scenario. For the purpose of this writing, that would enhance the subject of the lesson I received from him about the mind-body connection. It is well-known that psycho-somatic disease is emotionally based and it also has real, and painful, symptoms. Regardless of the cause, I still learned the connection between how we are in our bodies and how we are in our minds has everything to do with how we heal. When Dad was in his late-eighties, he was having some health issues, and I asked him to check with his doctor to see if what he was experiencing was the Paget’s Disease coming back. He kind of chuckled at his amazement that he had forgotten completely about ever having had the disease. His blood test revealed that there was no trace whatsoever of the disease in his system.
In April of 1992, my mother was in the hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina, making her last efforts against MS, and Dad asked me if there was something I could do for her. It was such a complete acknowledgment of who I am and what I am able to know that I knew that he and I were still always and forever bonded on a spiritual level; time, distance and age had not changed the connection and the understanding.
Dad showed his determination once again as he approached his ninetieth birthday. As many of the family as could do so, gathered in Ithaca to celebrate his birthday in July. Kyle and I were very happy to have this last bit of time with him. His health had been declining rapidly, and I could tell that it was the landmark date that kept him going. He was proud to have reached the age of 90, and it made him happy to have as much of his family as possible there with him to celebrate it. In spite of a few close calls in the months leading up to his birthday, he was not going to leave his body until he had his Day.
When he passed away a month later, the call came from Ithaca early in the morning. I was living in the Sierra Mountains near Yosemite at the time, and that night, after I had done ceremony for him in the mountain air, I was overwhelmed by the presence of his energy. I sat in my favorite reading chair and talked with his spirit for over an hour. We talked of all the times, good and bad. He was heartbroken and apologetic that he had not protected me better when I was a child. I forgave him in order to sooth his spirit, and at the same time, I told him that he needed no forgiveness; that I was forged in the fires of my childhood and became strong because of it. I had long ago worked through, and let go of, all the drama and the tragedy and was left with the lessons and the knowledge.
Dad and I shared our love for forests, solitude and growing things. We also shared our love for Scotland. When he was still living in Virginia, he recorded Celtic and Gaelic music and sent it to me in California, along with the copies of Scottish magazines to which he had subscribed. I was fifty-five before I made it to Scotland for the first time, and I wanted Dad to join Kyle and me on the trip but he was then 85 and his health issues would not allow it. Before Kyle and I left, I sent him a marked map and full itinerary, and made a video for him while we were there. I did the same thing on my next trip to Scotland a year later. On my third trip in 2013, I was honored to take some of Dad’s ashes and place them in the ground of the Highlands.
My part of the whole lays next to where the second man-made loch will be installed in an open, heather-covered meadow that is higher up than the small pines that were planted years ago as a source of timber, but not as high as the highest part of the entire Estates. A grove of young trees that were planted a year or so ago begins just a few yards away and continues out in to the meadow. The surrounding hills of the Highlands give the meadow a sense of containment and protection.
I cannot think of a better place anywhere on Earth for me to place my father’s ashes.
My father had a quick and highly intelligent mind, a geodesic mind to use the metaphor of one of his favorite things: Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes. He had the soft, playful spirit of an elf, and the heart and soul of a Druid. He was never happier than when he was out in the forest; never more at ease than when he was far out in the open countryside and under the open sky; never more at peace than when he had solitude.
So it was very fitting to plant rowan trees, long honored by the Celts for balance of beauty and hardiness, into a field of heather, a symbol of clearing, cleansing and manifesting purity. I planted the first one, placing my prayers of “thank-you” in the small hole along with his ashes and the sapling rowan. Kyle planted the next one and Liisa planted the third. They stand now as a triad to honor his Heart, Mind and Spirit.
Excerpt from: “Rowan & Heather”- “Scottish Heart” (blog) © by Kate Cowie Riley