The cottage I rented when I moved to the Sierra Nevada Foothills to work at the mountain spa was a sweet little place with trees all around and a stream running somewhere in the woods off down the hill. The floors were all tile and I learned to keep the heat of the woodstove just right and let the radiant heat do the rest. Out every window there was a view that soothed my soul. Deer wandered in and out of sight and rabbits came to the pots of plants I had on the patio just outside the French doors off the bedroom, which I soon referred to as “The Rabbit Restaurant”. I had a big reading chair facing the woodstove, and another one in my bedroom that faced to look out the French doors. I would sit there in the early morning and feel the warmth of the rising sun as the light of it flooded the room through the manzanita tree across the yard. The grasses and trees would steam off the cold vapors from the night air, lending even more magic to the solitude and quiet. There was an ancient oak that nearly covered the entire cottage in its shade. In it lived a pair of Red Shouldered Hawks that would call to each other as they hunted throughout the days. They were my companions and even when I couldn’t see them I felt them nearby.
The previous few years had been filled with so many 10-14-hour days that I had slipped away from any sort of regular spiritual practice. When I moved up to the mountains, I had tried to reconnect as best I could. I had been making a point of stopping somewhere along the road up to the summit on the way to work to just take a couple minutes to stand at the edge of the forest. The air was thick with the fragrances of the mixed confers: incense cedar, ponderosa and sugar pine, Douglas and white fir. Some days, when the breezes were just right, the scent of the incense cedar would waft through the air like sandalwood in a meditation room. It was my time to anchor myself and face the hectic hours ahead of me.
My other touchstone was my father. In 2007, just before I moved back to Napa, I spent a week in Ithaca watching over my niece and nephew while my brother and his wife tried to repair their marriage while kayaking in Mexico. I made good use of my time there by making certain to spend as much of it with Dad as I could. While the kids were in school, he and I had plenty of time to talk and our conversations followed paths that we had not walked together since I was a child. I had been calling him every week for years. By 2010, as his health declined and his loneliness increased, I called at least twice a week. He wanted to know everything about the forests and the mountains around me. He was proud of the position I had at work and what I was trying to accomplish, but it was my long walks in the woods and scrambling along mountain creek beds, my forays into Yosemite, and the deer outside my door that he was most interested in. The closer he came to the end of his life, the more open and conversant he was about things spiritual. At least with me; but then, I invited it. When I had been with him in the hospital when my mother was nearing her death, he had recognized the energy I put forth on her behalf.
He shared with me the experiences that he was having of seeing Mom, of seeing his old Army buddies, his family, of not being able to tell whether they were truly in the room with him or not. I encouraged him to listen to what they were saying to him. They were bringing messages to help him, they were supporting him. He shared things with me that substantiated so much of what I had experienced in my two near death experiences. I shared with him that those experiences, the one with his dad when his mom had died, the one with Mom when she died, had all shown me that there is an easing into passing that is helped by those who love us. He said that he knew that I knew that; it was why he could talk to me about what was happening around him and not anyone else. I had never before felt so completed validated by him.
He never used the word “death” although he knew that it was coming. He had several cardiac episodes from which he was saved only by the presence of my brother. Dad’s love for him was so strong that his arrival at the emergency room would bring Dad back into his body. The nearer he got to his own end, the more Dad talked of “being moved somewhere”. In his way of always being organized, he began to sort through his belongings and packed boxes of mementos for each of his children. He talked to me of how “they” kept coming to check on him and how “they” were going to be moving him soon, but he wasn’t sure where it would be.
He was determined to make it to his 90th birthday and he did so. We all gathered for the week in July; dodging each other and our differences as best we could so that he could have a party with his children and others who knew and respected him. I was happy that Kyle was able to be there to spend some time with his Grand’pa. Unfortunately, Dad had an eye infection at the time, and so he wasn’t able to really see anyone or what was going on around him. I took as many photos as I could. During one of our phone conversations a few weeks later he said that his eye was fine and he was ready to see the pictures. I printed them out in large format for him and when he received them in the mail, we talked on the phone for a long time and went over each one of them. He got to relive his party and the week, and even see parts of it that took place when he wasn’t there.
A week later, at the end of August, my brother called early in the morning to say that Dad had passed away at 4:00 AM. My brother was upset that he hadn’t been able to make it to him in time to be with him. I was relieved that he hadn’t. Without him there to pull Dad back, Dad was able to make his transition. He was ready. I thought it was great that he made his transition at the hour of the classical hour of Brahmamuhurtha, the hour of change between night and day and the most auspicious hour for spiritual practice.
After I did my morning meditation and prayers, I walked out in to the dawn and stood beneath the oak tree. There was rustling above my head in the branches; I looked up to see the pair of Hawks looking down at me. We held eye contact for a while and then they flew together toward the sunrise. I didn’t feel Dad, yet, and so I went about my day but came home early from work. At sunset, I stood looking out over the forest as it sloped down the hill to the stream and remembered all the hills, forests and streams I had been able to share with my dad. As Scottish bagpipes blared from the stereo and the words to “When the Pipers Play” rang in my ears, I held a glass of Single Malt Whisky aloft in salute. It was my private eulogy and funeral for him. It was just after dark when I felt him behind me as I walked down the hall between the bedroom and the living room. I went and sat in the reading chair in my bedroom, and there in the soft light of the candle I had lit for him on my altar, we talked. For that, I am and will be forever grateful.