My father recently died. It was and is one of the deepest, most meaningful experiences of my life, not only because I am his son, but because I've trained as an emergency physician, and I see death and near-death more than most.
He made a decision to stop taking medicine, and for the first time in years, I saw light in his eyes and felt the peace of his being. I knew the deepest part of him would not turn back, though another part of him may fight himself. Seven days after he made the decision, he passed. He went where his deep desire took him.
One of the most beautiful parts of his transition was our decision to keep him home. He said, "No medicine. No hospital." It became our mantra, and opened the door to one of the deepest, most beautiful, most meaningful weeks of my life.
I see families struggling all the time with loved ones who are dying, who are going to the next place. But these families never had the conversation - or they had the conversation, but never really assimilated it. It never became part of their soul. It never became part of their sight. It never became part of how they move in this world, and ultimately may leave this world. And so, when faced with actual death, when the door actually opens and a person has one foot out the door, uncertainty and fear kick in. We felt it too, in our family, even with the decades of spirituality and emergency medicine under our belts. You see, the living, breathing reality doesn't care much for what we know. It works through what we are.
At his funeral service, I spoke about death and birth and life - each one a reflection of the other. To see and breathe alongside death is to live, and to fully live is also to die again and again.
As an emergency physician, I say - Have the conversation. Don't wait for the longest 60 seconds of your life with alarms blaring and an ER doc asking you what you want to do.
As my father's son, I say - You can never really know what someone may do as they approach the exit. The scenery changes, and so can the person. Give them a chance to show you who they are.
The evening after he said "No medicine. No hospital," my father was unusually calm. He asked me to sing. He had always been my biggest fan, beaming as I rained swaras from my tongue. I sang some of his favorites that night, including Bruhi Mukunthaithi and Gangadeeshwaram. That would become the last time he asked.
The morning after he stopped meds, he was deep and peaceful. Light reflected from his eyes for the first time in... years? Decades? Honestly, I had forgotten what my father was like. The meds had become lord of his body, dictating how and when he would move. He had been caught in a traffic jam for years, directed this way and that. And now it's as if realized that he was the officer. He had a choice. He was taking the exit and going home.
In the last couple days, old friends I hadn't seen in decades came. So much love. So much respect. So much gratitude. We were a family deeply entangled in spirituality and philosophy, and it showed. Many who came were reconciling their own birth and death.
The day before he passed, my son sat by his side and read him "The Little Soul & the Sun," which spoke of how we arrange to enter and exit a lifetime from another place. Somehow it seemed so appropriate, this exchange between grandson and grandfather, like it was always going to happen. Dad soared buoyantly, if transiently, within himself.
I let him know. "It's okay, dad. I'll take care of them. It's okay."
Those heaving lungs! Should we take him to the hospital? Would he want to go now? Would he change his mind? Which version of him existed now? Which was the more wrong choice?
The night before he passed, family came to visit. We sang late into the night, and into the new day.
My mother slept little that night. She was up at 4 AM. His breathing had changed. I had seen it before, in the ER, often with family gathered around the patient. There were no more stages to progress through. The majority of his body had surrendered the fight, yet his mind remained attached with a luminous, fine thread, liable to snap at any moment with the slightest shift in destiny. What was left?
It was still dark. My mother chanted the Gita, as she has done countless times before. Chapter 2. Verse by verse. Then, it came. Verse 20.
"Na jayate mriyateva."
"I am not born. Neither do I die."
No sooner had she chanted these words than the thread snapped. His body stopped. Dawn took him.
He was free. It was the seventh day.
Draped over his body, my mother continued to chant in a voice I hadn't heard before, broken by eruptions of anguished catharsis. Something in me broke open too as I held her. The meaning of being a son had changed.
My mother and I often talk about how everything happened so beautifully, even the difficult parts. If something like that had to happen, we felt at peace it happened that way.
There's so much meaning in how we come and how we go.