There’s no arguing with death
“It’s getting to be pretty tiresome; spending a good portion of today hoping that tomorrow is better.” – RL (Kevin’s Dad), October 7, 2023
As I write this, I can’t really focus. Thoughts are wispy and fragmented. They evaporate on their own before I really even know what they are. Any words I try to pull from them seem arbitrary and weightless. My body feels dense, dull, and heavy with sadness. It’s not entirely unpleasant, though. There’s some relief in the surrender; acceptance. There’s a freedom from resisting, from trying to control or change what’s happening. My dad is dying. And there is no arguing with death.
The four-plus years since his diagnosis have been a rollercoaster; terrifying steep declines giving way to sudden plateaus where we all pause and catch our breath. Each time he’s hospitalized there’s a sense that it might be the last, or he’ll go straight to hospice and a medically assisted death. The trend has been that when he is in the hospital, the darkness at the end of the tunnel (as he puts it) gets bigger and closer. His mind turns towards choosing a date for the final procedure. But then relief – a plateau! He feels better, returns home, plans are paused. Another reprieve. And the cycle repeats.
It’s been a lot. For him, of course, but also for everyone. And never in my life have I appreciated the benefits of my meditation practice – for me, my dad, and everyone around me – more than now.
When friends ask how I am doing I notice the impulse to give a generic ‘Fine, you?’. I recognize the subtle fear and self-consciousness (if I tell them about my dad, will I make them uncomfortable? Will I come off as needy, feel ashamed, rejected, isolated? Etc.) Thankfully, just noticing and accepting that contraction of ego is usually enough for it to relax on its own. What’s left is an openness; an invitation to meet their kindness and generosity with honesty and gratitude. I tell them what’s going on with my dad and how I’m really feeling. Surprisingly, I also find myself saying that I’m doing okay. Like, really deeply okay! Yes, there’s fear, sadness, and uncertainty, but there’s also a sweetness infusing it all. It’s subtle but undeniable. I doubt I would have been able to notice or appreciate it before having a practice. Is it the relief of acceptance? The love inside the grief? Whatever it is, it feels like a lifesaver – an internal flotation device helping me to ride the waves with equanimity instead of drowning in them, seized with panic.
In acceptance there’s an openness that welcomes everything – a space that isn’t either/or but both/and. Sadness and sweetness. Grief and gratitude. Gratitude for his life, and for the time I have to complete our relationship with intention. Part of this process has involved contemplation, wondering if there are any specific conversations I need to have with him, things I need to say – or hear – before he dies. But when I sort through the familiar grievances that I’ve been carrying around for decades, and imagine bringing them to him now, I realize how pointless that would be. Those aren’t his to resolve. They never were. They’re mine. I’ve been holding my own freedom for ransom all this time, waiting for him to essentially be a different person – a different father. And in that realization, the weight of those grievances lifts, and there is a lightness and relief in the acceptance of who he is, and a letting go of who he isn’t. So, instead of old complaints, what emerges is the opportunity to get to know my dad better while I can. To invite him to talk about his life, tell stories, ask him questions, acknowledge him, and see him for how he wants to be seen.
There’s a quote I like (mostly attributed to Lily Tomlin, although the internet seems divided on that), “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.” I think a variation on that might well be: Acceptance is giving up on the present moment being any different than it is.
My practice has helped me cultivate acceptance. When I give up on the present moment being any different than it is, there is equanimity. I am free to engage fully with what is because I’m not stuck in what I think should be. I’m free to respond with grace, empathy, compassion, spontaneity, and love. And when I fail, acceptance forgives me and invites me to try again.
I’m fortunate to have this time to accept my dad’s death while he’s still alive, to reconcile, connect, say what needs to be said, and let go of what doesn’t. But it strikes me, that’s what we’re all doing already – with each other and ourselves. Forgive the truism, but we’re all dying, all the time. In the conventional sense, and also, as we may come to know through our practice, from moment to moment – in each thought, each feeling, each sight, each sound, each sensation. Relentless transience. And in each moment there is the opportunity – if we can recognize it – to let go of the present moment being any different than it is.
*Kevin is a CEC teacher and a certified Unified Mindfulness Teacher/Trainer. Working with groups and individuals, he welcomes the opportunity to support meditators at any and all levels of experience. His priority is always to meet people wherever they are and support them in their practice, working with them to integrate mindfulness, and then insights and benefits of their practice, into their lives ‘off-the-cushion’. In addition to mindfulness training, teaching, and coaching, Kevin is a professional musician, motion graphics designer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and an illustrator and animation background designer/digital painter.