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Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
 Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
 doesn't make any sense.

From Essential Rumi

For me, as I suspect is true for many writers, I need to write about powerful experiences before I can fully comprehend them.  This Christmas my son and his family from Chicago rented a house In La Jolla and we travelled down from Oregon to spend Christmas together.  My daughter lives in San Diego. The day before we arrived, their father, my ex-husband of almost 30 years, was admitted to the hospital.  He has been suffering from Alzheimer's Disease for several years. 

December 20,  2014 – I am in the hospital in La Jolla with my two kids and their dad who is near death.  He has pneumonia and a urinary tract infection. He can’t eat or drink anything without aspirating it. And he can't cough. So he is receiving no nourishment.  He looks as if he weighs about 80 pounds. His directive indicates he does not want a feeding tube, so I suspect he will die while we are here or shortly after we leave. 

When I stood over John's bed, he was awake and his face broke out in a big smile when he saw me. He was having a lucid day and he knew exactly who I was. It was clear he wanted to say something to me, but his voice was barely more than a whisper. I put my face very close to his and he said, "I'm sorry." It was heartbreaking, but beautiful and sincere. I told him I was sorry, too. I told him it was okay. 

After the divorce, we made a big effort to stay friendly, to share holidays so the children didn't have to choose between their parents. I'm not saying there weren't rough times, there were, but something fundamentally strong and good remained between us. 

December 25, 2014

This turn of events certainly changed the face of Christmas.  But not in the way one would expect.  In many ways, it was the best Christmas ever. John gave us the kind of gifts that matter. The ones you don't have to unwrap or open. He gave us moments of lucidity, laughter, forgiveness, reunion, memories, and his profound courage as he fought to hang on a little longer. Our family was reunited in this final act of love.  

It will be with heavy hearts that David and I leave La Jolla tomorrow, but we are comforted by Hospice and the enormous support and relief they have already provided to Bonnie. She has worked hard and long on her father's behalf. He could not have had a better advocate or daughter.  My heart is bursting with pride for these two remarkable adults our children have become. 

It is hard to see my grown children crying as they so tenderly care for him. They read to him from I Corinthians.  As I watch them, I see such love on their faces.  I suppose no one can ask for more than to be surrounded by the people who love you as you pass over. At first I thought I'd be really uncomfortable here--what is my role? John and I divorced nearly 30 years ago. And yet what I see is that love doesn't die.  You can get pretty angry with someone, but if you ever loved, you always will.  

There has never been a time in my life when I've been more proud of Bonnie and Dave as they watch over their dad as he passes from this life into the next. Today, they read to him again from I Corinthians—such an incredibly beautiful passage about what it really means to love—and before we left, they stood together at his bedside singing acapella every verse of Amazing Grace--one of John's favorites. The halls in the hospital quieted as others stopped to listen. All I could do was stand beside them with tears streaming down my face. What a testament to the power of love. I have been blessed with incredible children and how could I not continue to love, on some level, the man who made them with me.

December 26, 2014

This morning my son and I visited the assisted care facility to say goodbye to his dad. We both knew we wouldn't see him alive in this life again. He looked so small, still, and weak. Hospice has taken over his care and no extraordinary measures are being given to keep him alive. He is fed only if he asks for food. I stood by his bedside for a moment, touched his cheek and kissed him on the forehead, whispered, "I'll be seeing you in all the old familiar places." His eyes fluttered, but didn't open. I stepped back and our son moved into my spot.

When David spoke, his father opened his eyes and said, "Davey, I'm trapped in this cage," then shut his eyes again. Dave and I spent a few moments crying in each other’s arms. I told him he'd been a wonderful son and that his father had been proud of him his entire life. I told him that I saw his father when I watched David be daddy to his own small children. 

And then we left the room, closed the door and walked out to the car. There were no more words.

As Rumi said, "The world was too full to talk about."



Valerie Brooks
01/07/2015 6:39pm

My heart goes out to you and what beautiful tribute to him. Yes. Rumi.

Anne Stabile
01/08/2015 6:32am

Such a beautiful tribute, Susan. I am always amazed at how you can put me right in the midst of whatever you're writing about. I was brought back to my own father's passing and, though sad, was able to remember the deep love we all shared as we said good-bye. Thank you so much for your words.

01/09/2015 6:30pm

Your story brings out the love in everyone.

01/10/2015 2:07pm

Wow, CP. This was so beautifully written. I'm bawling, thinking about how you are feeling. What an incredible tribute to your children's father. You have amazing kids! I would have loved to hear them sing Amazing Grace. I bet there wasn't a dry eye in the hospital!

Martha Ragland
01/12/2015 8:02pm

This is the most beautiful Christmas story I have heard in years. Your description did indeed remind me of the real gifts of the season. Thank you, Susan.

05/25/2015 11:28pm

A very meaningful and inspiring story of Christmas. I agree with you that saying goodbye is not easy to say. Especially, if you need to say it with a deep feeling to someone that you think that you will never be together again for life. I experienced that when my grandma died, but I know and understand that all human will experience that, but it’s really hard to say goodbye.


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03/20/2016 2:19pm

What I would have said to my friend, John would have been close to what I shared with my own father: “Man in other people is man’s soul. That is what you are, that is what your conscience breathed, relished, was nourished by all your life. Your soul, your immortality, your life in others. And what then? You have been in others and you will remain in others. And what difference does it make to you that later it will be called memory? It will be you, having entered into the composition of the future.” ― Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago

For this family, and many more, May Sarton shares:
“There is no need of words. Our lives will do,
Long long enough to learn all of our love,
While time, the river, flows gently below,
Having no false eternities to prove.
The night is full of unspent tenderness
And in its silences we rest apart.
There is no need of words with which to bless
The daily bread, the wine of the full heart.
Here are the peaceful days we cannot share.
Here is our peace at last, and we not there.”

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