I’ve always imagined that at the moment of death, something miraculous must happen – something that can, if time and circumstances allow, pierce through the ordinariness of our day-to-day lives and take us into an experience of what mystics through time have called “the numinous” – a direct experience of divine mystery. That the holiness, the quintessential meaning that underlies the whole world, would be exposed and present in an undeniable and palpable way.
I wasn’t with Aunt Min when she died – I was far away. But when my dad passed away, I was close by. Though I wasn’t with him in those final moments, I was able to see something that, to this day, I consider a great gift.
Stricken with lung and liver cancer, my dad was able to be at home for most of his illness. But in his last few days, things went awry, and he was hospitalized, put on oxygen, and was in and out of awareness. On what would turn out to be his last day, I visited him at the hospital. Aunt Min was there at the same time, and we sat and talked quietly while he napped. Suddenly, out of a deep sleep, my dad sat straight up, and stared into the space beyond his bed. He said nothing, but his face expressed shock, amazement, and then great relief and freedom. It’s hard to describe what happened in that room, but the air was charged with a kind of miraculous presence, and my dad was changed. Instead of struggling, he slumped back down in the bed and fell into a deep rest. What I “got” at that moment was that my dad had seen that he was “innocent.” Whatever he had been carrying (as we all do, in so many ways) – a sense of his failures, his “sins,” his fundamental wrongness, had been released, and he had seen the truth.
I guess one could surmise that perhaps subconsciously I had held my dad as “guilty” of being less than a perfect father, or held some grudge against him, and in that moment I let that go. But I have to say that something much larger than forgiveness of any little resentment happened in that moment.
Soon after that experience, I left for home. A few hours later, my sister called to tell me that my dad was gone. He had finally let go. I was wrecked, of course. But I have never forgotten the wrenching grace of those moments right before he died. Sometimes those most challenging times of great pain and wrenching change break the everyday world open and we can see, and feel, that which holds us all up. Such forgiveness. Such great love.
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