dying, letting go, living and growing

The Vigil

Ten years ago this week, the vigil began.

My father, barely coherent, drifted between this world and the next.

In a hospital bed on the first floor, my dad had already finished entertaining the last outside visitors he would ever have.

My siblings and I had started staying overnight at my parent’s house, sleeping on the first floor so my mother could go upstairs to bed and get some real sleep. Months before this, we began to circle the wagons around him and my mom. They were both worn out.

All of his life, he had been the one out in front, leading the way. He led the way even in death, but we were determined he would not be alone. He might have to go first, but we would travel alongside him for as long as possible. His path would be paved with love.

My dad had always loved music. He was known for only singing the first few words of a song and then loudly humming along to the rest of it. While his tether to this world was loosening, I played him two of his favorites. “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody” and “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”. When the songs ended, he smiled and said, ‘That was nice.’ He had instructed us that he wanted the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” played at his funeral. I played that as well. These songs, long associated with him, would now be the music that paved his path to heaven.

Several days before he died, my mother, sister and I offered to do the rosary with him. Although I was raised Catholic, I never really understood how to pray the rosary, but I knew it held meaning for him. Google came to our aid and we prayed through it with him. Although he wasn’t speaking much at that point, he appreciated the gesture and his lips sometimes moved as we prayed. His path to heaven was paved with prayer.

With only a few days left on this earth, his body continued to prepare to let go. This man, who even in his 80s had more energy than most…this man who commanded people’s attention wherever he went….stopped all activity. He stopped speaking and went to sleep.

At first, it truly was sleep. But the deep sleep one enters as they transition from here to there had begun. We watched and waited.

Until early one morning when rest gave way to death and all was quiet.

The vigil was over.

There’s an emptiness when a vigil is over. You came together for a purpose. You remembered. You prayed. You kept watch. But when that stops, when the reason for the vigil has been taken away….what does one do next?

It’s been 10 years since the vigil for my dad took place. Here’s what I’ve discovered. After a vigil, figuring out how best to remember the one who is no longer here can take some time. But remembering alone isn’t enough.

You must let go of the vigil and live.