How do you sum up a life of 66 years in a word? A sentence? A paragraph? It’s impossible. Life is a series of experiences. It’s a multitude of lessons combined with laughter, tears and lots of epiphanies, if you’re lucky.
One week ago today, I sat in a hospital room and witnessed my father in law make his journey home. He’d been diagnosed with cancer about a year and a half ago, had undergone surgeries and treatments, and had devoted all his time and energy to fighting a good fight. He loved his family more than anything in this whole world.
I sit back and ponder the events that all lead up to that moment in time. Six months prior to that day, I lost my own father to cancer. Ironic, isn’t it? The two men in my life I’d seen as “Dad” left this world not that very far apart from one another. In the last few months, I’ve relied on my father’s spirit to guide me when it came to assisting George. I could hear my father’s voice, ever so supportive and with that uncanny ability he has always had of being honest yet loving, “His body is giving out. It is no longer able to support what he wants to do here. He’s deciding what to do. It’s his choice.” The two situations so very similar to each other, as my own father’s body was not able to sustain what he wanted his own life to be. Those words coming from someone who’d experienced the likeness of what was happening with George really hit me hard.
How do you prepare your family for something like this when you’re feeling it energetically? You can’t. It’s not your place. There is never a definite decision made until a soul makes it. It is so similar to the birth of a baby. A mother can get all the indications she is ready to deliver, but that baby is the one calling the shots! They will not arrive into this world until they are good and ready, just as a soul will not depart until it is their time. All you can do, is to gently offer your love. You give your comfort. You offer insight when asked. You allow the process. But it’s never an easy thing to witness and experience.
I’ve assisted many souls transition, but with George it was quite different. Not a huge shocker there, as George himself was one of a kind. Most of the work we did together was done from a distance. It was an understood agreement. I supported him on his process and what he wanted to accept and receive. I worked with him constantly on seeing his true worth and that the illness was not some type of punishment that sought him out because of his short comings or failures. There were times when I would connect with him and he would not want to receive anything. I respected that.
To all who knew and loved George, he was very opinionated, to put it mildly. Things were “my way or the highway” on many aspects of his life. He was passionate about his family, his integrity and his ability to make things work. He always strove for a better way to do things, make things better. He loved working with his hands, always creating a new project. As I held his hands in the hospital I realized how similar they were to my husbands hands. Funny how I never realized that in 27 years of knowing him.
And even while he was leaving, it was all “his way.” And with his way, came lots of gifts in the process.
Many people were in and out of George’s room, paying their respects. I watched the night before as a younger male spirit was hanging out near his bed. I could see him so vividly and he had this huge grin on his face, knowing George would be joining him soon. This spirit came to me in our hotel room that evening, appearing again, making sure I could see every last detail of his features. He wouldn’t give me his name, but would instead laugh, saying that he and George went way back. Day’s later as I saw Alfred’s face in a photograph with George, from their younger days, I was thrown for a loop. I’ve never experienced details so vivid and such a confirmation as the photo I saw. Other family and friends on the other side of the veil had been gathering close to his side for quite a while. His sisters, his friends and coworkers were all awaiting to celebrate him home.
There were so many God-winks during this time. The ICU doctor that day, had the last name of Garcia. She was loving, compassionate and kind as was his nurse, who shared the same name as my daughter, Ashley. After being told he wasn’t able to talk and communicate, George woke up for an instant and looked around the room asking, “What is everyone doing here?” He said it in the same determined voice he’s always had, and with that bewildered look we’d all grown so used to. When his son, Cameron, hugged him for the last time, George let out a huge sigh. When his wife, Kathy, would talk to him, you could see his face change in response to her voice. As I was holding his hand, he kept raising it up to his head. I would try to put it back by his side, but he wanted no part of that. There was resistance in him when I would do this, so I let go and let his hand do what it wanted. It went up to the side of his head and began scratching. After being hooked up to tubes and restraints, I’m sure he had quite an itch! It was so funny to watch him lean his head over to me as I started scratching his head. That little smile that crossed over his lips was priceless!
George has always been very private. It was no great surprise that he did not want to pass with a room full of people around him. He waited until the crowd cleared out, and all that was left was his wife, Kathy, his sister, Maria, myself and Tim.
Kathy and Maria went downstairs for a break, and while standing outside, a woman came up to them. She appeared to come out of no where. They were both shocked and surprised as she told them, “he’s going to be fine.” Maria explained that they were losing someone, and the woman persisted, telling them that she was sent by God with a message that he was going to be fine. God was going to welcome George home and that he would be an angel that would watch over his wife and sister soon. The woman gave them peace and comfort.
Shortly after they came back upstairs, we were all gathered around George’s bed, remembering the past and swapping stories. We were laughing with one another when his breathing began to shift and change. The monitors began to go off, and we realized that what we’d been anticipating was going to happen. I kept my hand on his heart and held his hand. In the minutes that followed, it seemed as if time stood still. Even with the staggered breaths he took, there was still an immense feeling of peace within him. I could feel so much love in that room, so many angels, so many loved ones had gathered to help him release and go home. Such a feeling of loss came over me, yet still the sweetness of seeing the light of the tunnel back home and so many gathered in his honor was a blessing all in itself.
The moment he took his last breath, the song, Winning, began to play. George was a huge Santana fan and had talked about seeing Carlos Santana in concert when he was cancer free and strong enough to make the drive to Las Vegas. Sadly, he never got that chance, as he was too weak to travel. My husband, Tim, had been playing Santana music all day long for his Dad. I’ll never forget the surreal feeling of watching George’s soul let go, and hearing the chorus to that song, “I’m winning, I’m winning, I’m winning and I don’t intend on losing again.” So appropriate. So George.
As I move through these days of grief, I remind myself of those God-winks and of all the gifts George has given me, his son, and our children. I choose not to think of his days in pain, because that was not who George really was. Yes, it was a part of his experience, but he never, ever let that define him. What I will hold close to my heart are all the loving memories I have of him.
I will remember the times we would talk and he would let down those walls he kept up for most everyone else. I will remember him looking at me in my wedding dress the first time. I will remember the hug he gave Tim when we told him we were going to have a baby, his first grandchild. I will remember him calling to check on me when my father died, leaving me messages when I know he knew I didn’t feel like talking.
Most of all I will remember how important family was to him. He loved us all very much. He leaves behind a legacy of laughter, opinions, love and pride to all in our family.
Now begins a new phase for George. And as I write this I just keep hearing someone saying, “Just put the damn wings on, George. You’ll still look hip, slick and cool.”
Go figure…even in Heaven, he’s gotta do it his way.
I can honestly say I’d expect nothing less. You keep them on their toes, George. What do they think this is, a hotel?
I love you.