“To fear death, gentlemen, is nothing other than to think oneself wise when one is not, to think one knows what one does not know. No one knows whether death may not be the greatest of all blessings for a man, yet men fear it as if they knew that it is the greatest of evils.”
“The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity.”
Seneca the Younger, Roman Philosopher
When a loved one passes, especially if that loved one is a child, we mourn in a manner that cannot fully be grasped by those who have not experienced this personal tragedy. When a loved one has breathed their last, we suffer an initial, harsh shock. Whether we immediately fall into a place of numbness or loud lamentation, the pain we experience is deep, personal and intimate.
IF one is lucky, as time goes by, that pain goes from searing agony to a dull ache lurking just beneath the surface. Many believe that they will one day be reunited with the person who passed. And we grieve as we must. As our own gifts and flaws dictate.
Today marks the third year upon which my beloved daughter, Morgan was taken. And so, some of the many questions I ponder include thoughts of reunification, the soul, life, death, energy and humor. And yet, I also wonder if the very best parts of Morgan never left. If she, and others who have gone both before and after, are truly “gone.”
[This article may be a bit longer than most of my past musings. It involves three seemingly distinct topics and yet, all of which are intertwined. Bear with me, fill that glass of wine or cup of coffee more fully and soldier on.]
What are we?
What are we? What constitutes the individual? What is the nature of our far too brief existence on this third rock from the sun? What makes us what we truly are?
It is universally acknowledged that our biological bodies are a combination of matter and energy. That energy is both electrical (impulses and signals) and chemical (reactions). And as the understanding of the complexities of our own self becomes more informed, we embrace the understanding that the majority of our body consists not of matter … but of energy.
And energy is eternal. The First Law of Thermodynamics in part states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Energy cannot die. However, energy can change forms. Energy can also flow from one place to another.
All of our energy, every vibration, every thought, every Btu of heat, every emotion, every passion, every particle that we generated or which defined us, our very consciousness remain in this universe. The warmth of the sun we absorb on our faces, all of the energy particles whose paths are altered by the sound waves of our laughter, hundreds of trillions of particles, race on like joyful children, their pathways forever changed and yet still very much alive.
Since energy cannot be destroyed and our physical bodies consist of energy, are we not justified in questioning whether we truly die? Or, do we merely transition and transform into something else? Reincarnation? Become one with the Lord? Angels and demons? Certainly, once this transitional process toward what we refer to as death begins, so too our soulful energy must also transform. All is by design.
That is because the Universe is perfectly on time. This includes the moment a person is born and when that person transitions away. No one leaves before his or her time. Perhaps death is not something unnatural or untimely. Perhaps instead, it is that person’s energy, their Higher Self creating whatever circumstances are necessary to achieve its own transformation.
What truly matters is that the energy essence of a person does not, and cannot perish. Instead, incarnations are completed and the soul, Higher Self, spirit, or whatever you wish to call it, moves on. This is not just an exercise in semantics or a belief in a particular religious dogma, but is clearly dictated by the First Law of Thermodynamics.
So, what makes a person, a person? Why did Morgan (or “Mighty Mo” as she was called by some) have such a strong impact upon so many young people with whom she shared her journey? When a loved one transitions on, isn’t it the intangible we miss most? We miss their intellect. We miss their wit. We miss their personality or outlook that inspired us or filled us with hope. We miss how we felt when we were in their presence. We miss that they made us feel better and stronger than what we perceived ourselves capable. We miss in some ways, a part of us that we believe was also taken. All of these things are not matters of the body. They are matters of the soul, our eternal energy.
Our loved ones remain, not just in our memories, but also in reality— perhaps just not in a reality that our limited senses can process and comprehend. And so, we experience the grieving process.
We place so much importance on the here and now. For many, our corporeal existence defines the extent of our knowledge and wisdom. When a spouse, a parent, a beloved child transitions, we, the survivors mourn. We grieve. For some, that grief destroys them. For some, they wear a “shroud of grief” until their own physical existence ends. A shroud that defines their remaining days spent in a dull twilight consisting of mere shadows of gray. We miss our loved ones. We remember the last breath they took with pain and anguish.
And yet …
And yet, it is only the earthly vessel that has been taken. It is the mere vessel that perishes. That inherently fragile receptacle designed for one purpose. That vessel’s sole purpose is for the briefest of time, to be entrusted to hold our essence, our eternal energy. And our physical existence is designed to fail at that very task. Planned obsolescence. Our physical bodies are weak and are susceptible to physical trauma, ailments and diseases. Our physical bodies are finite. And yet, our physical bodies have such importance since they are the conduit, the messenger to allow our eternal energy, our souls, to communicate and interact with the energy of others.
The Bell Tolls Again
[I began to write this article on October 14. Often times, I receive a feeling or intuition to begin to write. When that happens, the words flow. The foundational basis above this paragraph was written prior to October 15. On October 15, my 88 year old father checked into a hospital with abdominal pain and bowel blockage. On October 16, his surgeon advised that his abdominal cavity was ravaged with cancerous tumors. Even in the event he becomes well enough to leave the hospital, he has been given maybe two months.]
And so, at this point, a reader may wonder whether the words in this article are just that, merely words. A hollow message. The commemoration date upon which my beloved daughter was taken, that being October 30, 2016 is upon me. My father facing a certain transition in very short order. Is the message in this article before October 16 meaningless drivel? Or are the words more of an indication of a resilient soul, an unquenchable spirit and a driven energy force which cannot and will not be denied? How we deal with what we refer to as “death” is just as important as how we deal with life.
And so, for the next two weeks, when emotions or thoughts or inspiration happen, I will journal them here and include them in a raw, open and transparent manner.
As surely I must.
His name is Richard E. Dunn. He is known to the many friends he has made throughout his life as, “Red.”
10/17 – You sit in a room in a hospital, the very same hospital in which your daughter breathed her last nearly three years before, as a surgeon tells your father that he has about three months left. Cancer had rapidly spread throughout his abdominal region. At 88 years old, you see that the message registers even though his mind is foggy with pain medication. You see that it registers in his eyes.
As the surgeon starts to talk about chemo and radiation, he interrupts and says he is not undergoing “any of that.” The surgeon goes into a few more topics, none of which seem of particular importance when compared to the news just delivered. As the surgeon walks out of the room, he shakes my hand and looks me in the eyes … he has a sad, yet professional look. You know he has delivered this type of news numerous times before.
Your father looks up at the ceiling, then at you. In a quiet voice, he says that he has lived a long time but some things you have to accept since now all hope is gone. The natural inclination is to say, “There is always hope.” But, that type of response sounds too contrived, too hollow. Instead, you kiss your dad on his forehead and tell him you love him.
Your older brother and older sister are in the room as well. Both strong willed, Type A personality people. But for them, for the first time, death is no longer an abstract concept. It is concrete. It is real. It has come for a family member. And especially in my brother, a pilot of over 30 years with commercial airlines who shares so many bonds with my dad, I see real pain in his eyes. To him, death is about to become very real.
Later that night as I sit alone contemplating the day, I believe I can feel a presence around me. A calmness. I certainly do not hear, but can almost “feel” a message. A message along the lines of, “Daddy, you have done this before. You have weathered far worse. You are needed. I am with you.”
And I know I am not alone.
10/18 – A realization begins to manifest itself. In February, my father had his gall bladder removed. Some cancer cells were found and also removed. In early September, my father was in the same hospital for a partial bowel obstruction. He was there for four days. A number of CT scans were run. The oncologist advised that a few faint shadows were seen but did not appear to be of concern. And the understanding hits that if that is the case, the spread of cancer has been at an incredibly fast pace. Months may no longer be the time table. It may be weeks … maybe even mere days. He does not know this.
As my older sister and I sit in his room, I find myself restless and so begin to wander. I end up in the Margot Perot Center for Women and Infants. This part of the hospital brings life into our world. Babies are born here.
After walking through winding corridors, I finally locate the nursery. Looking through the window, I see the perfect little fingers, the perfect little toes, the pink, black and brown faces, the promise of a full and happy life ahead. And instead of feeling sorrow, I have a feeling of hope, of renewed life. I was led there not to mourn and grieve for the life that was taken and the life which will be taken in the near future. But, to see those faces, those incredibly little bodies, to feel hope and joy and love. I don’t know why or what compelled me to see those angelic babies. I do understand that something beyond my comprehension is guiding me to various points on a journey, points which fill me with the necessary strength to weather the coming days and years ahead.
Birthdays and Tornadoes
10/20 — The anniversary of my 61st rotation around the sun. I have come to look upon birthdays not as a celebration of my own life, but instead, as a day to honor my parents for bringing me into this existence. I talk with my mother, telling her that I love her. I spend time with my dad. With a groggy voice, he wishes me happy birthday. I tell him I love him and that I know I have the best parts of him with me and always tried to make him proud.
I again feel calmness. Certainly, a sadness as well as we face the inevitable. Yet, when you leave your heart, and your mind and your soul open, you allow them to be filled with strength and resolve.
That night as a I share a dinner with two incredible people in my life, I am filled with a wonder that can only come from … a sharing of the love of life.
That very same night, while we are dining, a tornado rips through the City of Dallas leaving a path of destruction in its wake. Homes, restaurants, property damaged or destroyed. The hospital in which my father may breathe his last is in the tornado’s path. All patients are moved out of their rooms and into the hallway until the all clear is given. Property less than one mile from the hospital is severely damaged some even destroyed. Fortunately, the hospital was spared.
The damage elsewhere is devastating and widespread. And yet, there are no reported deaths. This is especially miraculous since the tornado remained on the ground for 16 long miles, was category F-3 in its intensity, and carved a path of destruction through a heavily populated area in the City of Dallas.
Overwhelming devastation and yet, all lives spared. No one leaves before their time.
10/21 – Less than 12 hours after the tornado, I was advised that my father’s days are indeed numbered … that he is expected to transition within 3 to 4 days at most. Frantic calls are made to siblings who reside out of town.
In fact, in a strange twist, after believing my father had months to live, my older brother departed for a long planned, brief trip to Italy, this time to get married. Ironically, he was in Italy three years before when he received word that Morgan had passed. Just as then, once again, he is frantically trying to get back to Dallas. The strange, sometimes mocking, and yet sometimes humorous ways that the Universe unfolds is not lost. Later that night, my dad is transferred to the Hospice Floor.
10/22 – His transition is near. Numbness is certainly present. I also note that complexities in life also present additional obstacles and challenges. My younger brother, who resides in Orange County, California is currently suffering from another bout of diverticulitis, double hiatal hernias and severe pain in his back and spine. He is not cleared to fly. In fact, he discovers the doctor who treated him for these conditions prescribed the wrong medication. His departure to Dallas is delayed by another day. And so my older sister and I arrange a Facetime session when my dad is awake. The joys of modern technology. Sadly, my dad has reached a state where he cannot speak and for the most part sleeps until pain wakes him into a state of grogginess.
How easy it would be to fall into despair … to grieve, to be consumed by fear. And yet, when given the news of cancer and its severity, my dad faced that news not with outward fear, pain and anger, but with grace. The last life lesson he will give is how to face your transition with courage.
10/23 – Is today the day? My older brother is trying to get to Dallas from Italy. My younger brother’s flight is expected around 1:30 p.m. I see my father in the last bed he will be in … the bed in which he will transition. I have nothing but good memories and love in my heart. My sisters and I constantly have music playing in the background. Some of dad’s favorites, Les Brown, Sinatra, Dean Martin, Diana Krall.
And then, I am filled with the understanding that another point on the journey is beckoning, is summoning me. And I must surely answer its call. So, with unsure steps I walk to the fourth floor of the Haman Building in the hospital. The building, the floor, the room in which Morgan breathed her last.
As I walk down that 4th floor corridor, I am trying to shut out all physical sensations and just … feel. The last time I was here the overwhelming feelings of grief, pain, shock and despair were my masters. As I begin to approach the last room she was in, I look and then … start to laugh. The room has a plastic construction tarp over it with signs noting that the room is under construction!
I am shaking my head still chuckling when a nurse walks by and asks if I need anything. With a smile on my face, I tell her that no, I got all that I need. There is only life here … not death. Not pain. Morgan has left the building! And so too, I need never return. There is nothing left here. The specter of grief has been exorcised from here. My heart is lighter.
Still, the reality of why we are assembling in Dallas remains. Firm in your belief that your father is holding on to that thin strand of life only until he sees all of his children one last time. It weighs heavily on the heart. No matter the strength of your convictions, the initial shock will arrive. You then rediscover the emotional and physical exhaustion that overwhelms you as you wait for the inevitable. An exhaustion that consumed you three years before. But, perhaps less so this time.
Your older brother manages to catch his flights from Italy and is expected to arrive at the hospital at 8:45 p.m. You know that your father’s transition will likely come shortly thereafter. You juggle the feelings of sadness, fatigue, resolve and faith. And you hope for a sign, any sign that may give you just a bit more inspiration, more strength for the coming days.
10/24 – Enveloped by the sound of loved ones crying, tears freely flowing. Later that night, enveloped by the sounds of love and laughter. At 12:54 p.m., Dallas time, my father breathed his last. Surrounded by all 5 children, their spouses, significant others. Surrounded by love. Once again, hearing those devastating words, “He’s gone.”
Tears of grief. Tears of sorrow. And yet, a firm conviction that his energy, his soul, his Higher Self is soaring. Since he is a military veteran, the hospital has a policy for these heroes. After they pass and are being escorted to their next resting place, hospital employees line the first floor passage. My siblings stand next to each other. My father being pushed out in a gurney covered by an American flag. They pause in front of us. The flag on top of him is reverently lifted and folded in a precise, orderly military manner. Another flag had also been draped over my father’s body. The folded flag is presented to my older brother, the first born, with respect, with honor.
I look around and see everyone with a hand on their heart. He would want it no other way. People’s eyes fill with tears as we feel the love, the respect, the honor paid to someone that no one other than the immediate family knew.
That night, the family gathers at the house. We drink some incredible wine, eat some delicious food and tell stories about my dad, and yes, Morgan which bring tears to our eyes. But this time the tears also come from laughter.
And yes, we grieve. But sometimes, that grief does not destroy us. Sometimes that grief does not define us in a negative way. Sometimes that grief fills us with incredible strength, purpose and insight. Our soul’s, our Life Energy’s path reveals itself just enough to keep you on that path. Its ending is not clear. Nor does it need to be. You only need to find a way to stay on that path. And you know you do not walk that path alone.
A person whose path is placed in front of them, a person who is filled with resolve, inspiration and strength, a person who fears naught can do wondrous things. Not for his or her own personal glory, but because the message is powerful, clear and universal. The energy of others fill that person with hope. Hope that sustains them.
“Remember RED, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption