photograph by john c ashworth
My father passed away three weeks ago. The shock of it is over. The work of finding my way back to my art has been elusive. Sometimes, though, it’s just a matter of opening an old notebook and combining some old treasure with a recent photograph like this one. In other words, you just have to keep going. Keep trusting. Keep creating. No matter how dodgy the process might feel.
There is a thief in our midst
written by john c ashworth
“What were you doing up there, Dad?” His daughter asked quizzically, as she ran through her bedside checklist. A checklist well honed after almost thirty years of nursing. Trying hard not to blink.
“I was looking at all the lights…”
“I wanted to look around to see what everyone else was doing.”
He was atop the combine in the middle of the field, still working to get the remaining corn out of the ground before winter fully set in. A job that was taking so much longer this year because of all the damn rain. They literally finished the next day without him. Something they must learn to do now.
He lost his balance and tumbled to the half-cultivated field below, lying in wait for his fate and mine. There were no lights that any mere mortal might see. It was the middle of the day. I believe it was much more than that. Especially after witnessing his death.
I never got to see the imprint in the dust on the side of the combine where his hand had reached out sliding, in a futile attempt to stop something that seems so much bigger than all of us now. At first, I wanted to see that hand-print. It seemed important to revere. By the time I returned a week later for the funeral, the boys had disposed of its message quickly and efficiently. The same way so many of his personal things have been so efficiently removed from daily life.
The experience of his death five days later was a powerful one and in light of current circumstances, I’m even more grateful now than before that I was able to be there and hold his hand, while he strained with great loyalty to open his left eye and connect with me, so that I could tell him everything would be OK. Tell him how much I love him and how much he meant to me and how much he was like a second father to me.
I’ve never done that before. Watched someone take their last puff of breath, their body quickly beginning some kind of pale and mystical metamorphosis that happens so quickly and right before your eyes.
How do you walk away from that scene?
How do you go on?
How do you separate the spirit of his inspiration in your own life with the physical body that housed it for so long? I still don’t have an answer to that question; and I’m still eternally grateful to have been there.
I can still hear the prophetic puff of his last breath as it washed over Mom’s lips and the re-assurance her words provided as he made his way out somewhat ungracefully. An incredibly inspiring and brave act from his devoted partner. She was right there with him and right until the end. My wife was right there too, while the rest of his immediate family stood around his bed, his sons almost shouting their goodbyes through viscous cries that Mom admitted later she had never heard before.
We came back home that night to their apartment and stepped into the surreal and solace surroundings that a death leaves behind. Those were tender moments too. The time I spent that night going through some of the his things. Forgotten treasures living in desk drawers. Many of them for so many years. His spirit and his energy were still so close. I worried about his body in the morgue all night. It was hard to sleep.
Overall, I believe it was was a good death. Much better than my sister’s, which was proceeded by so much suffering. Years of surgeries and hospital stays and medicine that often did not work. Dad’s death was much different. And for that I am both grateful and fearful for all of us. He lived long and died short and we were all able to be there to see him off. And during that last night of his life, I had an experience so profound that it changed me forever. It transformed my perspective on death and dying, and on life. And it makes me incredibly sad, fearful, frustrated, angry, and anxious about every other person and family out there right now who is dealing with a different kind of death as a result of covid-19. They who won’t have the same opportunity I had.
This is a story that is repeating itself now in deafening silence and that needs to be told. Because it’s not just being there for the dying. It’s also the gift this experience provides for the living. A gift that is being stolen. Diverted in the face of this evil creature we call covid-19. Death is for all of us. Not just for the dying. And though we tend to avert ourselves from this idea in American culture, those of you who can relate to what I’m saying will know exactly what I’m talking about.
Death is for all of us; and the celebration of life that follows it’s course is even more vital; and yet everything is so different out there right now. Sick people are dying alone. Loved ones are grieving alone. Mourning alone. And this might just be the greatest tragedy and injustice of this crisis. A somewhat hidden loss. One that finds us later when we’re least expecting it. I used to too often fear losing those close to me. Suddenly I fear losing them shrouded in darkness, mystery, fear and chaos. Watching it happen through a pain of glass. That is no way to die. That is no way to live. That is no way to say goodbye to those we love as they exit from this great and mysterious world.
That presence I first felt enter the room about 45 minutes before my Dad’s death; the one that left me feeling like I didn’t want to leave the room until he was gone, was in fact the same one that returned to shepherd his soul away so quickly following that last puff of his breath…
That all-powerful, heavy, swirling, engulfing, comforting, magnificent, omnipresent and mysterious father of another kind…
…he stirred something in me that night that I would have missed had I not been there. Something universal, fleeting and unmistakable. Something that awakened in me a level of confidence and fortitude and wisdom that I carried forth from that room on that night, and that will NEVER leave me. Something no thief could ever take from me.
Godspeed to all of you…
YOU have something powerful to bring to the world
written by john c ashworth
This morning I spent some time looking through notable deaths for 2019 inside the New York Times obituary section of the newspaper. I do this kind of thing a lot more now because I’m getting a little older myself, I lost someone very close to me in December of 2019, and I work as a salesman for a fast-growing technology company that serves funeral homes and funeral directors with their software and technology applications.
I’ve heard varying statistics about how often someone dies.
Every three seconds.
Every eight seconds.
Let’s just say it’s every 10 seconds.
On the other side of that hidden reality are all of the babies being born equally as often.
Death is happening almost constantly. Which makes making the list of notable deaths in any given year quite an accomplishment; and quite humbling to an average guy like me.
Thinking about all of this this this morning, especially in light of present circumstances surrounding the covid-19 outbreak, left me pondering the two things I think about a lot more often now.
First, what might I still be able to accomplish in my lifetime that would place me on this list? Make me famous or notable enough to be invited into the notable death club. That feels important to me. I feel like no matter how much time I might have left, much of it would be wasted if I just gave up on my pursuit of such notoriety. Maybe I can get there as a writer…
Second, and a lot more important is that this perspective is important because it cultivates presence, mindfulness, and the love and kindness each of us has the opportunity to multiply in every human and living connection we make each day. These are the moments that matter. The only moments that matter. If you’ve lost someone close, you know exactly what I’m talking about. And in light of everything happening right now, it’s important to be prepared and then to take this thing on one day at a time.
Because when you’re gone, and all you have left is some random photograph, a one-liner about your life, and the age you achieved at your death, there will still be many many people left behind you that you somehow inspired in a way that will remain meaningful and important to them until their own deaths and maybe even beyond.
Take note of that idea today if you would, and see what you might be able to do to put your own life and the connections you foster each day into a more meaningful and inspiring perspective. Someday, you and those you love will be glad you did.
PS Here’s a quote I found this morning during my dive into the abyss of knowledge and wisdom, for which there is no clear end anywhere in sight…something that will remind you how every interaction and human connection in your life counts. Every single one.
“The affect of un-calculated kindness is as deep as the universe. When you feel stuck, stymied, depressed or full of self-loathing, try and remember this universal truth. It might just set you and its recipient free…” –John C Ashworth
I wrote an entire post on this topic that will be published on April 18th, 2020. If we’re not there yet, be sure to subscribe for regular updates so that you don’t miss it. -John
There really is no cure for grief. Only the journey, and your willingness to stay open and present and participate and honor that which comes to you during this time.
written by john c ashworth
People Die and it’s part of life and it really hurts.
Here’s the part that really starts to sink in after a few weeks of living without your loved one.
There’s no second chance to say goodbye. To connect. To relish in the sloppiness that often accompanies our lives and relationships. When we’re here and now and in the soup, we can easily be fooled into thinking we’ll have more opportunities to get it right.
Sometimes we do, and sometimes we don’t.
Either way, I want you to take one message away from this post today…
Stay present as much as you can and work hard at making memories, because when your loved ones are gone, that’s it. There is no second half. That’s all you got left. There’s no kind of pep talk that will bring them back and make them be here again.
Sure, you can still feel them right there with you. I know I can. They’re part of you forever somehow. Some more than others.
That spiritual connection is powerful and potent and omnipresent.
But it’s not the same.
It’s fleeting and it hurts like hell.