We Breathe in The morning air, The exhalation Of our mothers' breaths. We breathe in The ancient air The exhalation Of all who have lived. We exhale And share our breath With all who breathe, Now, forevermore. So we live: Sharing always Our very essence, The breath of life.
In my first blog, I mentioned most people have a world view that includes belief in a Higher Power, an afterlife, a soul. The power of sharing our life stories was also discussed. So today, I would like to share a story with you about my dad, Eugene, who was an exception to the many who believe in an afterlife.
Dad grew up on a farm in rural Wisconsin. Born in 1921, his family eked out a sustenance sort of existence during the depression years. As the eldest, my dad grew up quickly, bearing responsibilities beyond his years. He also took the brunt of his father’s abuse, according to my uncles. Grandpa was an alcoholic, a mean-spirited man who abused family and livestock alike.
Shortly before World War II began, Dad left the farm and eventually joined the US Army Air Force. He became a Tech Sergeant specializing in electronics and radio communications. During most of his war years, he was stationed in the South Pacific.
After the war ended, he married my mom, Irene, and moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There he took advantage of the GI Bill, attended Marquette University, and graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering. He was the first in his family to attend college.
Over the next ten years, Mom and Dad had four daughters; I was the oldest. Throughout his life, Dad worked two jobs. During his rare free time, he enjoyed deer hunting, also fishing in our local lakes. Although he had hated farm life, he wanted to be outdoors, surrounded by the peace and beauty nature provided. But he made it very clear he wanted nothing to do with religion.
“This is it! This [earthly life] is all there is!” I recall him saying when I questioned his beliefs as a young girl.
Those questions came up a number of times over the years. Although Mom encouraged her daughters to attend Sunday School and Dad would drive us there, he would never participate in any of our church activities. To my recollection, he only stepped foot in a church for Mom’s funeral and for several weddings.
The years passed. At the age of 75, during the fall of 1997, my dad lay dying of pancreatic cancer. All four of his daughters, two of us registered nurses, took turns caring for him. As his death seemed imminent, we all took leave from our jobs and spent most of our time with him in our family home. We were assisted by our local Hospice staff, including Bernice, a minister. She offered spiritual guidance and solace to us, and to my surprise, Dad welcomed her visits as much as we did! They usually spoke in private, and I wondered if Dad may be changing his mind about the possibility of an afterlife.
As his days became more and more filled with unarousable sleep, we sisters took turns spending the night on the couch near his bed in front of our living room picture window. We had heard that classical music was very soothing under these circumstances, so we set Dad’s beloved radio to a classical station, playing it twenty-four hours a day.
One afternoon, I was holding his hand talking to him as he lay soundly sleeping.
“Daddy,” I said, “I know you don’t believe in life after death, but I think you may be in for a surprise! It seems you will probably die before I do, so when you find out what happens afterward, please try to tell me, to let me know . . .”
A few days later on October 22, the time had come. My sisters and I stood over Dad as he peacefully slipped away from us . . . peacefully until his beloved radio crackled forth with a horrendous blast of static! We looked at each other over Dad’s now graying and breathless body and said “let’s turn that thing off!” We did. But I think we all believed it was Dad’s last communication with us.
The next day we turned Dad’s radio back on. Classical music filled the room.