I haven’t read a newspaper, perused a blog entry, watched TV news, or listened to any talk radio since August 30th. I have little to no idea about what has been happening in Iraq, Congress, or around the world. For me, it’s almost as if time stopped two and a half weeks ago, and ever since then I’ve been living a blur of days- one blending into the next without much thought or effort or anticipation of the next.

No, I haven’t been on a self-imposed sabbatical or a long overdue vacation to somewhere sparkly and bright. The complete opposite in fact. You see, on August 30th, my father died, and in the short span of time that a simple telephone conversation takes my whole world shifted a bit on its axis.

The thing you’ve got to realize though is that this wasn’t the first time that my father had died. He was 58 years old. Since his first open heart surgery in the early 1970’s to the last one he had in December 2005, my father has beaten back death time and time again. In fact, he’d been technically dead at least three times in his past, each time being brought back to life by the skill of some wonderful doctors and medical professionals. I wrote about these events after his last operation, and you can read about it here.

Living with a frequently dying father has the effect of preparing you (intellectually at least) for the eventual day when he will actually die for good. At the same time though, it instills a sense that this was a man who would never really die, since he had beaten the odds so many times before. It was through that lens of his medical history that I had to accept the fact that this time there would be no return from death’s door. This time it was permanent. This time it was for real.

My dad was on vacation in Eastern Washington when he died. He went there every year to enjoy his high school reunions, visit with old friends, and family too. This visit he spent most of his time helping move my grandmother (his ex-mother-in-law) from her home of 30 years into her final residence, a retirement home. Not much of a vacation really, but that’s the kind of man he was. He was a helper, and he rarely took “no” for an answer. He’d actually gotten pretty much everything finished up- she was in her new place, the old place was nearly empty- but apparently when he went back for the last few things his heart finally gave out. He was alone in an empty house when his heart failed him.

It’s impossible for me to know what his last thoughts might have been. Does our last moment of consciousness become flooded with the images of our loved ones, of our life? Is it filled with thoughts of things undone? I won’t know until my turn comes. But I do know that I don’t think I want it to be alone.

We all traveled up to Washington to have the service. It was a small affair, but at least 15-20 of his old high school friends attended, in addition to the 20 or so family members present. Afterwards we took my father’s cremated remains to a beautiful promontory on the Oregon Coast and scattered them in a place where you can see the forest, the flowers, the ocean, and hear the sea lions barking their never-ending chorus of life. It was a 3 mile hike each way out to that spot and I know he never could have made it on his own, but I never felt so proud to carry anyone in my life. For a final resting place, I can’t think of a more peaceful place.

My father was not a religious man (and neither am I) but he was a spiritual man. At an early age, his own mother succumbed to cancer, and he and one of his brothers were adopted together. Their adopted mother was never a loving woman towards them, and once he came of adult age, he sought out and discovered his natural family. Yet even knowing who and where they were couldn’t fill the void that losing his mother left in his life. He tried to fill that hole by giving his love so freely to his own children, by making sure we got from him what he never could get for himself. In that, he succeeded brilliantly. I’d like to think that now that he has passed from this world he may finally get a chance to meet his real mother and feel from her the love he so freely gave. It’s a nice thought, even if at an intellectual level I don’t think it is true.

The experience of losing my dad has exposed the dichotomy of death to me that only previously could I grasp from afar. I don’t believe in heaven or hell or any of the religiously charged afterlife theories at all. I doubt I ever will. But losing a parent sure makes me wish I did, if only just for a minute. Because if I did believe in the afterlife, then I could also believe that my father wasn’t really dead at all, but only waiting for the rest of us to join him. It’s a nice thought, and I can understand why so many people choose to grasp at this kind of dream.

Instead, I have a different take. As a non-religious person, it is still possible for me to believe in an afterlife of sorts, just not in the same way. To me, the way one achieves a sort of immortality is through the memories of the living. So long as there are stories to be told and pictures to share, a person continues to live on. If I remember to remind my daughter of who her grandfather was, of what he taught me and her, then she will carry him with her throughout her life. And if she has children and shares her memories with them, my dad will continue to live on, much as my great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents live on in my memory from the stories and pictures I have heard. That is the afterlife, and it is as good as any other I can think of.

My father’s views on politics are were very close to my own. He was a prolific writer of Letters to the Editor of his local paper, and frequently was published there. (I am toying with giving those a re-print here. A tribute of sorts perhaps, if you will.) He would be disappointed if I didn’t get back in the saddle to continue the fight against corrupt politics, stupid politicians, and a general lack of common sense. I guess it’s time to return.

The hard, numbing part of putting my father to his final rest and going through his papers and belongings has been completed, for the most part, and it’s time for me to rise from the ashes of loss and mourning. The world looks a bit different to me now, but that’s not always a bad thing.

(cross posted at Bring It On!)