The Whistling Gypsy has become the Whistling Yogi!
All That’s left is Love
I’m not quite sure why it’s taken me so long to write about this topic. It’s true that it’s a very personal story, but not in a way that might prevent me from writing about it. With that said, it feels like it’s time, so, here we go.
My father-in-law (Leo, I’ll call him) passed away almost 2 years ago to the day. He was a truly unique man. A professional driver by trade (long-haul semi-trailers), he loved his job, loved his family, and had a great passion for hunting, fishing, and just being in the great outdoors.
Except for the last couple of years on the job, he actually loved being on the road. Loved even more telling stories about his adventures in out of the way places, and equally interesting people he met over the years. He always had a story ready for anyone who might lend an ear. In fact, he never tired of spinning yarns about all the interesting things that happened to him as an itinerant trucker.
He and his wife (Mary, I’ll call her) were married for life. He was definitely a one-woman man. Through their hard work and dedication to family, they managed to buy a home in the suburbs and raise their two children, and live a generally pleasant suburban life.
They were madly in love in the early years, but like many relationships, things began to unravel a bit in later years. After the children grew into adults and moved on, much of the reason for staying together seemed to dwindle.
They even separated a couple of times, only to reunite after a short, unsuccessful attempt to start new lives apart. Leo never wavered in his love for Mary, though. And yet against this background of committed love, Leo also had an often uncontrollable, serious temper – one that could blow up at the slightest provocation.
Even though it was difficult for him to acknowledge, he knew that he could sometimes terrorize his family when he lost control to his anger. He always felt great regret after these episodes.
In his own way, Leo always tried to “see” his mistakes. He might even wonder aloud, after the dust had settled on a recent blowout – why do I do this, and why do I keep repeating the same mistakes over and over?
Even though he would still slip into his anger pattern after these ponderings, he at least showed some insight into his erratic behaviour. He tried. Mostly he failed. But he tried to change. He showed a lot more insight, in spite of the failures, than most of us do about our own personal shortcomings.
His beloved Mary passed away in 2012, and Leo was never the same after that. We’ve all heard stories of how a long-term loved one passes over, and the one left behind never quite gets over it; never seems quite able to move on. With Leo, even the motivation to move on was absent.
Sadly, we had to watch him slowly decline over the next 7 years or so. It was amazing to the whole family that he lasted this long. He gradually lost interest in everything; nothing seemed to matter any longer; nothing was enjoyable; we could see that he was going through the process of letting go.
One of the only things that brought him even a modicum of joy was when his adult children visited him. His daughter (my wife, Kelly we’ll call her) was especially endearing to him. She is a natural caregiver, and loved her dad deeply – in spite of his human flaws and foibles. She saw the good man deep inside the gruff exterior.
As his health deteriorated over the past year or so of his life, we moved him to a long-term-care facility. His unhappiness grew even deeper, but he knew the move was necessary. He resisted at first, like any of us would, but he gave in to the inevitable with a grace that was both touching and inspiring. Day by day, he grew in acceptance of his physical decline. This was especially notable given that he was such a strong ‘man’s man’ during most of his adult life.
Kelly visited him almost every day in the care facility. Fortunately, it was close to where we lived. I would join her every 2nd or 3rd visit. I could tell he enjoyed my company too. But to be honest I never felt especially close to him leading up to this time. Don’t get me wrong. I respected him greatly and enjoyed his long stories (for the most part, wink) and occasional company, but it was mostly just congenial between us.
As his decline in health quickened, Kelly and I could sense the end was drawing near. We tried to be there with him as much as we could. Drawing on my past experience as a counsellor, I would simply “be there” with him; allowing him to talk about whatever he liked; and making space for times when he wanted to talk about passing over. I never tried to influence his views. I was simply a listening ear. I could tell he appreciated that.
After a bout of serious discomfort and pain, a very caring and loving female doctor at the care facility suggested that they send Leo over to the emergency department for a special blood transfusion. It wouldn’t cure him, but would definitely lessen the pain, and bring ease to his upcoming transition.
We wanted to accompany him because we knew the end was getting closer. As they wheeled him through the tunnel that connected the care facility to the emergency department, Leo seemed a bit dreamy, reminiscing about life, barely able to lift his head, but still talking non-stop, as was his way.
As he was laying on the gurney in emerge, Kelly and I standing beside him, trying to keep him comfortable and feeling supported, he spoke softly about how everything in life seemed to be drifting away. Nothing mattered anymore. He wasn’t sad, or afraid, simply reminiscing in a soft, dreamy voice. We just listened while trying to comfort him as best we could.
After a short while, he turned his head and looked me directly in the eyes with an almost child-like innocence, and went quiet for a moment. I held his gaze. I wasn’t sure why he had suddenly decided to lock his gaze on me. He asked Kelly to take his glasses off, which she did. He looked at me again and asked if I would kiss him on the forehead, between the eyes. Basically, right on the third eye!
I was taken aback at first. Primarily because he and I were never really affectionate toward each other. We were both respectful and admired each other, yes, but never really affectionate. He feebly lifted his arm and pointed directly to where I was to kiss him. He didn’t miss the mark. His finger pointed exactly at the third eye. Once I got over my initial surprise, I said with a gentle smile, sure, I can do that.
I bent down and kissed him gently on the forehead a couple of times. Without skipping a beat, he said one more time please. I smiled as I complied and held my lips to his forehead for a good ten seconds or so, sending him love and light while doing so.
When I lifted my head, he seemed satisfied that my kiss had accomplished what he was looking for. This was one of the sweetest and most profound things that has ever happened to me. I felt a deep, genuine connection with him in that moment. Kelly picked up his hand and held it tight; I joined her and the three of us shared a quiet, loving moment together.
Then came the big surprise. He looked up at me again, with a peace and surrender in his eyes, and said in a soft, tired voice, “love is all that’s left.” I was gobsmacked. I couldn’t believe this was coming from my blue-collar, rough-around-the-edges, non-spiritual father-in-law.
He had come to a very deep recognition all on his own. With no spiritual tradition or leaning in his life, he arrived a a very basic and foundational truth about life: When the body dies, we lose everything that we held dear – our loved ones, all our possessions, our beliefs, our projects, our hopes and dreams – in a word, everything.
And once we clearly see this undeniable truth that everything in this life is fleeting, transitory, and impermanent, and that in the end there’s only one thing that really counts; we open ourselves to the possibility of realizing in a very clear and profound way that….
All that’s left is Love.
… Thank you, Leo.