Being Present With Not Being Present for My Dad's Last Breath
by Tools coach Jamie Rose
A friend asked me why I decided to leave town when my father was so ill. My trip to the Omega Institute to assist Phil Stutz and Barry Michels, coauthors of The Tools at their workshop Conquer The Enemy Within had been planned for over a year—and while I knew there was a chance my Dad would pass while I was gone, I told her, “I’m good with God’s timing.”
My father had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for several years and was living at home with my mother as primary caregiver. A year ago, when I moved into the apartment next door, I became second-in-command.
As hard as it’s been with Dad this year, as I watched more of him slip away each week, my worst fear had always been the day when he’d be too sick for us to care for him at home. That fear came true three weeks before I left for Omega when a gallbladder infection brought him to the hospital and then a skilled nursing facility.
There is a Tool called Category Three.
Close your eyes and conjure a strong feeling of LOVE.
Let go of it.
Now conjure a strong feeling of RAGE.
Let go of it.
Cycle through again.
Feel intense LOVE.
Let that go.
Let that go.
Now trigger BOTH FEELINGS TOGETHER.
Let that go.
Again, BOTH FEELINGS TOGETHER.
How do you feel?
This Tool is designed to bring you into a flow state—a state where you are neither in the past nor future, but acutely in the present. Being with my father this last year has felt like a constant Category Three experience.
Once he was away from home there were terrible moments. Dad, who at this point had the cognitive abilities of a young child, begged to go home. I stayed overnight at the hospital holding my father’s hands back from pulling out his IV and catheter. I stroked his forehead while he cried out, “It hurts! It hurts me!”
It hurt me too.
But there were beautiful moments as well. Dad calling me “Jamie” for the first time in months—instead of “her,” “my wife” (he often confused me with my mother) or “my daughter.” Dad reaching out and touching my cheek, saying, “I love this face. This is my face.” One day, while I stared at him, knowing that there isn’t such a thing as forever, he said, “You love me.” “Yes I do, Daddy,” I answered.
And I always will.
Memorial Day morning at Omega, an hour before the final session of the workshop, I learned my father’s death was imminent. I walked to a lovely lake near the meeting hall where the workshop was held and sat on a bench. It was drizzling and gray, stormy, beautiful, deserted. I looked up into the sky and thanked God—or whatever mysterious cosmic forces are responsible for such things—for my fathers’ life.
I was driving to New York City with Phil and Barry when I got the news. I simply said aloud, “My father died.” They knew what was going on and were silent as I sobbed. They didn’t try to “fix” the situation in any way and held space for me to grieve. What better place to be in that moment? Alone with two of the best shrinks in world. Alone, but together . . .
My Dad was the sweetest person I’ve ever known. He left love in his wake. The standing room only crowd at his funeral was not just friends and relatives but everyone from the cashiers at our local grocery market to the guy at 7-Eleven from whom he’d bought his paper when he could still go on his daily walks.
From my father, I learned what makes a truly successful life. Not money, not fame, but the people you’ve touched. Even at the hospital, when a new person—a doctor, nurse, orderly— came into his room he’d find something nice to say. “You have great hair!” “You have a great smile!” Or just, “You’re great!” (Of course, at the end, because of his disease it was often followed by “Would you like to see my penis?” but that didn’t seem to bother anyone.)
I have a friend who, instead of the ubiquitous salutation, “Have a Good Day!” used to say “Give a Good Day”. My father embodied that idea.
If there’s one thing this year has taught me, it’s the preciousness of the moment. Because of The Tools and my other spiritual work, I was able to be present and show up for every drop of Dad that was available. I have no regrets.
When my father died, he was alone with my mother, his bride of sixty years. He took his last breaths encircled in her arms. All as it should be. A perfect, peaceful passing. God’s timing.
I’m so good with it.
Jamie Rose is an actor, author, and Tools coach personally trained by Phil Stutz.