There are moments in our lives that become imprinted on our minds. Times when there appeared to be little or no light at the end of the tunnel and yet there was.
decade or so ago, my father, Johnny, was slowly fading away from a pernicious cancer. My father bore his illness in his usual gentle, understated manner. He never complained of the pain or fear he must have been experiencing.
My heroic mother, Stephanie, and I were lucky enough to be able to look after him at home. Due to his age, his cancer was not brutally aggressive.
Our days were attuned into Johnny's rhythm - if Johnny was having a good day, then so were we. Our good days were the culmination of a series of small victories, when we might persuade him to eat a little something or, after he was unable to speak, understand his gestures so that we could get him what he needed. We tried to be up-beat, light and pushed with all our might against the inevitable, enveloping gloom. He demanded nothing of us but his illness demanded everything. Round-the-clock care.
Initially our home was full of visitors, but as my father become more indisposed, we moved him upstairs to my parents' bedroom. Johnny was a proud man and preferred the privacy and dignity that his bedroom offered, so only close relatives and friends visited. We lived in that isolated bubble. The outside world remained outside. As demanding as it was for us all, I didn't mind in the least. I felt privileged to be able to look after the man who had so generously looked after me all my life.
I hadn't been out in many weeks when a friend insisted that I join him at a Christmas event. Reluctantly, I went. Being out felt somewhat alien to me. Here I was surrounded by seasonal cheer, and all I felt was the isolation of my situation. It was loud, it was noisy, but in some ways, I was grateful for the distraction.
There was all sorts of entertainment at the event, including a Tarot card reader. She asked to see me. I didn't ask her why and simply followed her.
In that crowded place, we managed to find a quiet space. The kind soul laid her hands above my head and told me that she was giving me strength for what lay ahead. She advised me that those family members who had gone before me and passed over were doing fine and that I should not hold them back with my grief. She asked me to think of them as birds, flying freely and to allow them to go.
I didn't question what she said, I didn't even react. Over those months, I was in such a locked-down survival mode that her words barely penetrated my numbness.
Later that night, the night nurse woke myself and my mother to say that the time had come. Johnny was taking his last few breaths. We gathered around him, willing him to feel the love that would accompany him on his journey. There was no drama, no laboured breathing - he just gently slipped away.
My mother's husband of 50 years, my dad, was now gone. Like robots, Mum and I went downstairs for a cup of tea. As the dawn broke, I looked out the window and glanced across to my neighbour's house. Their roof seemed to be in motion. I got up to look closer and saw that it was crowded with birds. Jam packed with birds. I could hardly believe it, remembering what the lady had told me just hours before.
Even before the profound loss of my father set in, I knew in my heart that those who love us are always with us, looking out for us, on the wing, guiding us. We are never alone.