A Story from Women Celebrate
The following story is about my father, who died of cancer in March of 1996.
A few years after my father passed, my brother, Rick Shapiro, became interested in learning more about alternative cancer treatments. It was a surprise to me because everything alternative had been my interests since I was a child: alternative medicine and alternative cancer treatments, meditation and healing, healthy diets and food plans, essential oils and herbs, natural childbirth, the hospice movement, alternative education and community. So I was happy for him to discover this journey. During the next fifteen years, he researched and then wrote a book and launched his site, www.hopeneverdies.com He writes that he wishes he knew then what he knows now – and that there is hope if you have been diagnosed with late stage cancer.
by Elizabeth Welles
After my dad passed on, I missed him excruciatingly, so you can imagine my joy when nine days after he died, he came to visit in a dream. Now my father — one of the most honest and compassionate people I’ve ever known, didn’t believe in an after-life, so he wasn’t the kind of person to come back to me in a dream to tell me something if it wasn’t true, and he came in humorous ways. I would say something to him and he’d answer back and have me laughing.
It was Easter Sunday, the day we were spreading his ashes. We didn’t plan for that day specifically it just worked out that way. My father’s Jewish, but I liked the day, the resurrection of dad, and it meant something to me. Early morning, in the dream-state, my father was laughing and smiling. “If I only knew about this eternal life stuff,” he said, just like that, “Like it would have been so much easier, who would have known. I saw Grandma, (my mother’s mother,) the dogs, (her dogs) even Tippy,” (one of her earlier dogs that died something like twenty years before.) He was chuckling over all the things we think and do around death. He looked well, happy and real relieved.
Dreams continued quite consistently through that first year. In another he said, “If you want, I’ll help you with your writing, even every afternoon. I can help you with your writing, beautiful words, but you have to make an appointment because I’m very busy.” He was happy to help, but he wasn’t going to push anything on me, even in life he wasn’t a pusher of his ideas. In the dream, I found myself wondering, “Does he know he’s dead?” Telepathically he heard my question and answered out loud in a funny, off-handed way, “Yes I know I’m dead, but I’m not dead, and yes I know I’m not in the body, but I am in the body, right now, for you.” A dear friend of my Dad’s, who passed on six weeks after my Dad, came into the dream too. This friend had a heavier and more encumbered body when he lived on the earth. In the dream he walked into the house huffing and puffing from carrying all these packages. He looked at my Dad and telepathically voiced, “Oh boy, it’s one helluva thing being back in these bodies,” and they both giggled like little kids. It wasn’t their number one priority — to be back in the body, but they were happy to do it for us right now.
I use to hear songs in my head totally out of the blue. I’d hear Stevie Wonder’s “You are the sunshine of my life.” Then one day I was in NYC walking the streets. It was a gray day and I was feeling low, really missing my Dad, when I heard . . . “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray, you’ll never know Dear, how much I love you, please don’t take my Sunshine away.” I looked around to see if anyone was singing, I listened to hear if this song was playing anywhere nearby, I even peered into a store or two. And I’m thinking, “Dad?” My Dad loved music, loved concerts, classical and jazz, which I finally have begun to also love and appreciate, but the sunshine songs?
When he was very ill in the hospital he hadn’t eaten for what seemed like weeks. One day he asked me for an apple.
I said, “Apple juice?” He shook his head no.
I said, “Apple Sauce?” He shook his head no.
He said, “Apple.”
I said, “Oh an apple.”
I happen to have brought a fresh apple from the house that day and had it in my bag. I ran to the nurse’s station, got a knife and cut off a small portion of the apple, and from that portion I cut about seven tiny, baby-bird bite size pieces about half the length of a small pinky nail.
I began feeding these bird-size bites to my Dad, and as I was feeding him I said, “Here’s a bit of sunshine Daddy, here’s another little bit of sunshine.”
All I could think of was the sun shining down and nourishing these apples, making them healthy and whole, and of the sun shining through my father’s whole body with each little bite. After about four bites, he put up his hand like a King and said, “It’s all in,” like he had just consumed the most sumptuous feast and was plentifully satisfied. Later as I held the urinal for him and his pee hit the side of the jug, he said, “Gravity, it’s all in the gravity.”
My father finally came home from the hospital for another six weeks of life. The day we took him home, one of the nurses came to us to tell us that none of the nurses had expected my Dad to leave the hospital. They use to come in each day, and say, “Oh Dan’s still here!” The nurse felt it was a tribute to the family’s care that he was leaving that day.
A week or so after we arrived home, we received a call from Marianne, a three-time cancer survivor herself who had started an organization to help people with cancer, and their families. What we didn’t know was that she had stood in the doorway weeks earlier observing the apple interaction with Dad.
“I’m coming over, I have a present for you and your Dad,” she said.
“What is it?” I asked.
“I’m not telling you, it’s a gift.”
I was on my way out for an appointment, but I waited. She arrived and we unwrapped the gift. My Dad’s lying in bed with friends and family around, and she takes out this beautifully sculptured ceramic man with a yamaca on his head, and a big bowl he holds in his lap with a little lid that comes off. On the bowl is written the words, “Bits of Sunshine for Daniel.” She said she was so moved by what she saw that she told an artist friend of hers who did this sculpture for us. The only requirement was that it had to sit where my father could see it. My father beamed, remarking, “Oh, she’s still feeding me Sunshine.”
The Tuesday before my Dad passed on, my mother and I took a break. My brother came over and watched my Dad for the evening, and my mother and I went to see Spalding Gray, the actor and monologist. When I came home, I told Dad about the performance and he said, “Why don’t you be a storyteller,” and he suggested I do it in California. I went upstairs and in the shower thanked God and my Dad, because it was one of the greatest gifts he could give me—to say pursue your dreams, do what you love, write, act, tell stories.
My Dad passed three days later, early Friday morning. The night before he died I remembered a dream I had of him weeks earlier. In the dream he was slipping down from his chair, and I was trying to pick him up. I called a friend in the dream and said, “Tiny, he’s slipping away.” Well the day before he died was just like that dream. He was propped in a chair. I held his feet as each of us breathed. I breathed in, he breathed out. He breathed in, I breathed out. I was holding the feet of a Buddha, practicing breath, aware of our connection in the moment, and practicing for when we would breathe and receive each other’s presence from “different” worlds. Later in the day, I was alone with him trying to make him comfortable, trying to help him sit up. I had eight pillows and two bolsters in back of him and he was still sliding down for he had absolutely no body strength. I called a friend that night from the bathroom with the door closed so I could cry and cry, and I said, “He’s slipping away.”
Friday morning came too early and my mother came upstairs to call me to help with my Dad. The night before she told me that he talked all night and at some point he said, “NO, NO, NO,” and then “Okay, Okay.”
I went outside, pointed my finger at the sky, and said, “If we can’t keep him, then you take him with the greatest of love, peace, freedom, joy and enlightenment, and you better serve him well!!!”
I went back inside and stroked his head, telling him he was beautiful and loved, how much we loved him, to focus on the love and his own natural rhythm, his own natural grace. At one point he reached out in front of him, like he was reaching for something and he said, “Where are we?” We said, “We’re at home, you’re in bed.” Really I would like to have asked, “Where are you?” He reached out — and this was a man with no physical body strength left. He was trying to speak to us but it was hard to understand because he didn’t have much saliva in his mouth and so I swabbed his mouth to get some moisture in it, his teeth locked, we got the swab stick out finally. My mother had gone to call my brother. She came back and said she didn’t really know what to tell him, so I left to call him. I don’t know why we kept leaving the room, there was a phone right there, but I guess we were being polite though it’s funny, none of us had any illusions at this point, and he knew he wasn’t getting better.
I told my brother to come soon because it would be soon. My mother screamed for me just as I got off the phone. I hadn’t been gone but for a minute or two. I ran and my Dad’s eyes were open looking at my mom’s but the expression was gone, they were blank, his last view was of her, and then he closed them. My mother kept saying, “Danny, you’re not breathing, Danny, Danny, you’re not breathing,” then she turned to me, “What should I do?”
“Call Ricky,” I said, and she left the room.
I jumped on the bed next to my Dad and while she was gone he took his last two breaths. If you’ve ever seen a person die, it can be rather dramatic or violent looking, not all the time, but sometimes. He took two deep gasping sighs. His whole body stiffened, his eyes rolled back, and then his eyes closed and his body relaxed. I was glad I was the only one to see that because to be honest I don’t think anyone else in my family would want to have seen it, and I guess I wanted silence for my Dad, complete silence. I didn’t even touch the body, I just wanted him to be free to leave without anyone pulling on him, I wanted him to have the greatest moment he could have for that enlightenment, that birth into Spirit. I remember thinking, “I didn’t think it would be like this.” It was so quiet, such silence in the room, and then after awhile I put my hand above his crown to feel his energy moving out, but I didn’t feel anything. I’m sure he wanted to get out from his tired body as fast as he could, and so sky-rocketed out. I remember thinking I probably wouldn’t even cry if my mother came back to the room and wasn’t crying, but she was, and then I started.
My brother was there in an instant. He told his four-year old son, Jeremy, to stay in the living room while he came in and cradled over the body with my mom. I went outside to pick grapefruit blossoms, then my brother brought his son in to kiss Papa’s forehead one last time, like he did the night before when my father still breathed, the only time that day when my dad had smiled. My sister-in-law came over and then my beautiful nephew, started handing out hats for everyone, including Papa. I appreciated Jeremy’s ever-joyous nature and innocence, and yet as he put a beret on Papa’s now silent head all I could think of was that movie, “Weekend at Bernie’s,” and I was like, get the hat off. My father loved berets and I’m sure he appreciated the moment. In fact there was a lot of humor that morning, along with the tears. My sister-in-law took Jeremy to school and my mother and brother turned to me and asked what I wanted to do. We took my Dad’s pajama top off, wrapped him in a big white sheet. I oiled his chest with a touch of scented oil, and lit a candle that would remain lit for the next two-and-a-half days. While we put the sheet around him I got under him and lifted him up, to get his shirt off, like I so often did in his last weeks and days. I said, “He’s so heavy,” My mother said, “There’s a word for that,” and all I could think of was, “Deadweight?” Then his eye winked open and I said, “Look he’s winking.” We placed a column of flowers on his chest from his belly to his neck. My brother picked some flowers from the garden, my mother used the rose in bloom next to the bed, and I had the white fragrant grapefruit blossoms.
My Dad left the body with his mouth open, perhaps it was those two gasping breaths. In any event, my mother kept saying, “Won’t you close your mouth Danny? Won’t you close your mouth?” And when I picked him up his mouth did close — for a second, but when I put him back down his mouth opened again. My brother and I said, “Mom he’s not going to close his mouth,” but she persevered. After a while we were all out of the room at the same time. I was in the driveway with the hospice nurse who finally arrived and it was incredibly windy, unusually windy, when suddenly I heard my mother calling me, “Come look, come see Daddy’s smile, come see Daddy’s smile.”
My mother gets very enthusiastic sometimes, so I was thinking yeah, yeah, okay, when I’m done here. When I walked back into the room I could say it was a beatific smile that was on my Dad’s face, but it was simply my dad’s smile, which was beautiful to us. My brother and I huddled together and kind of said, “That’s daddy’s smile, that’s daddy’s smile!” My mother said he heard us, and when we all left the room, his spirit came back into the body for a moment to close the mouth into his smile to say, everything’s Ay-Okay. My brother and I looked at the body, turning to each other at times to say, “looks like he’s breathing.” Even though he left the body, there was still so much life.
We kept the body with us for seven hours and it was a most comforting time. We talked to my dad, kissed him, and lay down beside him; the body was still warm. My sister-in-law sat by the bedside at one point, and said, “I know it sounds morbid, but can’t we stuff him and keep him here?” It was that comforting. I did ask my mother if we could keep him a bit longer, but she said, “If we keep him any longer, we’ll have him for the whole weekend.” (I guess I wouldn’t have minded, feeling close to the Buddhist’s three-day tradition of keeping the body.) My mother gathered my brother and I in the kitchen. She put her arms around us. Even with the obvious sadness and tears, she said she felt Joy. I believe it was my father’s joy that touched her. He was soaring through the clouds.
I finally called a dear friend to tell her that my dad had passed, and she returned the call several hours later. She said, “I’ve got to tell you something. I was outside very early this morning, it was about the time your dad passed, and I hadn’t received your call yet. I closed my eyes to sort of connect with your family and your dad, when I heard the most dignified and strong voice. It said, “This is Daniel. This is Daniel.” I wondered what this was about, and then I realized it was Daniel, your father. He said, “Tell my most precious daughter I love her so very much, she has done so much for me. I am so glad you are coming; she needs you now. Tell her I am fine and she is going to be fine.” My friend wondered was she making this up, she hadn’t ever “channeled” before, or ever even tried. But then she got home, heard my phone message and knew. She lay down for a moment and reconnected, “Anything else?” She asked. He reiterated what he said, and then added, “Tell her I am with her, tell her I am not leaving her.” He got out of the body as fast as he could and flew to my friend, whom he had never met, but knew I was close with, to give her that message.
My dad and I have this deep soul connection, a loving bond that includes and included a tremendous respect for our differences and a genuine acceptance of who we are as people. All of us, in this Universe, interface with each other much more than any of us ever really know or perceive, in life and in the “hereafter.” And in that place, that is beyond what we ordinarily “know,” there is humor, peace, joy and love. My dad’s been with me ever since, as he has been with a whole lot of people, and the relationship continues. It’s something few talk about, but many know. Relationships continue because love is profound and greater than death.