*photo Stahr Cabral
My Father new he was going to die…His body was beaten from heavy mileage. He often would say he was had been living on borrowed time, as he had been blown up by a grenade in Vietnam. His injuries had left him 100% disabled; missing his left eye with shrapnel in his brain. He was a wild man, a man who lived life with gusto. I believe this in part due to the fact that he knew he had cheated death when he was still a very young man. He was not afraid of anything, including his own death.
He came back to the East Coast to be with his family in 2012 when his life was growing short & the mileage was catching up with him. That summer he began talking about his death and how he was going to die around Christmas time. We believed this to be true as he was a Spiritual man and spent much of his last years talking with his Spirits. As Christmas approached he made plans to spend it with my youngest sister Stahr and her family in Massachusetts. On Christmas Eve he got ill and was admitted to the hospital. On Christmas day my sister Sandy drove to Mass. to be with him. I stayed home & set up a Family Altar and asked the Spirits of our Ancestors to be with him, my sisters promising me they would call if I needed to head down. I stayed in Vermont as I had an appointment to get my windshield replaced on the 26th of December. As I was sitting in the waiting room of the auto-glass store my Grammy Brown spoke to me. She said “You need to head to the hospital and you need to bring the flag.” With those words in my head I knew my father was truly passing. When my car was repaired I drove to my husbands work and told him that we needed to head to Massachusetts. We gathered up my daughter & my sisters daughter and began our trek south.
The flag was the clearest message I could have received, assuring me that the end was in sight; as during my Father’s tour in Vietnam he carried and American flag in his backpack. Just before he was blown up he sent it home to his Grandmother who raised him “Grammy Brown”, because he was afraid he would not live to bring it home. I grew up with the same flag on display in my home…a testament to what he had endured; stained and worn like my Father had been. War never leaves a soul clean, it leaves a worn pattern on the psyche of those who experience it. My father talked often of his time in Vietnam. I remember his stories from my childhood and I remember him telling his tale of Shadow at a Druid Eisteddfod (storytelling circle) in the fall before he passed. In many ways that flag, those stories from his time in Vietnam…they defined him. They shaped the man he was-noble, brave & wounded.
His passing was one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced in my life. It taught me so much about how death could be. In the ICU of the hospital he was tended to by his 3 daughters and his 3 oldest granddaughters (one from each of his daughters), while my husband sat vigilantly outside the door “holding space”. We set up the Family Altar in his room, draped the flag over his body and prepared him for his passing. In the early part of his passing he was still conscious and was able to say his goodbyes to his sister and niece who drove down to see him before he passed, to his son in laws, and grandchildren (many of them by phone). I knew he was in the space of betwixt & between when he called me by a name I know myself as from another life. He kissed me, called me by the name that had been mine and told me he had been following me for along time. As time progressed, more medication was needed to keep him comfortable and he was seldom conscious. The women of his family sang to him and told stories of his life as we surrounded him with love. Grammy Brown was popping in and out of the room, letting us know that she was ready and waiting on the other side for her boy “Richie”.
We were changing his hospital gown and sheets when Death came calling. I suddenly became overwhelmed. A feeling I had not had since I was a child and was getting use to my Psychic abilities. I felt a bit crazy and really needed air, I walked out the door and told my husband I needed to go outside now. Just then my Niece said “You need to come back into the room something is happening”. In the commotion the basin of water we had used to bathe my father was spilled onto the floor, reminding me of the scrying I have done in water…reminding me that through water I could visit this moment over and over again. My husband joined us, holding space in the corner of the room…as my father crossed into Spirit with his “Girls” singing to him.
After his passing some of us went outside and had a “smoke” for my father. We then returned to prepare his body. His “Girls” washed him and anointed him oil while Creedence Clearwater Revival played on my iphone. My father being a Medium himself was sure to give us as many signs as possible that he had made it to the other side. My husband saw my father blow smoke out of his mouth when we first returned to the room, I saw him wink at me with his glass eye & he squeezed my daughters hand. I am sure the others also had some kind of sign from him…he wanted to get his point across. After we had prepared my fathers body, the nurse from the ICU came in. She told us she was not sure what we had been doing, but for duration of time we spent preparing my fathers body there had been no alarms in the ICU. No ones heart rate changed, no ones breathing, no codes, no alarms…all was calm.
My fathers death was truly one of the most beautiful things I have ever had the honor of being part of. In a weird way I like death. I believe this is because I see it is not an ending, but more a transition. I have cried a lot in the writing of this story as it is one I was not sure I wanted to share, but my father insisted this morning that I write about him. So this one is for my Dad-Richard Arthur Brown. I hope you enjoyed the read folks and that it is of some help when you have to experience the death of those you love.