My dad, Peter George Fowler, died last November 8th, age 85. Three of my sisters were with him in the hospital room in Tewkesbury (England); two holding a hand each, another massaging his feet. I called from Boston and asked to speak to him, so my sister held the cell phone to his ear. He wasn’t able to speak by now, and I don’t know if he could hear me. But I could hear him breathing. For what seemed like the first time in my life, I said out straight, “I love you.” Then, “I’ll see you tomorrow” (having already booked a flight). I hung up, and was called back seconds later to be told he’d just passed away.
For the next hour I sat and cried, along with my sisters on the other end of the phone. But we were mostly silent. My mom arrived with another sister, and we all sat some more. Thankfully we all know how to break a sombre silence with a wise-crack, a bit of pragmatism (who should we call first?) or an exquisitely timed fart. Although I was 3,000 miles away I felt right there with them. It was the most deep, sad, but profoundly wonderful hour I can remember. The next two weeks of crying and remembering and crying just deepened that feeling.
My dad’s death brought me then, and ever since, to a depth of gratitude and love for him that is profound. I never experienced anything like it during his life. And I don’t say that with regret. Our relationship was what it was, and despite good will there was little ability on either of our parts to make it ‘better’. I wished and tried to be more grateful, more loving, when he was alive. And maybe I made progress. But now it’s a different thing altogether, though it’s a mystery why death would make it so. Now, looking back from this side, his whole life and our whole relationship with me and him and my mom and six sisters … no matter what it was actually like … now there’s just abundant gladness and gratitude and love.
It feels like redemption.
The really profound lesson of his death to me, however, was in the letters, cards and personal messages from friends, family and local villagers. They simply told of the significance my dad had in their lives; their appreciation for him, for his unique character, his presence, his generosity. Relationships, simple as that. People knowing and other people over the course of a life. No ‘money’, no ‘achievements’, no ‘oooh, look at the nice house he left behind’. Just people with people.
Truly, “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions [or in the ecstasy of his personal experiences]” (Luke 12v15), but in the depth and love of his relationships.