“Thy Kingdom come Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
I lay curled around my 5 months pregnant belly at the foot of the bed were my dad’s body lay dying. My step mum lay next to him and my sister sat in a chair at his bedside. We slept fitfully during what we sensed was his final night on earth.
I awoke with a start into heart-thumping immediate alertness with a line from the Lord’s Prayer spoken loudly from within me; “Thy Kingdom come Thy Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” I am not a religious person, I had had only supplications for comfort in the weeks leading to this long night, I didn’t understand the words then, and I still find them beautifully ambiguous. But I do think that with those words, Grace, Spirit, Great Mystery – however you choose to know Her/Him/It – was letting me know that it was time.
I noticed the candles had burnt out. I found new ones and lit them and woke my sister and step mum. We noticed that dad’s breathing had changed again, with longer pauses, and that for the first time his hands and feet were colder, as his body put all available resources into his vital organs. I went and woke my husband, Tristan, who was sleeping in another room, “I think it’s time if you want to come…”
“He wants us to read Hanta Yo,” stated my sister. We all knew what she meant, Chapter XXV from my dad’s loved to coverless-ness dogeared copy of Hanta Yo by Ruth Beebe Hill. I remember feeling irritation. I wanted this night done, my body, heart and head ached and my pregnant belly was a taught hard drum from weariness. Our dad had been lying unconscious, after his final lucid hour of life on Saturday night, it was now around 3am on Wednesday morning. Now I am grateful she could hear his request and for the grace and beauty that unfolded as we read some of my dad’s favourite written words.
The four of us took turns to read and each time we stumbled or paused my dad would emit a shouting gasp to encourage us on. My step mum read the last paragraph, it took her the longest, perhaps she intuited that this was our final goodbye. And upon the full stop of the last line, ‘I am Ahbleza. I own the earth.’, he died. His final gasp, was to me, a rapturous sound, a sound you make when you are surprised by someone known to you. And in that fraction of a second gasp I got to witness that to die is a joy so complete.
There was so much grace. But I know, my darlings, that to live is mess. After his dying all we were left with was mess in a pool of grace. We were left here (sometimes it’s there) with all our broken-ness, all our sorrow, all our anger. And with this we had to weave threads even though the spool was almost too hot to touch. Left scorched, in a landscape of smoking ash dotted with silhouettes of things we thought we once knew for sure.
A few weeks ago my husband, son and I visited the Cederberg with friends. As we were driving the dirt road I thought of how dad cherished this landscape. I keep his ashes in a Shweshwe pouch in the glovebox of our bakkie. He loved driving, he loved Isuzus and he gets to come with us wherever we travel – it seems like the only place to house them. I took a small handful of ash and bits of bone from the purse and with joyful irreverence flung them to the side of the road to mingle with the dust our bakkie trailed and as I did I heard him cry ‘Yipppppeeeeee’. (I have quite a bit of ashes still and that allows me more irreverence, but this is certainly the first time I have thrown them from a moving car). Shortly after we rounded the corner I was smacked with the sight of another burnt mountain. The Wolfberg, though not too recently burnt, was laid very bare, all shorn, ochre and grey.
But there amongst her burntness was a green heart. You see beneath a large white leaning stone is a small spring, from which Tristan and I have thirstily drunk despite the flotsam of dassie droppings. And so as she bleeds life into the scorched kliphard landscape about her a small green oasis has risen. Without the fire you would not know this spring, you would not know this green, you would not know the cracks and contours of the Wolfberg that are now laid bare to you.
I am grateful for being broken open by death, and deeply in-gratitude to my dad for sharing the grace of his dying and what a joy the moment of death is to the dying. And for the fire burning through all that once was after which seeds were dispersed and awoken, fire lilies blossomed and the mountain’s green heart was revealed. With this broken heart and less knowing mind I have never loved myself, the world or other beings more.
I believe if you can surrender and flow like the river or just trickle like the dassie-dropping-clogged-spring the gift of death is absolutely rebirth.
And so I heartily welcome in the death of this year and surrender to the arrival of another. Much love Lauriane