My dad died last Wednesday. Since then, the words have been building up inside, and this morning the phrases that must be typed woke me up.
In 2009 I went to Chautauqua, NY for a writer's workshop put on by Highlights For Children magazine. It was empowering. Up until then I had written musicals for children, mostly volunteer for church youth groups, and semi-volunteer (wee tiny paycheck) for a couple of schools in Austin. At the workshop I learned many things that have helped me step out into the world of picture books and publishers, young adult novels and formatting, and the murky, intriguing world of blogs, web sites, links and "followers". But the biggest impact on my imagination was made in a workshop by Peter Jacobi (look him up...it is worth it) called "The Hero's Journey". I remember clearly the moment when Peter Jacobi said, (paraphrase--the Judy version) "The hero may have followers and many who support and attend him, but there will come a moment in the story when the hero must descend to the depths, to face the enemy, alone."
We were blessed as a family to know the end was near for my dad. The hospice workers (who surely will get gold stars somewhere) were able to tell my mom when Dad had hours or days left. For two days, we gathered around his bed in the living room where he spent the last weeks of his life. Sometimes we sang, sometimes we read to him or visited with each other, or sat silently holding his hand. He was unresponsive, but we knew he could hear us. And he knew we loved him. My brother, who was flying his 747 (well, I guess technically it belongs to United, but I'm pretty sure it knows Mike is the real owner) back from Sydney as fast as he could, and he was able to tell Dad on the phone the truth we told him in person. I love you. It's okay. You can go, because I know how hard you've fought, I know how you need relief and release. I will see you on the other side. Peace, Dad.
At the end, for my dad, death was a friend. But the hero's journey formula still applies. Though we gathered around my dad, he took the next step alone, as every one of us must do. I have written before about my dad, the hero. He did many heroic things in his life, serving as a fireman and a father and husband and friend. Maybe his most heroic effort was the way he faced his disease, and his death,with courage and grace and selfless love for my mom, his caregiver.
Like every good story that I love to read, my dad's hero's journey does not end with that step into the unknown darkness. My dad's story has a triumphant ending. He is already healed, restored in my memory to the strong, adventurous, humble, loving man who encouraged me all my life. He is already beyond the hard part, the cruel disease has no hold on him. My dad is still here with his loved ones, but he is here as the man who stepped into the void and lives on in our hearts. I believe my dad lives on with God, as well. But I don't need to wait and tell him my feelings when I make the journey, because he is here with me now. It is a good story, the Hero's Journey of Frank Todd, with a strong ending that inspires me and others who love him. Well done, Dad. Thank you.