The Hermit Poet

April 21, 2007

Becoming Fatherless at 33

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 12:45 pm

My father passed away early this morning (7:30 am) after spending the last year or so struggling with the effects of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). When we came to view him for the last time, his face was at peace — and in many respects we are happy that the time has come for his release from pain and suffering, though we are nonetheless sad to see him go.

Last night we held a celebration at the hospice for my father under the guise of a birthday celebration for me. All his friends in the community, many of them who have known him since childhood or as a young adult, came out to see him. People brought their guitars or voices, sang songs for him, reminisced about old times, and laughed and joked. We all gathered around his bed. We ate and celebrated his life. And when he was tired, we wheeled him back to his room and his friends said their goodbyes one by one as they left.

I can’t think of a better way for him to leave — in the company of so many people he has loved and befriended, whose lives and stories have become intertwined with our own.

When my mother, my sister, my brother-in-law, and I arrived this morning at the hospice, I offered a family prayer for us. I wept. I expressed gratitude both for the time we have had as a family and for the assurance that we will be reunited one day. I said my goodbyes again, but felt my father close to us nonetheless. The body really is but a fragile vessel – its work done, my father has disembarked and headed onward to that distant shore.

This morning as a few of his closest friends and I dressed him in preparation for his final journey, one of them asked me when it is appropriate to begin writing about the loss of a father: when it happens, a week or two later, a month later, or years later? I said, Yes — we write at all those times. The loss of a father and a friend, as with other life changing moments, becomes something we return to again and again — sometimes more literally, sometimes more figuratively — but always it finds a way into what we write.

I think my father would agree. We write out of love and loss. We write to remember. We write to find a home, even as we wander. We write for light, for rest, for sorrow, for joy. We write till our fingers lose the power to say what our hearts are saying. What the eyes still know, even closed at last in that deep and silent sleep.

Goodbye Dad, for now. Till we meet again.

You can read about my father here at his blog:

7 Responses to “Becoming Fatherless at 33”

  1. Frances Ingram Says:

    Thank you for your story and insight. I knew your Dad as an Instructor and Lecturer. I enjoyed his humour & with and his knowledge. He taught me to “think beyond the box”.
    My own Dad passed away on 14 Mar 2007…I too wrote about him and spoke of him at his Celebration of Life. I know I will meet up with him again one day and that he is with other family members who have gone on before him…but I do still miss him tremendously. Your “story” has helped me shed some of the tears I held back to be strong for the rest of the family. Thank you and God bless you.

  2. Joan McIlmoyl Cleghorn, U.E. Says:

    What a wonderful tribute to your father! I was sorry to hear that he had died, yet like you, glad to know his suffering has ceased. It’s so special that in celebrating your birthday, you were all able to have a true ‘celebration of life’ for him while he was still able to participate.

    Take heart that though Ken was young in years, he truly led a full life and made the best of his ‘Dash’. In case you haven’t heard or read it, here is the URL to the poem ‘The Dash’ by Linda Ellis which was offered at my mother-in-law’s recent memorial service – I hope it helps.

    A fellow genealogist and member of APG
    From Saseenos BC near Victoria & Sooke BC

  3. Lee H. Says:

    You have my prayers and support during this difficult time, Neil. I read about your father at his website, and it sounds like he was incredible man person.

  4. Robert Says:

    I’m so sorry to hear of your loss, Niel. Through this site, I’ve watched you express moments where you made peace with your father and his condition. May the next part of this journey be filled with support, grace and, of course, with poetry. You are in my thoughts.

  5. Heather Says:

    Neil, I’m sorry to hear of your father’s death, but glad that you could be with him and the rest of your family. It is comforting to know that your faith sustains you, and to realize that you will move forward with his blessing and years of tutilage to guide you. My own father has a few months left, and I hope his passing will be as graceful.

    Much love on your birthday and always.

  6. Oliver Says:

    I’m sorry for your loss, Neil. I’ll be thinking about you and your family.

  7. Fran Bourassa Says:

    Hi Neil:

    I had a father once. It hurts when you lose them. A lot.

    Kindest regards to you and your family.

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