91: Safe Journey

91: Safe Journey

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers

Safe Journey

It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end.

~Ursula K. Le Guin

My father and I sat on the couch watching a DVD of a Josh Groban concert. My dad turned his head toward the bank of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking our small lake. His neck stretched to look over and around me as he smiled that crooked smile of his, the result of a cerebral stroke he had in 2004.

“What are you looking at, Dad?”

“Well, look at all those ships out there,” he replied.

As a registered nurse, who has taken care of many terminally ill people, I was aware of the hallucinations and visions that accompany many people during the death-and-dying process. They occur days, weeks and sometimes months prior to their death. I had decided, a while back, not to interfere since Dad enjoyed his hallucinations and didn’t fear them, so I stopped trying to orient him to reality and let him enjoy his visions.

Many were very entertaining to both of us as he described them in detail. At times, there were golfers playing on the lake, moving trucks on our island, and fishermen on the curved walking bridge catching whales and pelicans. One of my favorites was the arrival of a Big Top Circus with all the animals. He described in detail the rising of the tent, the display of elephants, and all related circus activities. But today was a heartfelt hallucination.

“What kind of ships?” I questioned. “Battleships, cruise ships, submarines?”

He hesitated a bit. “No, sail ships,” he replied, “about 20 or 21 ships. Some are small dinghies; a few are very large with many sails looking old and tattered. It looks like a parade of ships. The people on the ships are waving at us.”

His eyes lit up with pleasure; this vision was clearly fun for him. I looked over the lake to see if there was something that would trigger this scene in his mind’s eye. There was a huge, leaning oak, reaching out over the lake some 30 to 35 feet, almost horizontal with the lake’s surface, with lots of Spanish moss dripping from the branches and swaying slightly in the gentle breeze. Perhaps those were his sails.

“Dad, do you remember Kristen Beth, your granddaughter?” I asked.

“Oh, of course, I remember Kristen. How could I forget her?” he said with a smile and giggle. He loved Kristen, who died of severe asthma at age 21—the only time I saw my father cry.

“Well, you know, Dad, if Kristen was still alive, we would be celebrating her birthday today. She was 21 when she died, so maybe this is her birthday parade of 21 sailboats. This is her parade, a gift to you.”

I thought for a moment and recounted the last words I whispered into Kristen’s ear before she was taken to the operating room for organ harvesting and donation. “Have a fun and safe journey, Kriss, and wave to me when you see me. I love you beyond the moon and more and will miss you.”

He continued to look at our lake, nodding his head, and murmured, “Well, if this is her gift of a 21-sail-ship parade because she lived 21 years in my life, then I will give her, you and your mother an 87-ship parade each year on my birthday.” I smiled and asked if he would wave to me as he passed by. He simply replied yes with a definite nod.

My father passed away 10 days later at home as planned, while listening to his favorite music from Mitch Miller, Linda Eder and Josh Groban. While my mother sat at his side holding his hand, I leaned in to whisper in his ear.

“Have a fun and safe journey, Dad. I love you beyond the moon and more. And don’t forget to wave to me when you pass by on your sail-ship parade. Bring Kristen and our beloved yellow Lab, Maggie.”

As promised, each year on May 3rd, I stand in front of our bank of windows overlooking the lake. I imagine the parade of 87 sailboats. And then I smile and whisper, “Thanks, Dad, for being a part of my life. Your golden threads are woven tightly in my life’s tapestry. I love you.” I wave to my imaginary vision, indelibly painted in my mind by my beloved father.

~Peggie L. Devan

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