I wonder if you know the story of Tam Lin? A wicked fairy queen has stolen a young woman's love and the only way to get him back is to kidnap him from her retinue, and hold onto him no matter what fearsome shape he takes. How often do we meet an enchanted Tam Lin instead of the the one we know and love? It can seem at times as though they vanish and someone else stands in their place, speaking someone else's words, sometimes even in a different and unintelligible language. Well, I had an experience of meeting a Tam Lin and that enchanted Tam Lin was my father.
In the summer of 2015 my brother called, on his mobile, from Ireland. I knew he was about to tell me something serious...and he did. Our father, who wert on earth, was coming to his final chapter, with a lot of pain, confusion and exhaustion. The doctors didn't want to commit to any definite prognosis, but my brothers phone call was enough of a sign - I needed to get back home right away.
Getting there was a comedy of errors, a meeting of kind strangers and I felt somehow out of time with the world. I was on a bus, sitting beside a bubbly Spanish au pair about to meet her new hosts for the first time. And there I was beside her, seeming to listen, but with the mantra repeating in my mind : my father is dying, my father is dying, my father is dying. The bus drove past fields, down lanes, over bridges. The landscape was stunning and the road was like a ribbon drawing me closer and closer to my father.
Close to the end, the man I knew as my father changed, and all the pain and frustration of his situation transformed him into an angry man who wouldn't speak to his children. We sat by his bedside, tried to comfort him but he wouldn't have it. It was frightening at times. On the night he died I sang-whispered to him, holding his hand, as he breathed his death-rattle - afraid, unsure, amazed and already grieving. All of us.
Below are the words that came to me as I sat with him a few days before he lost consciousness, in that time between, while he was more dreaming than awake, living through vivid memories.
For My Father (with a nod to Rumi)
All else falls away
The clutter and clatter of tears
Recede, like his hairline
To reveal the smooth field
Which is my father.
The obstacle course
And through devotion
To simple things
A lifetime of overcoming,
On that simple field
I finally meet my father
As he falls