We humans are both fragile and resilient. This has been brought home to me vividly as I recently watched my father fight for his life. His wish was to live, to continue to enjoy life to its fullest. He was a strong, healthy man, until he wasn't. My father loved the good life; family, friends, good food and conversation and nature in all its abundance. He loved providing for those around him with fresh fish, home grown vegetables and all manner of food foraged from local forests and shorelines. He grew up on the West Coast of Canada with deep ties to the wild and he traveled the world, always seeking new experiences of people, places and cuisine. With his background in journalism, from reporter to publisher, he loved a good story and a better debate.
From him I learned my love of the natural world, both in appreciation for its beauty and for the sustenance it provides. I grew up in a foraging family; springtime brought fiddleheads, wild garlic and the start of the fishing season. Summer was for berries of all sorts and fall brought an abundance of mushrooms, wild fruit and nuts. Winter was for enjoying it all, in preserves, pickled or frozen. I grew up trusting that Nature can sustain me, if I know where to look.
My father fought for his life in the not-so-sterile environment of the hospital. His heart surgery was deemed a success, but ultimately the super-bugs got to him and he diminished before our eyes, losing mobility, his appetite and his breath. Remembering everything he taught me about the healing power of good, fresh food, I feverishly cooked and prepared dozens of meals to replace the bland and unhealthy hospital food. Visiting him each day, I brought my healing music, essential oils, my presence; anything that might help ease his suffering. I was not under the illusion that these administrations could save him yet held on to the hope that they could compliment the efforts of the doctors and nurses.
The nurses understood and often commented on how lovely his room smelled and how nice it was to hear classical music, or the songs of the Beatles over the pings and beeps of the various machines that were keeping him alive. My efforts were as much for my sanity in the Intensive Care Unit as it was for his comfort and if others benefited, all the better.
He rallied near the end. He squeezed my hand and opened his eyes through the haze of the medically induced coma. And then he was no longer there. His body fought on, helped by the machines, as we held on to one last thread of hope for his recovery. My hand was on his heart as the machines were turned off, feeling the last, unaided breath. The sacredness of being present for his death sustains me as I now learn to live without him. He will live in many hearts for years to come.