As my Dad lay dying a few weeks ago, I began to see his body as a house.
His transition from this life to the next was not the first time I witnessed the passing of a loved one. I’ve seen it with my grandparents, my husband’s grandparents, my husband’s parents, and a brother-in-law.
Unless something catastrophic happens, our bodies take time to die. The process can leave the people sitting by the bedside watching in agony as a loved one’s body shuts down.
As I sat holding my Dad’s hand, I thought about how important it was for him to have these last moments of life on his own terms to do whatever it was he needed to do.
He needed to go through his earthly house – the place that housed his spirit – and prepare for his leaving.
Closing Down the House
I imagined him beginning at his front door, and locking it, then turning off the front porch lights.
With his family surrounding his bedside, slowly and methodically, Dad went room by room, making sure the windows were secured, the rooms were tidy, and then turning off the light of each room of his earthly house.
The hospice nurses told us to try and keep the environment calm and peaceful. We were told that if someone were to yell for him to come back, he would try and wake back up from his slumber. Because he was in the process of dying, that could cause him great agitation and possibly pain.
I would look at his peaceful face and imagine that when people by his bedside began to speak enthusiastically to him, he would leave the room he was closing up. He would turn the hall lights back on, walk to the front door, turn the front porch lights on again, and unlock the front door. Then, his eyes would pop open, and my Dad would struggle to speak to the person by his side.
After a short while, his eyes would close once more, and he would go back to work, closing down his house, light by light, room by room.
Dad held on for several days beyond what was expected. The hospice nurse would say, “Did everyone say goodbye? Did he get to talk to everyone?”
To which my sister and I would say, “Yes.”
As I sat by his side, I mentioned my shutting down the house metaphor to the family members gathered around his bedside. Dad responded with a subtle nod of his head and a gentle smile.
It was important to give him time to go room by room, mentally and spiritually closing each room of his earthly house.
Room by Room.
Lights turned off.
Room by room.
I was the last of my family members to leave my Dad’s home, flying back after extending my flight to be by his side a little while longer. My Mom and sister live in the same home as my Dad, so he was not alone, but I was out of place.
When my plane touched down, my Dad took his last breath. It was as if he had taken his time in my room and would not turn the light off and close the door until I was home safely.
With his house in order, my Dad left this world. The last light in his earthly body darkened as the light of his spirit traveled to a new home.
I will miss him greatly.
When I was a young kid, I didn’t want to grow up to be Miss America. I wanted to work in a boat with Sandy and Bud alongside a dolphin named Flipper. That seemed like the perfect life to me!
I can’t remember the first time I saw a dolphin in real life. Of course, I watched the TV series Flipper before I was even old enough for kindergarten. Back then, I was pretty confident that my life would be filled with days of swimming with my best friend, who would be a dolphin. We would solve many crisis situations together. I’d have a great tan and eat ice cream all the time.
Much like a riptide, life took me far from that childhood dream.
I grew up into my 50’s relegated to standing on the beach staring off into the vast ocean at a small fin or two that would eventually break the water, then disappear.
There was that one time in Australia when my husband paid a ton of money so I could swim with a dolphin in Sea World. The dolphin’s name was Rebel and the experience, which lasted all of 15 minutes, was spectacular.
Then, there was the time a few years back when I was paddle boarding in the Gulf of Mexico, and about five dolphins playfully swam by my side for a few yards before disappearing beyond my reach. That was also spectacular.
Other than those two moments, my life has been far from my young life goals until I went to the Dolphin Research Center in Marathon, Florida a few weeks ago.
My husband, daughter, and I went while we were on her spring break vacation. We drove up to the center, and we assumed our experience for the day would consist of us sitting on an uncomfortable bleacher while watching a dolphin do tricks in the far distance.
We were wrong about that.
We weren’t far removed from the dolphins, we were right beside them!
The center contains many netted lagoon-like areas with boardwalks and benches.
One of the lagoons at the Dolphin Research Center
We were awestruck by how close the dolphins would swim up to the boardwalks giving us an unexpected intimacy with them.
I found myself taking more pictures of the dolphins then I did for my daughter’s senior prom.
We would be watching a trainer working with some dolphins when a dolphin from a neighboring lagoon would call out to us, pulling our attention away from the action and towards him. We would walk over to the dolphin, and he would talk to us. Actually, talk to us, and then joyfully swim away.
Can a dolphin swim joyfully?
Yes, yes he can.
The dolphins would interact with us playfully. It even seemed to me like they were staring into the camera and smiling when I took their pictures.
At one point, a lady with a dog walked up to talk to one of the trainers. I watched in fascination as a dolphin swam up to greet the dog.
A group of dolphins ate ice cubes from a trainer’s cooler like it was their favorite flavor of ice cream, which for them, it probably was.
They playfully stood straight up in the water. It seemed like one of the dolphins was looking right at me making sure I was watching!
Did I mention, some of the dolphins were descendants of the dolphin in the movie Flipper?
Did I get teary-eyed when I learned this? Maybe.
We were all shocked to see that dolphins can playfully lay on a raft. I had no idea!
At one point, one of the dolphins did a complete circle, rising up higher and higher in the air with the rotation of his body. He was flawless! An Olympic diver’s dream!
The Dolphin Research Center
DRC is a non-profit organization. The organization’s focus is on providing a healthy and good life to dolphins who are not able to live out in the ocean on their own. Sometimes they are not able to live outside of the center because of injuries or the inability to feed themselves in the wild. The Dolphin Research Center focuses its research on dolphin cognition, behavior, and husbandry. While spending hours at the center, it’s clear that the DRC is living up to its mission statement, which reads,
“Through education, research and rescue, Dolphin Research Center promotes peaceful coexistence, cooperation and communication between marine mammals, humans and the environment we share with the well being of DRC’s animals taking precedence.”
If you are able, please donate to the Dolphin Research Center. Donations can be made here.
Here is a clip of the beginning of the TV series Flipper from Youtube to give you an idea about what life on a boat with Sandy and Bud may have been like for Flipper and me.
My husband, daughter, and I ended up spending 5 hours at the Dolphin Research Center, and we would have stayed longer if it wasn’t for the heat of the day getting to us.
I have to admit, I spent the majority of the time we were at the center staring at the dolphins and remembering that childhood dream of collecting old unused shells from the ocean bottom with Sandy and Bud while Flipper swam with us.
We’d share a boat.
I’d be tan and eat ice cream every day.