Today is March 29th, 2013. On this day, 94 years ago, my father was born. He almost did not make it through his first year of life, at just a few months of age he was one of the millions of victims of the influenza epidemic that killed so many people in the United States and around the world that year.
My father – James Hawley – had another very close call with death as a young adult. He joined the Air Force near the start of World War 2 and was the only soldier in a bomber plane to survive being shot down by German forces over Axis territory. His family was informed that he had died. In reality, he was a prisoner of war in Germany. When he was released with the German defeat, he arrived back to his family house in Ithaca, New York only to learn every item he owned had either been given away or discarded.
Surprisingly (or not), my father never, ever talked about any of his war time experiences or being a prisoner of war. Even when I pressed him as a young adult to tell me something, anything, he would seem to freeze up and say it was better not to discuss such horrible things.
What my father did feel comfortable discussing with me was death – both as a powerful reality and ultimate shaper of our human existence. As a homeopathic doctor who meditated and had a deep spiritual practice, Dad not infrequently would say such things as “If I ever got a terminal illness, rather than waiting around to die I would volunteer for a life or death kind of mission that would help people and my country.” Perhaps in some intuitive way, my father sensed what would be his ultimate fate in this incarnation.
Flash forward to 1985. I am a grown doing my doctoral dissertation in Chile. I have not seen or spoken to my father for almost a year. In the pre email days, traveling to foreign countries usually meant limited and slow (I.e. letters) communication with family and friends Back home.
Before the date of March 25, 1985, I had never ever had a dream I recalled about any family member. At that precise date, I was house sitting someone who did not even have a telephone. My fiancé (later husband) was working in construction in the south of Chile. Saving money to travel to the US with me.
In the previous weeks, I had been helping his family in Santiago deal with an uncle who had pancreatic cancer. Rene was his name. He had at one time been a big, strapping German Chilean, but when I came to know him he was a wizened and sick man who no one wanted to tell that he was dying. The family members clustered around his hospital bed talking about his getting out, renewing his driver’s license, etc. Making plans we all knew would never come to fruition. An operation did not keep his death away. On a steaming hot February day Rene passed on to other dimensions.
One month later, I awoke from a dream I will never, ever forget. Honestly, it was more a vision than a dream; so real and clear that even now more than a quarter of a century later I can still recall every detail.
My father was in front of me, radiant and full of light. But one important thing was different about him than the last time I had seen him. At his throat was a large hole with light beaming out of it in all directions. He was so beautiful. My heart felt full, and then overflowing.
I was not so surprised when I received the message later that day that he had died of pancreatic cancer.
A few days later as I was preparing my journey home for his funeral, he came to me again in another dream. This one was even more light-filled than the previous dream. “Don’t be sad Skye,” he told me with a smile. “All of the pain is gone.”
I have pondered that last line he told me ever since. “What pain?” I would ask myself. What pain was he talking about? The inevitable pain of being a human? The particular pains of his life? Something else?
At the time of his death, my father had a second wife and a step daughter he helped raise. Relations were strained in large part due to this second wife’s alcoholism. She did all she could to keep my sister and me away from my father. At his funeral, all we learned about his death is that he had probably felt bad for months and not seen a doctor. (Generally speaking, doctors are not good patients). And when he reluctantly went to the hospital, he was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer. So the story goes, he refused an operation and all medication. He tried to get released but the hospital staff refused, claiming he was mentally unstable and probably suicidal.
How can someone be called suicidal when they are in the advanced stages of a terminal disease? My father knew the odds of advanced pancreatic cancer. He knew he would die from it, and that even an operation would not stop this relentless disease.
I recently read about an interesting study that found that doctors and others in the health professions refuse treatment and even take their own lives when faced with terminal illness at a much higher rate than any other group.
A few months ago I learned from my step sister with whom we recently reconnected that my father had contacted someone who gave him a dose of an homeopathic remedy to let him pass on. This month a nurse I know told me what it was, and that in the state she used to live in and practice, a person can decide to leave this world of their own violation under certain conditions such as terminal and/or degenerative diseases.
I understand that New Hampshire has been considering similar legislation for some time now. On the date of my father’s birthday and near the date he chose to leave the pain of his body through an herbal avenue, I am coming forward to support legislation that gives an individual the freedom to legally end their life if facing terminal illness. I know without a doubt that my father is smiling down on me as I write this, and that his dream message to me about the pain gone really was true for him.