This small card painted just last Friday as a get-well card for my dad, who was hospitalized in the hospital for over a month. This was also painted with an intention to start a new series of cards to take him around Europe through my painting to ease the mental pain of the long duration of hospitalization. I have made a list of many other tourist destinations that I have visited and planned to paint in the future. The card was meant to be given to the ward on Sunday along with supplies that I bought and donated to the ward.
Before I went to bed on Sunday night, however, I noticed the card in my handbag. I was a bit frustrated at how forgetful I am. The note was up-to-date only until Saturday or Sunday as my dad was newly moved to the new ward. Monday may not be too late but not as fresh, but it should be okay. I ended up being determined to get it delivered on Monday.
On Sunday night, at nearly 11.30 PM, I have received a phone call. Being quite drowsy from the medication, I answered the phone with a very sleepy voice. I couldn’t remember much of the initial greetings and conversation but:
“The doctor would like to speak with you,” said the nurse. I honestly didn’t have any expectations – perhaps due to my drowsiness.
“The patient’s heart has stopped beating” delivered the blow the doctor. I simply didn’t know what and how to process the information.
I asked a few questions to understand the situation – asking for the causes like it really would help the heart to start beating again or to reverse the situation.
“I would like to ask if you would want to use the defibrillator. We will continue the chess compression only until it reaches the 5-minute mark” asked the doctor.
I asked a few clarifying questions to confirm my understanding of the implications. I responded with a short but firm answer to the doctor. There was no tear but tremble in my voice.
“Your father has passed. I’m sorry for your loss.” Said simply the doctor. “The nurse will be contacting you for administrative processes”
The line was cut. I was left with nothing in my brain momentarily.
After a few phone calls and emails to inform only a handful people of the news, I started to notice the card in my handbag. I had a complex feeling about this. I was sad that the well-meaning words didn’t reach my dad. I felt a surge of guilt perhaps that it might have given him a will to live – perhaps to hear more words from me or to see the next painting. There might also be many other feelings and thoughts that I have forgotten – all as I critically reflected, are just as irrelevant and not helpful.
On Monday, after running around the hospital and the ancestor shrine, I finally had a chance to deliver the card – but not to a person. This tiny card was placed in the bag, along with many other belongings that ended up being put into the coffin along with my dad’s cold unmoving body. My last few glimpses of him made me realize how the illness, the long hospitalization, and perhaps the biological process of death can change one’s appearance. He looked as if he has aged by over 10-years and was nearly unrecognizable.
This card that was never sent to the intended person has taught me a very powerful meaning of impermanence. Who would have thought that I would learn this very deep philosophy from my dad with whom I always have a very shallow conversation? I guess my dad wouldn’t expect that either ha!
Back to the topic, this entire experience has taught me that even the simplest things, such as sending a card or planning a painting, are, just as everything else in nature, subject to randomness and chances – the very nature of all things that are impermanence. Even the well-laid plan can falter because things may or may not go as expected. The best thing we can do is just to hold ourselves together and face them with a conscious mind.
For me, this was even a bigger blow, not only because it was a tremendous loss, but also because I have been very careful with my plan. I only plan things involving my dad a day in advance knowing how the situation can really change in a matter of days. The fact that my plan has changed overnight was really something of a big smack in the face. However, this has also meant that perhaps with a bit more time, it was a more thorough and deeper acceptance of this fact of life.
Circling back to another frequent topic of my reflection – depression and anxiety, the experience of Sunday night and Monday has proven potentially a silver lining of my earlier battle with these mental illnesses. When you have faced the deeper shade of black, the other black may perhaps be relatively more grey. When you have crawled out of the deeper pit and seen the light of day, you have developed a muscle to help you in the next crawl as well as the realization that the light of day awaits – though at the moment of another fall you may not immediately recognize that ray of hope.
I am not a very touchy, feely, and lovey type of person with my family members, but one message that I would like to end this piece of writing with is: “Dad, I hope that you are now happy with mom somewhere and that you are proud of me for this”.