Crossing the Bar is a phrase used widely by the military and ex-military, more specifically the Royal Navy. It is used to politely announce that a person has died. The term is taken from a poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson as meaning to cross the “sandbar” between the tide or river of life, with its outgoing “flood,” and the ocean that lies beyond death, the “boundless deep,” to which we return. The “Pilot”, obviously, is God. Lord Tennyson wrote the poem after a serious illness while at sea, crossing the Solent from Aldworth to Farringford on the Isle of Wight. It’s beautiful and well worth your time to read.
When I put out to sea,
Turns again home.
When I embark;
My biological father died years ago. I rarely give him a passing thought. Those of you that regularly read my blog understand why. If you don’t, you can read this and this. My true dad, my step-father, died Sunday, January 14th, 2018, just after 12:30 pm GMT, in an assisted living care home in Milton Keynes, England. My sister Lindsey, who was by his side during his decline, let me know that her hero, her guiding light and the first man she loved had died. Clearly, she was gutted, and for good reason. Lindsey had spent two nights in a row nursing, comforting and reassuring her father. She held his hand, which I’m positive gave him much comfort. Apparently, he was in little to no pain as he had a morphine patch. My step-dad, according to Lindsey, would just gaze at a photo of my late mum constantly.
My sister spent almost all of her time with our dad during his last days. She must have said one hundred goodbyes, played Tchaikovsky, held his hand, mopped his brow and sat him up to clear mucus. If it had not been for her ministrations, dad would not have been able to get the bed to raise, so as a result, he would have choked to death while in distress. Such a horrible way to die.
Along with my sisters, Wendy and Sarah, I will never be able to thank Lindsey enough for her sacrifices and attention to our dad since he decided to leave Canada in September of 2015 for a fortnight visit to England. When it was time to come back, he refused. Lindsey had to scramble to find him a spot in a care home near her and then spent almost every day visiting him and trying to make him feel less alone and comforted. She tried everything to cheer him up…his favorite books and food, and his preferred television shows. Nothing really worked. She did her best to have him round to her home for weekend visits, but it soon became apparent that he could not navigate the stairs, even with help. My sister practically devoted the last 28 months to persuading our dad to engage with the world around him. She never had much success, but that never stopped her from trying. Her devotion to my step-dad can probably never be fully comprehended by me, as I never had that desire to help my own father. I wrote about and paid tribute to my step-dad in this blog post while he was still alive.
The truth of it is that after my mum died, my step-dad just gave up. Two weeks after my mum’s death he had a stroke, and he was never the same. Any kind of physiotherapy he received he only did half-heartedly, and then promptly gave up on the second it was formally over. He never did any of the suggested exercises and stretches to maintain even the smallest amount of fitness and mobility. In September of 2015, when he realized he’d be able to travel back to England with a friend who could assist him with the flying, he jumped at the chance. Quite frankly, it was the only “jumping” he did after mum passed. Once he arrived back on his homeland soil, there was no way he was ever coming back. I think we all knew it deep down.
It’s officially the end of an era, and I marked it by re-reading some of the love letters my step-dad sent my mother back in 1989 before he made the move to Canada. The letters are passionate in nature, but not of the pornographic variety. They are the kind of love letters that every woman imagines that their own love would send them. Filled with powerful words of love and yearning. The letters are beautifully handwritten with palpably filled longing. They both wanted a second chance at love in their fifties, and they got that. That makes me happy.
I’m going to close with a note that my step-dad wrote after my mother died that I found in his room after we learned he was not coming back to Canada. He had at least a dozen copies of this scattered about his living room and bedroom in all sorts of odd places. I gathered up each one and threw all of them out, save one, which I put in a keepsake box, along with the love letters I described earlier. Here is what he had to say:
“I believe that Ann was happy with me. She would call me a silly sod but would say that I was her silly sod. I am glad that she died first and was spared the sorrow of bereavement, which I now must endure. She gave me 25 very happy years. Of all the millions of women on this planet, why did God have to take my Ann? There is no life without Ann, merely existence. When Ann died the world became a colder and lonelier place, and I see a long hard road ahead, ending in death. Every night I pray that I will not wake in the morning, but God is not listening, so I must endure the pain of bereavement. Please God let me die soon, and be spared the weakness of old age, which becomes worse daily.”
God finally granted my step-dads wish. I try to hold back tears, but they run down my face freely as I write this. I take solace in the fact that they are now together and in each other’s arms once again.
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