My Father’s Death

By Natalia O’Sullivan

I had always felt that my dad was going to die relatively young, so when I received news that he had cancer it was like stepping into a terrible dream. He came to our house one weekend when my mother was away in Spain, and he said he wasn’t feeling right. He had always been a heavy drinker, so I put it down to that. But that night an old friend, Neil, who had recently died of cancer himself came to me in a dream. He was standing by the end of my bed surrounded by orange light. I said to him, ‘Neil, why do you look like the Virgin Mary?’ as he appeared to have a halo. He replied, ‘Before I leave this earth, I have come to tell you that your father has cancer. You must go and see his doctor.’ I then fell asleep, but he came again in another dream in which he woke me up saying, ‘You must remember to ring the doctor in the morning.’

The next morning, I phoned the doctor and persuaded my father to come to the appointment with me. It was October, and autumn was just setting in. In December, the oncologist confirmed he had bowel cancer with secondary cancers in his liver and bones. I remember feeling terribly depressed. In my heart I knew he was going to die and at that moment our grieving process began.

My father locked himself in his bedroom for weeks, as he slowly came to terms with his diagnosis. Then we began the journey towards his death. One night my mother called to say he had a very high temperature, and they were going to the hospital by ambulance. Once in hospital they put him in an isolation unit, as he had contracted septicaemia after his last dose of chemotherapy. Within two weeks, he had contracted the lethal infection clostridium difficile.

They put him on antibiotics; it didn’t make any difference, as within hours his kidneys started to fail. He became very agitated and drifted in and out of consciousness. One minute he was lucid and the next he was hallucinating. He talked in his native Hungarian to his deceased mother and other relatives. I felt quite helpless because he was in such a state. I wanted to give him peace, so I gave him some gentle healing on his head. As I allowed a healing light to move through me and through my hands onto his body, I could feel him calming down. The anxiety and worry left him, and he fell into a deep sleep. During his final few days, he kept getting out of bed and asking if we were going home. We realised that he wasn’t ready to die and every time he woke up, he would ask us what was going on.

None of us could reply. I would try to tell him, but he wasn’t ready to accept that he was dying. It was heart-breaking. When he was sleeping, I could tell that he was slipping in and out of conscious reality. This is when dreams and memories come in as consciousness begins to fade. Finally, he was ready to go. Mum was there when he died and she said he just let out one long breath and then, he was gone. He had completely let go.

The night before he died, I was sitting in my garden; it was a warm balmy evening in summer. I sat with a drink in my hand watching the stars, when an almighty blast of light spread across the sky, the biggest shooting star I had ever seen. It appeared to last several minutes, as it disappeared into the night sky. I knew then that dad was leaving; he died the following night.

I realised from witnessing the rapid progression of my father’s death, his fear of his own mortality. I was never sure whether he believed in life after death or had faith in his childhood religion. He had long since denied his Catholic roots, so it appeared that he became afraid of dying. There were a lot of regrets from leaving Hungary during the uprising in 1956, as a young man of 18 years old, after which he didn’t contact his family for 10 years, so they didn’t even know if he was dead or alive. I believe this separation from his family during those years haunted him until his final days.
As death approaches, a reckoning starts to take place in our consciousness and past issues arise there can be regrets, guilt, secrets, sadness; a sense that one must complete things, make things right; all ‘that should have been or should not have been’ rises to the surface, for both the dying and their loved ones. It is a final opportunity to put things right before we go. Sometimes people just cannot make things right, they don’t have the opportunity or the desire at that time, but when there is the chance to heal the past, death can be a peaceful surprise.

Even if there are no real-life issues to be healed, there is much that we can do to facilitate the death process. If we believe we can really support our loved ones as they are dying, it gives us a chance to grieve them, knowing that we did our best for them as they journeyed towards their passing.

As we grieve and let go of those who have passed, they too go through their own process of separation from life through the many different stages of coming to terms with their own death. This is the time to call on our ancestors, who can come to our aid and to support the spirit, as it passes out of the dying body.

After my father died, I travelled to Barcelona to join my Spanish family on my mother’s side. I was filled with grief and traumatised by his rapid demise, so I was feeling very sensitive and trying to come to terms with him no longer being around. That first night I woke up to hear him calling my name and repeating again and again, ‘What happened? What happened?’ For the next three nights the same thing happened. I could almost feel his breath on my face. He was so close to me. It was disturbing because his presence was almost physical. I then called upon the spirits of his deceased family, including his mother and father, to come and help me to help him come to terms with his death.

When I went to see his body shortly after he died it was as if his energy had split in two: one side of him was very peaceful; the other was still agitated and angry because he was not ready to die. After his funeral, my dreams changed and lightened a little. He started to show me that he could bounce up and down; that he was weightless and free. He told me that all he had to do was think of my brother and he would find himself in his house. He told me, ‘There is no pain anymore, no heaviness.’ But it felt as though he continued to struggle. He kept coming to me and asking, ‘Why have I died? What has happened to me?’ He was having a traumatic post-death experience. Even though we had made him as comfortable as we could, we had not been able to fully help him process the fact that he was dying.

Then one day I had another dream of him and two of his friends from Hungary. I didn’t recognize them at first, thinking that they were wearing wigs because they looked so young. My father said, ‘Look, I have found my friends again.’ He came to me on my birthday a year later. He was sitting in a church pew, and he turned to me and smiled and said, ‘I have come to wish you a happy birthday.’ It was only after the dreams, and once we had returned his ashes to his family home in Hungary, that I felt he was finally at peace and my grief lifted.

From The Ancestral Continuum by Natalia O’Sullivan & Nicola Graydon published by Simon & Schuster