My father died five weeks ago. In the last hours my sister and I sat with him. We closed the door on the noisy corridor of the care home where he’d lived since October. I watched the rise and fall of the folds of sheet as his breathing grew shallower. Vaughan Williams’ Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus played on the radio. He took his last breath as the music came to an end.
Hours later we emerged into the night, under the full moon. We sat under the trees in the car and listened to Mozart’s Laudate Dominum. Music has become intrinsically linked with his last days, and will always bring back the thoughts, sensations of our waiting, his struggle.
I haven’t been able to write for a long time – through the long months leading to his death, and it’s impossible still to express with any clarity the changing states of mind – challenging, illuminating, confusing, dream-like.
In a half dream I saw my father existing in an infinite empty space, and felt the coldness of that, and how he might be desperate to be born into another life – remnants maybe from my reading of Buddhist texts. I woke shaken, and the disturbance bled into days that followed. There is no comfort in the notion of continual rebirth, a partial truth, religion’s petty, if valiant, attempt to perceive, understand and map the unknowable. Then a friend sent me this poem, A Noiseless Patient Spider, by Walt Whitman. I write it down for my father.
A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
Tricia Durdey dances, writes, and teaches Pilates.