My father, Rolen, died on a Good Friday in 1999. This is a story about resurrection.
The first resurrection occurred when our family was reborn. I think if I had explained it to my parents, they would have agreed. There were definitely problems growing up in our household. My sister and I were literally trouble-free teens. In our family, if you were smart, you knew how a to keep a low profile. Neither of my parents had it easy growing up. My father was a late arrival, an unwanted child who grew up poor in rural Kentucky. I think he wanted to be a good father, he just didn’t know how. My brother and I both understood that when we finished our schooling, living with our parents in their home was simply not an option. We joked with each other over the hidden message we received with the luggage given to us as a high school graduation gift. But honestly, I was thankful for the motivation to strike out on my own. At least part of me felt I had no intention of returning, or even staying in touch after I left. I knew I needed to learn how to live my own life, and that I would need to go away and live completely on my own in order to accomplish that.
When I was 25 years old, my wife and I took a job as live-in counselors in a facility for mentally retarded adults back in my home state of Minnesota. For the sake of our sanity, we were advised to get away from the group home on our weekends off. So I found it ironic that we spent all of our weekends with my parents – in the home I grew up in. At first I was resistant to the idea. But both my parents were so accommodating that I could not help but see the opportunity. By this time I had done a lot of living and had integrated my spirituality. My parents were so happy to have their prodigal son home that they seemed more than willing to follow the models of harmony and mutual respect that I felt were necessary if we were to continue our relationship.
I can still remember the day when I chose, in my heart, to engage my parents in a genuine friendship. It was like a voice in my head: They no longer have any power over you – not in the past, not now, and not in the future. You’re seeing them as a they really are: flawed human beings who did their level best. The slate is clean. Nothing is owed and everyone feels free. You can either like or dislike them for who they are. Given that honest choice, I thought: There really is a lot to like about them.
And so we began a lifelong friendship of which I am proud.
When my parents were retired and preparing to move from Minnesota to Arizona my brother and I had a meeting with them so that they could express their end-of-life choices in a Living Will. Rolen chose every care available, every available means to keep him alive as long as possible. I made no effort to influence his choice. Even given nursing home care, he still opted for every available means to maintain his life. It occurred to me that there was a strong possibility that he would end up living years in a nursing home, which would quickly deplete any available inheritance to his children. That was OK with me. My job was to help him make his own choice.
I remember visiting my parents in Sun City Arizona, driving the curved streets with Rolen. He noticed a bumper sticker and read it out loud: “Spend your inheritance now! Why give it to your kids?” Rolen came alive as he read the sticker. “That’s right,” he said. “I should spend the inheritance.” I laughed. “Why not. Go for it.” It was obvious to me that he didn’t understand his audience in that moment. I knew he wasn’t being intentionally sarcastic or mean-spirited, just unaware. I laughed because I thought it was genuinely funny, something you might see in a comic strip. At any rate, he’d earned the right to spend his money any way he chose.
I was surprised that he died before my mother, because he had such excellent Health Care benefits. I expected that he would live a long time. His father had lived a long time. When he was 74 we all heard that his heart was beyond repair (even though doctors still tried to repair it). He suffered a great deal, without hope of recovery, for many months. In some ways his death felt like a relief. Good Friday.
For my trip to Arizona, I took a single book to read: Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung. I had not read it since college, but had begun reading it again prior to the journey. Tired of looking at clouds, I got out the book and began reading. I needed to back up a page to remind myself where I was in the book. I began reading at the bottom of page 95: In late autumn of 1895 he became bedridden, and early in 1886 he died. Jung was writing about his father’s death. It hit me right away. While the seasons were off, the circumstances were identical. Both Jung’s father and my father became bedridden and died about 3 to 4 months later. I continued reading. Within a paragraph I read the following: He died in time for you. It was Jung’s mother speaking in her number two personality (her secret wise self that seemed to speak of its own accord). She was telling her son that his father had died to free Carl so that he could pursue his destiny. Then I read: The words “for you” hit me terribly hard. An insight came to me at that moment. Like Jung, it felt like my father had died “in time” for me. This was Spirit’s synchronistic communication. I suddenly realized there would be an inheritance and that I had a responsibility to use it as an opportunity to complete my own destiny.
My mother died 2 1/2 years later and I received a modest inheritance. Being frugal by nature, it seemed huge. I began laying plans for a rebirth that I have accomplished by retiring to a new home in which I plan to carry out the final stage of my life. I can’t say for certain that I’m completely fulfilling my end of the bargain, though I am making effort. I don’t hold myself to impossible standards. I realize I’m not going to impact the world in the way that Carl Jung did. It’s possible that my life as a mystic is what the imaginal world craves during these materialistic times. Again, I don’t know. But one thing is certain. If my father had not died on that Good Friday my life would not have been reborn. I certainly would not be writing this today – not with all the physical problems that I have encountered. It’s possible I would not even be writing at all.