David Fernandes
Producer, Director, Writer

Archive for the ‘birth’ Category

Full Circle

Wed ,15/04/2009
Late on April 6th, 2009 – my birthday – my father passed away.
On the surface, this would seem like a shitty thing to have happen, but in the context of my life, it actually makes perfect sense.
I was born on April 6, 1973; my brother Danny, April 6 1961; my father-in law Gurmit, April 6, 1943; my brother-in law Raj, April 6, 1973. Between our two immediate families, Nrinder and I have four people that share the same birthday. So if you can accept the impossibility of that, then my father dying on my birthday has some kind of cosmic circularity to it. The man who helped bring me to life transitioned into his new life on the anniversary of my birth. What a gift.
The days leading up to my birthday were hard ones. By the time I got to Napanee, where he lived, on Thursday, Dad was pretty far gone. He hadn’t eaten in close to a week, he’d lost a substantial amount of weight, and he was barely able to get up, much less walk anywhere. I knew that he wanted to die at home, away from doctors and hospitals, so I cancelled all my plans for the next four days – including my birthday party – so I could help him do that. Dad’s wife, bless her soul, was having a hard time keeping up with him. Nrinder and I knew that by being present we could extend the time he had at home and possibly help him achieve his wish.
But he was a stubborn bugger – a trait that comes directly from being the youngest male in a family of farmers. He’s been independent since he was able to walk, working since he was strong enough to shovel earth, aerate wine or stomp on grapes – as if he was going to let anyone ‘help’ him. Since he retired at age 55, he’d been the picture of health: lean, strong, able, sharp, and tireless. But the cancer  - and particularly all the goddam treatments – did a number on him. When it was clear the chemo wasn’t working, my father made a very conscious decision to go. But in spite of his wishes, his body soldiered on. Life, it seems, is a difficult thing to loose, even when you want to.
So for four days I helped keep him comfortable, keep him company. I cried a lot those days, knowing that there wouldn’t be more of them and feeling bad that he had to go in such a miserable way. “You don’t ever want to go through this,” he whispered to me. And he’s right. With the cancer spread to his stomach, liver, lungs and kidneys, ‘living’ had become reduced to lying in bed, too weak too move, to parched to talk, too dehydrated to cry.
I didn’t have anything burning to tell him, I just took his hands and felt their heaviness and warmth, noticing for the first time how elegant his hands were. I’d always imagined them as a bit stubby, but up close his fingers were long and his skin soft. Hands that once picked me up by my ears, to my squeals of delight, were still strong and gentle, even after all the sickness.
By Sunday it was clear to us that we couldn’t keep him at home anymore. He’d already tried to get up a couple of times on his own, and fallen, and the stress of this had gotten to be too much. We explained to him that we thought he’d be better served in a hospital, with round-the-clock nurse care and better facilities, and once we were sure he understood, he agreed to go. 
As we waited for the paramedics, I took a few moments alone to tell him that I loved him, that I appreciated him, that I forgave him and that I would treasure his memory, and that I was sorry he had to go this way.
After four days of being inside, surrounded by death and sadness, I stood with Nrinder on the front steps of his house and witnessed the first signs of spring. As the paramedics carried my father out of the house, the sun shone warm and brilliant, the finches and blackbirds filled the air with beautiful songs as two doves cuddled in their tree. 
For all the fear of hospitals and doctors, the people at the Lennox and Addington hospital in Napanee treated him like extended family. They forced no more pills on him, hooked him up to no more machines, and moved him as precious little as they had to. They knew they were giving him a comfortable place to go, and treated him with all the respect and care that he could have ever got at home. In fact, the home care nurses were wonderful too – caring, sensitive and quick to respond. It gave me a whole new appreciation for our health care system and how wonderful and precious – and privileged – it is to have so many resources so close at hand and totally independent of an insurance plan. For all the ninety-something visits to doctors and specialists that my father had and all the hundreds of visits to home by nurses, all the equipment that was installed in the house and leant out to make things easier, none of it cost an extra dime. 
The folks at the hospital let us use an emergency room, privately, as they waited to bring him into a room in the ward upstairs. It’s there that I said my goodbye. It was Sunday, and my birthday was the following day. I decided to go home because I wanted to be with my mother on my birthday and I didn’t think there was anything more that I could to do to make him comfortable. I had planned to come back on Tuesday if necessary, but I knew this time that I wouldn’t see him again. 
Before leaving, I asked for a few moments alone. I took his hand and told him again that I loved him and I thanked him for being the man that he was. I told him that I would see him again. And his final words to me, whispered through his sore, parched mouth, were, “you will.”
And I did. 
Driving home that night, Nrinder and I saw the most beautiful sunset, orange and purple rays streaking across bands of clouds and flocks of Canadian geese, returning from the south. And I felt a great peace come over me. Though letting go is a sad business, spring is always around the corner.
The following evening – my birthday – I went to visit my mother. After chatting with her for a little bit, I went upstairs to use the washroom. While taking a pee, I distinctly heard a child’s voice say my name. I looked behind me and of course found no child, but I took note of the experience because I’m not one for hearing things. Moments later, while sitting on the couch with my mother, I got the call that my father had passed in the company of his wife and her sister-in-law. It happened a five minutes ago.
After seventy-four years of life, and three long years fighting cancer, my father decided to let go of his dying body on April 6th – Danny, Gurmit, Raj and my birthdays. And now, appropriately, his birthday too.