Three Things I Learned
From My Father When He Died

Things I Learned From My Father When He Died

In his dying months, and after, I could see things that in my anger, I hadn’t seen before. Especially how much I loved him.

"If there is any immortality to be had among us human beings, it is certainly only in the love that we leave behind. Fathers like mine don't ever die." - Leo Buscaglia

David Hazelhurst & Jo 1987

“Liar!! You’re a liar!”

Dying of cancer, in and out of a morphine-induced haze, and afflicted with Alzheimer’s, these were my father’s last words.

Ten minutes earlier, he’d had a moment of clarity for the first time in a while.

I love you, Jo. I didn’t tell you enough. And I’m proud of you.”

I love you too,” my words broke with emotion. I stroked my father’s back — an unfamiliar embrace for us.

My relationship with my father did not include physical or emotional affection. But for weeks now, at his bedside, unsure of what he could hear or feel, I’d share with him my heart. It was the most intimacy I’d had with him since childhood.

Daddy, I remember the day I first swam alone. Do you remember? A storm was about to break. And you were standing in the water a few feet away, encouraging me to take a leap and swim to you. And I did. Do you remember?

And he smiled. SO big a smile. It was a glorious moment shared between us.

Then: “I think something is very wrong with me,” he whispered.

 I could tell he was scared. And his mind was gone again just like that.

He turned his attention to the ghosts in the room. I read the dying can see the spirits and angels around them.¹

Whether it was his Alzheimers, his ancestors or angels, I’d grown accustomed to accommodating his conversations with people I could not see and his time-travelling trips to the past.

Like when he thought his apartment building elevator was the mineshaft of the 1960 Coalbrook mining disaster,² the worst known in South African history: he, a young reporter assigned to cover it.

One thousand miners were below ground when 900 pillars caved in — 437 died.³ 

Haunted by this memory, back in the Coalbrook mineshaft, he mumbled about the urgency of raising money for the miner’s families.

We can get some money upstairs,” my feeble response was more of an effort to curb his walk-about than to comfort him. His distress told me of the unresolved effects this traumatic event had on him.

So now, in this last conversation, moments after he told me he loved me, he incoherently asked me to say to an invisible person or a group of people standing near the window to do something. 

And I got it wrong.

Yes, I’ve told them”, I affirmed. My father seemed anxious and perturbed with ‘their’ presence. As if ‘they were making too much noise.

He glared at me. “You’re a liar.”

All I could think to say back was, “I love you. I love you so much.” And I held him tight. And with that, he slipped into a coma.

A week later, he died.

When I think back to this time, it is not this accusation I remember the most. Instead, it is the invisible love of something so much greater than me that I felt through caring for him — an indescribable spiritual experience of my own.


In his dying months, and after, I could see things that in my anger, I hadn’t seen before. Especially how much I loved him.

"If there is any immortality to be had among us human beings, it is certainly only in the love that we leave behind. Fathers like mine don't ever die." - Leo Buscaglia

David Hazelhurst & Jo 1987

“Liar!! You’re a liar!”

Dying of cancer, in and out of a morphine-induced haze, and afflicted with Alzheimer’s, these were my father’s last words.

Ten minutes earlier, he’d had a moment of clarity for the first time in a while.

I love you, Jo. I didn’t tell you enough. And I’m proud of you.”

I love you too,” my words broke with emotion. I stroked my father’s back — an unfamiliar embrace for us.

My relationship with my father did not include physical or emotional affection. But for weeks now, at his bedside, unsure of what he could hear or feel, I’d share with him my heart. It was the most intimacy I’d had with him since childhood.

Daddy, I remember the day I first swam alone. Do you remember? A storm was about to break. And you were standing in the water a few feet away, encouraging me to take a leap and swim to you. And I did. Do you remember?

And he smiled. SO big a smile. It was a glorious moment shared between us.

Then: “I think something is very wrong with me,” he whispered.

 I could tell he was scared. And his mind was gone again just like that.

He turned his attention to the ghosts in the room. I read the dying can see the spirits and angels around them.¹

Whether it was his Alzheimers, his ancestors or angels, I’d grown accustomed to accommodating his conversations with people I could not see and his time-travelling trips to the past.

Like when he thought his apartment building elevator was the mineshaft of the 1960 Coalbrook mining disaster,² the worst known in South African history: he, a young reporter assigned to cover it.

One thousand miners were below ground when 900 pillars caved in — 437 died.³ 

Haunted by this memory, back in the Coalbrook mineshaft, he mumbled about the urgency of raising money for the miner’s families.

We can get some money upstairs,” my feeble response was more of an effort to curb his walk-about than to comfort him. His distress told me of the unresolved effects this traumatic event had on him.

So now, in this last conversation, moments after he told me he loved me, he incoherently asked me to say to an invisible person or a group of people standing near the window to do something. 

And I got it wrong.

Yes, I’ve told them”, I affirmed. My father seemed anxious and perturbed with ‘their’ presence. As if ‘they were making too much noise.

He glared at me. “You’re a liar.”

All I could think to say back was, “I love you. I love you so much.” And I held him tight. And with that, he slipped into a coma.

A week later, he died.

When I think back to this time, it is not this accusation I remember the most. Instead, it is the invisible love of something so much greater than me that I felt through caring for him — an indescribable spiritual experience of my own.


"I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments when they aren't trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom." -  Umberto Eco


My father taught me to ride a bike and to swim. These are some of the fondest memories I carry in my heart - his patience and kindness, always steady. Indeed he was a gifted teacher. He taught me about courage.



He also taught me about justice, even when it doesn't suit me. 

But as a teen, I seethed with anger towards him.  Only to find out later that these years were the lowest point in his life.  

A series of bad things occurred to my parents around the time I turned 13. 

[ First, the Rand Daily Mail - a South African national newspaper they loved and worked for -  closed, and he had to take a job for which he was overqualified. Second, we had an incident with our right-wing racist neighbours, which got violent.  After this, we moved.  And I turned into a rebellious monster adolescent. ]

After his death, I discovered his colleagues revered him. One of the reporters who worked under him when he was editor of the Sunday Star, Janine Lazarus, in her book 'Bait, To catch A Serial Killer', wrote:


"Hazey, on the other hand, was idolized. We all vied for his approval..."




I'm envious. My father was the mentor to people at work I wished I'd had at home. 

But I'm also proud of who he was. 


“The heart of a father is the masterpiece of nature.” - Antoine François Prévost


My father and I fought - often. Our relationship, a contradiction of love, respect, tension and resentment - frustrated me, and I reverted to a sulky teenager in his presence. 

Several years before my father's diagnosis, I returned home to my husband in tears. My father and I once again had an explosive fight. My husband words to me that day etched into my heart:


 "Jo, make peace with who your father is. He is old now. He couldn't change even if he wanted to. I know you. If he dies and you still hold so much resentment, you'll never forgive yourself."


That last year before his death, his most challenging year, he taught me about determination and love. One day we'd fought - again. Then, an hour later, he surprised me. He did something he'd not done before. He came to make up with me. (Neither of us was any good at being the bigger person when it came to each other. It was always my mother who played peacemaker.) 


"Fights are just fights. People fight. They are the personality, not who we are, and they don't mean anything about who we are or what we mean to each other."


The wisdom of his words had a profound impact on me. After that, I stopped reacting to things that previously upset me. 



The time I spent with him, knowing it was nearing the end of his life on this planet, I felt incredibly close to his spirit and did not see his suffering nearly as much as I saw his Light. 

His transition for me is beautiful, not sad. Yes, I am sad because I will miss him. But his 'death' is not sad. His soul is eternal and infinitely beautiful. He lived with great heights, and he transitioned peacefully, leaving us with the knowing of his love.

I am full of gratitude to have been blessed with the immeasurable love of a man who taught me about goodness, justice, kindness and dedication. 

I celebrate knowing how he lived, how he left and knowing full well the beauty of the invisible worlds he now abides in. 

His last days were full of far more love for all of us than pain. 

I will leave you with his favourite words from TS Elliot. 

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. 

What are some of the things you've learned from your father? You can tell me below in the comment area. 

Copyright 2021


Sources

¹They see dead people — apparently, lots of people do. By Gary Rotstein

¹Any patient near to death can have a spiritual experience. I’ve seen it By David Harrison

²Powering Apartheid: The Coalbrook Mine Disaster of 1960 by Alan CobleyPages 80–97 | Published online: 16 Mar 2020

³Apartheid Reparations and the Contestation of Corporate Power in Africa by Patrick Bond and Khadija Sharife, Review of African Political Economy Vol. 36, №119, Crisis Governance in Africa (Mar., 2009), pp. 115–125 (11 pages)Published By: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.

"I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments when they aren't trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom." -  Umberto Eco


My father taught me to ride a bike and to swim. These are some of the fondest memories I carry in my heart - his patience and kindness, always steady. Indeed he was a gifted teacher. He taught me about courage.



He also taught me about justice, even when it doesn't suit me. 

But as a teen, I seethed with anger towards him.  Only to find out later that these years were the lowest point in his life.  

A series of bad things occurred to my parents around the time I turned 13. 

[ First, the  Rand Daily Mail - a South African national newspaper they loved and worked for -  closed, and he had to take a job for which he was overqualified. Second, we had an incident with our right-wing racist neighbours, which got violent.  After this, we moved.  And I turned into a rebellious monster adolescent. ]

After his death, I discovered his colleagues revered him. One of the reporters who worked under him when he was editor of the Sunday Star, Janine Lazarus, in her book 'Bait, To catch A Serial Killer', wrote:


"Hazey, on the other hand, was idolized. We all vied for his approval..."




I'm envious. My father was the mentor to people at work I wished I'd had at home. 

But I'm also proud of who he was. 


The heart of a father is the masterpiece of nature.”

— Antoine François Prévost


My father and I fought - often. Our relationship, a contradiction of love, respect, tension and resentment - frustrated me, and I reverted to a sulky teenager in his presence. 

Several years before my father's diagnosis, I returned home to my husband in tears. My father and I once again had an explosive fight. My husband words to me that day etched into my heart:


 "Jo, make peace with who your father is. He is old now. He couldn't change even if he wanted to. I know you. If he dies and you still hold so much resentment, you'll never forgive yourself."


That last year before his death, his most challenging year, he taught me about determination and love. One day we'd fought - again. Then, an hour later, he surprised me. He did something he'd not done before. He came to make up with me. (Neither of us was any good at being the bigger person when it came to each other. It was always my mother who played peacemaker.) 


"Fights are just fights. People fight. They are the personality, not who we are, and they don't mean anything about who we are or what we mean to each other."


The wisdom of his words had a profound impact on me. After that, I stopped reacting to things that previously upset me. 



The time I spent with him, knowing it was nearing the end of his life on this planet, I felt incredibly close to his spirit and did not see his suffering nearly as much as I saw his Light. 

His transition for me is beautiful, not sad. Yes, I am sad because I will miss him. But his 'death' is not sad. His soul is eternal and infinitely beautiful. He lived with great heights, and he transitioned peacefully, leaving us with the knowing of his love.

I am full of gratitude to have been blessed with the immeasurable love of a man who taught me about goodness, justice, kindness and dedication. 

I celebrate knowing how he lived, how he left and knowing full well the beauty of the invisible worlds he now abides in. 

His last days were full of far more love for all of us than pain. 

I will leave you with his favourite words from TS Elliot. 

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. 

What are some of the things you've learned from your father? You can tell me below in the comment area. 

Copyright 2021

Sources

¹They see dead people — apparently, lots of people do. By Gary Rotstein

¹Any patient near to death can have a spiritual experience. I’ve seen it By David Harrison

²Powering Apartheid: The Coalbrook Mine Disaster of 1960 by Alan CobleyPages 80–97 | Published online: 16 Mar 2020

³Apartheid Reparations and the Contestation of Corporate Power in Africa by Patrick Bond and Khadija Sharife, Review of African Political Economy Vol. 36, №119, Crisis Governance in Africa (Mar., 2009), pp. 115–125 (11 pages)Published By: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.



Jo Ntsebeza is a qualified professional coach, facilitator, trainer and lay counsellor.

All works are copyrighted. You may quote me or use no more than a paragraph with a link to the article on my website. 


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Hi, I'm Jo, a qualified coach and facilitator. Host of the Dare To Love Club. Creator of The FreshStart Love Journey. I'm lover of love, a relationship explorer. You can find out more about my story and my professional qualifications and experience here.  xo, Jo


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