This is the true story of my father’s death in December 2002. He died in Switzerland. I was camping along the Murray river and yet we connected.
“Dad, today you’re preparing to die and I’m getting ready to wait for you on the other side. “What other side?” I hear you say…Never mind our conflicting beliefs. For a timeless instant, let’s dream together.”
Gabrielle kept typing on her laptop, without any hesitation, as if the lines were being dictated to her. It was just so easy. No thoughts, it was just a download of words, images, emotions and tears. Her fingers typed, and her eyes followed the words on the screen. “Where does this come from?” she wondered.
I’ll wait for you
Let’s dream of a world where death is nothing but a transformation
Not an end, only a metamorphosis
Just as ice becomes water
And hot water turns into steam
You’re preparing yourself to change state
You’re losing weight. One kilo a day I’m told
Lighter and lighter, more and more etheric
And very soon the physical George will be gone
Leaving only a discreet halo
That will gently merge back with its source.
Remember this other reality
The metamorphosis of the grub that becomes butterfly
Your ability to fly after having been stuck on the ground for so long
Soar towards new horizons
Let’s dream, George, let’s dream
Become this butterfly which leaves its cocoon
Raising high above human illusion
Love is waiting for you, as the song goes
Let’s dream of a path of light
Of a parallel universe you’ve forgotten
Let’s dream of love and truth
Of the white light of eternity
Know that you won’t go to sleep
You’ll wake up
Let’s dream of a universe where I’ll be your guide for a while
Let’s dream of timeless togetherness on the cosmic path
And then you’ll continue your journey towards the light
I’ll come back into my physical body
George, my Father,
As you take your first step on the other side
I’ll be there for you
Don’t be afraid for I’ll wait for you
I’ll be there for you
I am here for you
I love you
Let’s dream together…
Gabrielle was now sitting at her desk, head in her hands, crying with her whole body. It was a Sunday night, 15th December 2002, and she had just faxed three pages to her parents in Switzerland. The first page was a short letter of love and gratitude to George Ney, her father. The second page was the obituary she wanted read at his funeral and the third one was this poem she had written without a single pause. It was titled “Je t’attendrai” – “I’ll wait for you”.
She had typed and sent her final goodbye, tears running down her cheeks, yet her father wasn’t dead yet. His mind was clear, his heart was at peace. At 82 years of age, he was still as much in charge of his own life as he had ever been. He had announced his intention to die as soon as his weakened body became dysfunctional.
As Gabrielle kept sobbing, her husband Michael just sat with her, silently handing her tissues. She felt grateful to him that he didn’t attempt to quell her grief. He could have said something sensible like “Well, after all, he’s had a good life and we all have to die…” But he didn’t. He could have said “Gabrielle, it won’t make much difference to your life because you’ve lived here, on the other side of the world, for 30 years…” but he didn’t. He could have said “Take a few deep breaths and you’ll be OK…” but he didn’t.
He let her cry without touching her, careful not to anchor emotional distress into her physical body. And then he listened to her because, like most people experiencing grief, she had a high need to talk about the person she was about to lose.
So she translated for him what she had just written in French, her native language. And then she told him, once more, about the trip she had taken a month earlier. She had flown to Switzerland to celebrate her mother’s 80th birthday. This journey had ended up being more of a ‘farewell’ opportunity than a ‘happy birthday’ celebration.
She told Michael how grateful George had been when she found the courage to ask him one day about death and dying, about his fears, about his spiritual beliefs. They were slowly walking on a narrow pathway along the lake of Geneva, in one of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth. It was late autumn and nature was glowing in a last display of warm colours. All around them, majestic trees dropped yellow, brown and red leaves over beds of orange flowers. The lake was still, reflecting a line of snow-capped mountains on the French side. Winter was around the corner and it seemed fitting to talk about death.
They stopped on a bench and silently admired the view. “No fear about the afterlife”, he finally said, “because there is none. What you see right now is all there is. When this body dies, goodbye George, goodbye everyone. End of story.” His voice was firm and peaceful.
Gabrielle had been somehow surprised at the finality of his statement. After all, her father had been her first spiritual teacher, raising his two kids on stories of Madame Blavatsky, the ideals of Freemasonry and the great French humanists of past centuries.
At the same time, as far back as she could remember, he had mocked and criticised organised religion. Some of the most vivid memories of her childhood revolved around him laughing at priests and nuns. In those days, they wore long black robes and often walked in small groups. They were highly noticeable on the streets of Italy, France or Spain, where Gabrielle’s family regularly spent their summer holiday.
“Hey, crows, Croa, croa, croa” he would screetch from behind the wheel, “Je crois, crois, crois…” It was a play of words, pronounced the same as ‘croa’ but meaning “I believe, believe, believe…” And the whole family would laughingly echo his loud “croa, croa, croa…”
Over the years he had changed and become an atheist whilst Gabrielle took the opposite path. As she grew older, she got more and more in touch with her spiritual nature. For a long time now they had rarely talked about this subject.
George told her about his love of life.
He told her that he loved life so much that he wanted to leave it while the going was still good. “My kidneys are packing up”, he explained. “So I’m getting ready to pack up too. I will just not have a machine keeping me alive. Soon time for me to go.”
He had been in touch with an organisation called EXIT that helped people die with dignity and in peace, at a time of their choice. She found out that Switzerland is one of the very few countries in the world where it’s legally acceptable for anyone to help others die, provided they don’t directly benefit from the event.
And no, he didn’t know for how much longer his body could function by itself. It could be a few days, a few weeks, possibly even a few months, according to medical advice.
George and Gabrielle agreed that there was no need for her to come back for his funeral. She was here and they were completing right now. Half jokingly, Gabrielle referred to her spiritual beliefs that there is no real death, that Spirit lives forever, that they would meet again anyway.
“So” she said “after all it won’t be much different from every other time when I fly back to Melbourne. This time you’ll be the one doing the flying and we’ll be apart for a bit longer.” She paused. “You’ll just have to be patient Dad, because I won’t be ready to join you for a while!”
She expected him to laugh. He didn’t. He looked at her with thoughtful eyes. “OK” he finally said “you have got my promise that if there is life after death, I will find a way to let you know that I am still around. I don’t believe it, but should it be true, I promise I’ll come to you wherever you are and let you know that you were right.”
Then they talked of their love for each other, hugged and slowly walked back home in silence. Two days later, a teary Gabrielle flew back to Australia. His last words to her were “Thank you, my daughter”. She knew what he meant.
Since then, George’s health had steadily deteriorated. He stopped eating and contacted EXIT again. Close family members knew that one morning very soon, he would just say the word. “Now… Today is the day.” It was going to be simple and dignified. He would die in his bed, with Mariette, his wife of 60 years, and their son Roland sitting next to him until the end. There would be no problem with his death certificate.
On 16th of December, having finished work for the year, Gabrielle and Michael left Melbourne. They went to camp along the Murray, in a secluded place without neighbours or mobile coverage. Aware of the fact that they couldn’t be contacted, they decided to ring Switzerland every evening, from a public phone in the nearest town.
The very next day, when Gabrielle rang, she already knew what she was going to hear. Her mother answered with a small teary voice. Yes, George had died peacefully according to plan. After a few hours in a coma, he had taken his last breath at 11pm the night before. Mariette was crying on the phone and Gabrielle stood there, silently sending love to her mother, her heart beating wildly.
A wave of gratitude for Spirit’s guidance choked her. Together, they had kept their promise. Together, they had been there, waiting for him when he finally let go of his body. Even though she didn’t remember much, she knew she had accompanied him for a while in his journey towards the light.
She then took a deep breath and told her mother what had happened that morning.
There are 10 hours difference in time zones between Switzerland and South-Eastern Australia. Which means that it was 9am in Victoria when he passed away.
On that morning, the weather was glorious, as it usually is at this time of the year along the Murray. Gabrielle and Michael had risen early, before 7am, after an excellent night’s sleep. Having gone to bed at nightfall they had slept for about 10 hours! After their meditation and a swim in the river they had enjoyed a healthy breakfast and settled down on a narrow sandy beach with a bag of books. They both felt rested and energised, happy to be on holidays.
Suddenly, out of the blue, Gabrielle had felt an incredible urge to go back to sleep. She just couldn’t keep her eyes open. “Look”, she said to Michael, “I don’t know what’s happening, but I’ll just go back to the tent and lie down for a while”.
“How bizarre” she thought. She checked her watch: 8:55am. She lay down and instantly went into a deep trance-like state. Michael told her afterwards that he found this behaviour so unusual that he kept checking on her. She was hardly breathing, he noticed, not moving in any way despite the fact that a fly had found its way into the tent and kept landing on her face.
An hour later she emerged, feeling ecstatically happy. The only thing she remembered clearly was a brief dream in which she had met her father, whom she saw as a healthy young man. In the dream she was handing him a wrapped present, unsure whether he would take it. As he accepted it, she experienced incredible joy. And that joy was still with her. She felt like singing, like dancing and she could have sworn that she had never been so happy.
And then she had remembered that her father was in fact old and very ill. With surprise she noticed that this thought didn’t affect her at all. Only later did it occur to her that her vision might have been more than a dream. She wondered if her happiness was the result of having spent time in the light with him.
And now her mother had just confirmed it.
“OK Dad” she thought affectionately as she put the phone down, “I’ve kept my promise. Now you’d better keep yours. Come and see me, let me know you’re still around, you old sceptic!”
It didn’t take long.
The very next morning shortly before 9 o’clock Gabrielle went back inside the tent, ready to perform a ritual recommended in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. This ritual involves a short daily meditation to take place for seven days at the exact time of death. In it, family members and friends invite the dead person to let go of attachments and leave this Earthly plane and its inhabitants.
Once again Gabrielle went into a deep meditative state and felt a strong connection to George’s spirit. What brought her back was a loud noise just above the tent.
“Croa, croa, croa” it went. And again “croa, croa, croa, croa”. The bird’s cry was so loud that it sounded as if it was right next to her ears. She started laughing. “Is that you Dad?” she asked lightly.
“Croa.” came the answer. She unzipped the tent’s flyscreen and walked out. About 2 meters away, perched on the top of a young tree, a large crow was looking down at her. She slowly took another step towards the wild bird, half expecting it to fly away. It didn’t move, his black eyes fixed on her. A second later she saw him blink, or so she thought, but who has ever heard of a blinking crow!
“Hi Dad, so you’re a believer now, are you?”
“Croa, croa, croa, croa, croa, croa” “Je crois, crois, crois, crois” he went on telling the world as loudly as he possibly could.
And then he paused, looked at her again and disappeared over the forest. For the rest of their holiday Michael and Gabrielle never saw or heard the crow again.
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