The Perception of Immortality

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I originally wrote this piece in October 2016 as a guest blogger for the Olivia Newton-John Blog LivOn. Her team requested that I write an essay based on her song Immortality. I also had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Newton-John both in Beverly Hills and in Seattle that year. I will always remember her as one of the most gracious souls I have ever known.

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there I do not sleep

Twenty years ago, almost to the day, my father died. From diagnosis to death in a swift four months. So young – only 65. He met his grandsons but only for a few years before death took him. Cancer denied him the happiness of knowing his grandsons.
We pulled the feeding tube. No sense prolonging the inevitable.
He was not in pain; he did not cry. He held my mother’s hand.
“Marie is here with me,” my father told her. She’s sitting right here. Don’t you see her?”
“No,” my mother thought but she dared not voice it. It would break the moment of wonder gleaming in his eyes.
Marie died over five years before. Dad’s sister. My Aunt Marie. The one who looked after him when she had to – and she HAD to – she was 20 years his senior.
My father was a quiet man, haunted by demons as we all are…at least if we are honest with ourselves. The war haunted him as did the waste, the sadness, the loss, the loneliness. He used drink and cigarettes to calm his nerves, which, in turn, created more anxiety. Wishing to improve his life, he quit drinking. He quit drinking just like that. One day he drank. The next day he did not. His willpower surprised us. I think it surprised him most of all. Four years later he quit smoking. But the damage had been done.
First he wasn’t hungry, then food felt stuck in his throat, and caused him to choke. “I must be coming down with a cold,” he told my sister.
He ate little. The flame of life doused inside him and sadness crept in. He knew something was wrong, terribly wrong. His worst fears confirmed when he met with the doctor.
“This is a bad dream,” I told him. “We will make it go away. Let’s plan a trip. This can’t be happening,” I thought, unwilling to acknowledge the truth.
But it wasn’t a bad dream. It was our new reality, a reality of sickness and death.
The day my father died was gray and drizzly where I lived. I felt the air sucked out of the room when the phone rang. “Elizabeth?” “Yes?” “Dad died.”
Grief enveloped me. It felt as if someone threw a heavy blanket over me in the dead of summer. It was stifling and warm, too warm. Uncomfortable.
I’m not sure why, it seemed like a good idea at the time, I decided to pull myself together, after all, I expected this call, perhaps not this soon. I had plans to meet my friend for lunch and so I went.
As I drove down the steep hill on my tree-lined street, I felt overwhelmed by the loss as if the heavy air continued to follow me into the car. As I barreled down the hill, at an accelerated speed, I saw my Dad.
He was large, gigantic in fact. His presence took over the street from overhead and from side to side. He smiled but loomed. Had he come to say “goodbye”?
He continued to hover over me as I drove. There was a strong comfort to his essence. Was this his spirit? Had his body failed him but his soul still alive?

When you awake in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush.

The years swiftly passed, but my father lives on…in me and in my sons. My oldest son walks and talks like him and never met a stranger… just like my Dad.. I look like him. Each morning in the mirror I see the reddish hair, the worry wrinkles across my forehead, and the slightly mischievous spark in my eyes. I feel my father’s presence whenever I light the barbecue or take the car in for repairs. “Have them look at the spark plug. The car doesn’t sound right to me.”
My father’s ashes are in the back yard. At night I see him in the stars, quietly brilliant.
The years have passed. Twenty to be exact. In that time my mother died and her ashes are also in the backyard. I see her in the robin that flits from tree to tree. I hear her in his song: cheer-up, cheer-a-lee, cheer-ee-o.
Do I perceive my parents are immortal? I used to think that immortality was impossible. After all, when my sister and I die, who will remember our parents? Not my children, they were too young. Yet the stars continue to shine, the birds continue to sing. For as long as the earth continues to spin, they live forever.

Do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not there I did not die.

This piece originally was posted on Olivia Newton-John’s blog for her new album LivOn, music created to “offer hope, compassion & inspiration” for those grieving.

Elizabeth Coplan

Elizabeth Coplan is a playwright and founder of The Grief Dialogues. She is also a 40+ year PR and marketing veteran. Her professional and life experiences in numerous cities throughout the U.S., including New York City, San Antonio, Los Angeles, and Seattle, create an unending library of writing themes.

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