Crossing Over the Divine Doorway
On December 23rd, 2011, I was told by a clairvoyant that my father would die in the spring. Hospice would be brought in but wouldn’t be needed for long. It would rain on the day he dies, and I would be by his side.
Daniel Yovich was my father. He possessed characteristics so sublime, so transcendent they eluded classification. This was a man who provided me with a life-long tutorial on being the very best version of myself, of never, ever wasting a day of life. My father was as tame as a tree, and he never forgot his child-like innocence. He never went looking for the magic. He was the magic. He decorated life with his laughter and had an unconquerable passion for living.
We’re all on a train going home. We’re all born, and we’re all going to die. Knowing when we die remains a mystery. But if, by chance, we did know the day we’d die, would it make a difference? Would we live life any differently? And if we knew when those who matter most to us were going to die, would it alter who were being with or for them than if we didn’t have the knowledge?
My meeting with the medium had been done on a whim. The hour-long car ride home was a distortion of time and landscape, as I carefully considered my sorrow from hearing such foreboding news. Though it felt like the greatest hope had fallen, I’d be given a precious gift that day in December. While I’d always been close to my father, I could do better in my relationship with him. I was upping the ante and would crank up my love for him a few notches. Dormancy visits all of us, but my fallow time took place the moment I arrived home; I wasted no time and called my father and told him how proud I was of him, how much I loved him, and how grateful I was to have him as my dad. “Oh, I’m so glad you called to tell me this,” he said. “You made my day, Caboose. You made my day.” There was a catch in his voice; he cried without tears. From that day forward, I would be the source of the word-to-word resuscitation that he’d need for the remaining days of his life.
I’m the youngest of four children, the last born. To my father, I was known as the Caboose, the last car on a freight train. My father knew full well what it was like to be neck deep in a foxhole of physical suffering from a body that had slowly been failing him for decades. He’d danced with death many, many times before. Having suffered his first heart attack when he was he 37 years old, he was a walking medical miracle. He had multiple heart by-bass surgeries, cardiac stint procedures, a pacemaker, a pig’s valve, and a defibrillator. His dresser drawers and medicine cabinet housed a sophisticated and extensive pharmacy that carefully managed the myriad of life-threatening conditions- congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, prostate cancer, and Myasthenia Gravis- enough grave illnesses to make even the most formidable gladiator raise a white flag. But it was his mental toughness that carried him through the fire every time. He pressed on and did so with a vengeance, but he was now arriving at a point of unmanageable illness and eulogy. Even his positive mental attitude couldn’t save him this time.
An email from my father on April 25th, 2013:
I am feeling more ill with each passing day. My breathing and walking are becoming pronouncedly more difficult. I am on oxygen 90% of the time now. What I have is the perfect storm- COPD. CHF, Myasthenia Gravis, and prostate cancer- all merging at the same time.
I am counting on you, my caboose, to take care of matters.
Am handling the best I can…..but it is what it is.
It was Thursday, May 2nd when my mother called, her voice noticeably filled with concern. She and my dad had been sitting outside on their back deck enjoying the balmy spring day. He’d become so weak, he was unable to get up from the chair he’d been sitting in. Even when my mother was finally able to stand him up, he was too feeble to walk; his breathing was pronouncedly worse. He’d arrived at such moments often enough before, but on that spring day, he had reached a breaking point where he could take no more. He was he raising the white flag, surrendering to the battle he‘d been fighting to survive for the past ten years. He was done. And he requested that my mother bring Hospice in.
When I arrived at my parents’ house for the 6 pm meeting with Hospice, I found my father sitting at the dining room table, his skin gray and ashy, his zest for life now absent in his blue-gray eyes. I stroked his hair in a soft protective movement and sat down in the chair across from him. Death can be hell. Something happens to people when the impending death of a loved one is obvious. Nervous energy shot like electricity through my mother and my brother, David, who were scurrying here and there, in a feeble attempt to barricade their emotional vulnerability. When the Hospice nurse arrived, the house fell eerily silent. We sat quietly managing our heavy emotions, as she sorted through the paperwork and assessed my father’s physical and mental states. His dire physical condition warranted that their comfort care would begin immediately. We sat solemnly as we considered our grief. Into this world we were now thrown-the grim realization that no further medical treatment would continue to sustain life; nothing would be done now to stop death at the front door.
There’s a feeling of helplessness that’s unavoidable when Hospice arrives. We want to fix death. Make it go away. We’re so afraid of death, of not knowing what to expect when we or someone we love dies. We don’t even want to talk about death itself. I could see the resignation in my father. His emotional retreat was clear. It was understandable. “Ok. This is it,” he said considering the future none of us wanted to face. “This is really the end of the line for me. I understand everything you’re telling me. Really I do,” he paused and his look became distant. “Can we please do what we need to do to finish this conversation? This is hard for me to take in. I want to go to my bed and lay down. I’m so tired. Please,” he begged. “I just want to get this conversation over with.”
The anxiety was making it more difficult for him to breathe, and I wondered if my father needed his oxygen. I thought I could have probably used some, too. As I looked around the table, my eyes locked on my father. I could hear the nurse speaking, but I wasn’t in the conversation. I felt as if I was being jolted out of my own body. It was in that moment, the bare, stark realization blindsided me: My father will die in the spring. Hospice will be brought in but won’t be needed for long. It will rain on the day he dies, and I will be by his side. Months before, I’d dismissed the validity of the year-and-half-old premonition. After all, my father had survived that spring-and the summer, the fall, and even the following winter.
I fought hard to force back the tears of the heavy grief and sorrow anchoring so deep that my stomach and chest began to clench up, as if someone was squeezing me too hard, and I felt I would crack from the pressure. I was afraid my father would look at me; I didn’t want him to see me crumbling. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop the tears that flowed like water as I began encapsulating his life. This was a man who had been a tireless educator, a scholar, and a father of four; this was the man who sparked new thinking, shared so many smiles, and helped others live deliberately as they discovered they, too, were as awesome as he was. This was a man who would soon die.
My father loved life. He loved living. To him, every moment was the greatest moment in life, and he just knew they were too darn important to miss. But this was a moment he wanted no part of.
As David and my mother continued on with the Hospice nurse, I took my dad to his bedroom and carefully sat him in a chair. As he contemplated the inevitability of his own demise, he began to weep. “I’m dying, Julie,” he sobbed. “It’s really happening. I’m really dying.” I took hold of his hand and couldn’t help but join him in his grief. “I don’t want to die. I’m going to miss everyone so much.” he said, shaking from such sorrow, “I’m so scared.” I allowed him to say everything he had to say about the emotional pain he was experiencing. He had full permission to give into his despair without interruption. I gently caressed his back, as he gave voice to the sadness.
I am my father’s daughter. My father taught me the most about living fearlessly and making every day matter. I was determined. Determined to make his final days, hours, and minutes important. I would see to it that this was his journey to command.
In facing death, my dad was forced to confront a fear that conquered like an army-fear of the uncertainty, of the unknown, fear of what really lies on the other side. Mum’s the word for those of us dwelling in the realm of fear and doubt. And we have all been tenants there at one time.
Changing your perspective matters. If you change your view of things, things change. And so we began the first of several conversations about what death would be like: He would simply close his eyes here and gently open them on the other side of the veil. Unconditional love would envelope him, and every question he had would be answered immediately, in breathtaking depth and detail. Those who mattered most to him, his parents and his close friends, who had gone before him, would be waiting there, cheering and welcoming him back home. Whatever he wanted to experience was merely a thought away. His creative capabilities would instantly manifest absolutely anything he wanted to experience. And he would be just one thought away from me and the rest of our family. For the moment any of us held him in thought, he would instantly be drawn to us. In the silence, we would be able to connect with him. He would be our designated angel behind the scenes responsible for the synchronicities-the messages of wisdom, guidance, love, support, and all the hunches to assist us through our own human experience. I promised I would remain with him during his transition to the other side. I would not leave. I would take care of matters, just as he requested a week earlier in his email to me.
He’d found the exit route to contentment once his fear had quieted, and an opening for peace and a cathartic sense of wonder finally emerged.
For the next three days, his mind remained very active; his thoughts clear. As his mind and body were preparing to detach from his surroundings and relationships, there was important emotional work for him to complete now. Whatever unfinished business he was afraid to leave behind, he began to resolve. He would leave nothing left unsaid in the conversations he had with all of us, so he could begin big on the other side. Pure love and reconciliation had been created in the face of death. He was making the ending of his life just as meaningful and precious as the day he entered it.
Death from a failing body doesn’t just happen. There’s a process to it. We die in stages of months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds. I began studying the little blue book provided by Hospice that prepares the family for the transitioning of a loved one. It outlines the natural signs that reveal the progression of death. One to two weeks left: talking with the unseen. One week or less: a sudden surge of energy. Days or hours before the end: blotchy, purplish knees, feet, and hands. Minutes until goodbye: “fish out of water” breathing; cannot be awakened. The symptoms of death don’t always occur in a specific order and can even occur in reverse order. Sometimes three of the symptoms can appear in one night. That 15-page, powder-blue pamphlet provided me with the unwavering strength I needed to be fully present with my father as his body prepared to die.
Wrenched and wrung out, my mother was on the brink of emotional and physical exhaustion. I was now sleeping on the floor next to my dad’s bed, so she could get some much needed rest in the bedroom across the hall. I continued to reassure my father that I would not leave his side. When he asked for something, I made certain he had it immediately.
He was sleeping more and more; he was slowing down considerably. On Wednesday afternoon, my mother and I heard him talking in his sleep. When he awoke, he told us he was with two of his friends from Kankakee, the town where he and my mother raised our family-friends who had passed away decades ago. He was now talking with the unseen.
By Thursday morning, the signs were becoming more pronounced. His body no longer needed fuel, so his appetite drastically diminished. He was drawing more and more inward, peering from this world to the next. Several times, we’d startle as he jumped with pure excitement, pointing to the ceiling. “Do you see that? Look! Look at those stars!” he shouted with as much excitement of a child seeing his first rainbow. “My God, they’re so beautiful. They’re so bright,” he continued. “You see them too, don’t you?” We did not. “How can you not see those? They’re right there!” he said dismissingly, as if there was something wrong with us. But my mother and I could not see the form of navigation now becoming visible to him.
His body was decreasing blood circulation to his limbs to conserve it for the vital organs, and his feet and legs were now blotchy and beginning to turn purple. He was becoming restless and began making repetitive motions like pulling at his bed linens and his pajamas.
That afternoon, the primary nurse from Hospice arrived at around 1 pm to evaluate his progression. I sensed my father was getting close to transitioning. I could see it. As my mother and I sat with her at the dining room table, I asked for her confirmation of the obvious. “He’s getting close,” she told us. “It could be hours, maybe even another day, but I don’t see him going any longer than that.” The death rattle would emerge soon- a chilling sound produced from the saliva that accumulates in the throat when someone is very near to death. The dying don’t suffer during the death rattle stage, the nurse said, but it can be painfully unbearable for loved ones to hear. Opiates would help minimize the death rattle, and they’d need to be given like clockwork. It would be my responsibility to administer the morphine, every one to three hours, to keep the situation under control.
The trajectory of my father’s illness was now a comparatively short, steep, descending slope. That week passed by in a blur. Hospice had arrived just seven days ago, and we were now measuring the meager hours that remained. I met the eyes of my mother, seated across from me, and we exchanged volumes of sadness.
More family and close friends of my dad stopped by early Thursday evening to be with him, but the conversations were growing increasingly shorter with each visitor. As my dad and I talked that night, I reminded him of how often he’d been a light shining in darkness; he’d made a dent in this world and was leaving it in much better shape than when he arrived. His mission here had been an incredible one. Somehow I didn’t get the sense that he was completely satisfied with the life he was near completing. It’s tree we can all swing from-feelings of not being good enough, of not doing enough, not accomplishing enough.
He drifted off to sleep at around 10pm, and I fell asleep on the floor next to his bed. At 11:50 pm, I awoke to my own confusion as I watched my dad jump straight out of bed like a bouncy spring, alert and energized. I stood up quickly and went to him, concerned he would fall. For months, he’d been weak as a kitten, and just like that- he ejected himself from the bed as if he’d been lying on a landmine. “Dad, are you ok?” I asked, shocked at how alert he was.
“Yes,” he answered quickly. “I’m going to head to the bathroom,” boomed my father’s voice- strong, deep, and full of life. It took me a few seconds to consider that this could be the sudden surge of energy I’d read about in the little blue pamphlet.
“Are you sure, Dad?” I carefully asked. “You really haven’t had anything to eat or drink in days. Are you sure you have to go to the bathroom?” And just then, he stripped off his clothes and stood before me naked as a jay bird. “I don’t want to wear those anymore,” he told me. His tone was matter-of-fact, like it was normal to stand naked and so carefree in front of his dazed and confused daughter. I was wondering if I should summon my mother, but I was afraid to leave him. Besides, she might want him to put his clothes back on, and clearly he wanted no reunion with such heavy garments. “You can do whatever you want, Dad,” I said, still puzzled with his behavior.
“Julie, I’ve got to tell you something!” he chirped. I had no idea what he would say. “What’s that, Dad?” I asked. “I’ve had a great life!” he announced. I smiled and said, “Aw, I know you have, Dad.”
“I need to tell you one more thing!” he chirped. “What’s that, Dad?” I asked. “I’ve had a really great life!” said my father, with the kind of certainty that follows a great epiphany. I began to weep knowing he was no longer blind to his magnificence. “You have, Dad,” I affirmed. “You really have had a really great life.” He had reached the grandest moment of self-actualization, and I was there to witness it. It was a moment I’ll never forget. What a gift it was seeing him so full of verve, just as he’d been years ago, before any of the vindictive illnesses began their unforgiving depletion of his life force.
He was beginning to sway a bit. “Can I help you sit down on the side of the bed?” I quietly asked. “You can keep talking, but it might be a good idea to sit you down on the bed, ok?”
He sat silently on the edge of the bed, looking straight ahead. I waited to see what he would do next. But he did nothing. He gently settled back into bed, and I grabbed an extra blanket to keep him warm. As I carefully tucked the covers underneath him, with the consideration given to a newborn baby, he grabbed my hand. “Julie, you are such a kind woman,” he said to me. “Thank you for being so kind to me.”
I had never felt as connected to my dad as I did in that moment. I was experiencing the true essence of who he really was; I was in conversation with his soul. It felt magical, mystical and transcendent. And I didn’t want it to end.
He was drifting out again. “You get some rest, Dad. I’ll be sleeping right next to you. I’m not going anywhere. If you need anything, you just tell me, ok?” I said. As I settled back down on the floor, I saw his hand frantically fishing for mine over the edge of the bed. I stumbled to my knees, took his hand in mine, and asked, “Are you doing ok, Dad?”
“I need you to hold my hand for this next part, Julie.” he told me. “What’s the next part, Dad?” I asked. He answered quite simply, “I don’t know.” And he fell sound asleep. Just then, the rain began to fall gently from the spring sky. I held and caressed my father’s hand, as I sobbed uncontrollably. My dad is leaving. He’s leaving. The sorrow was so piercing that it caused me to shake. I didn’t want him to go. I didn’t want to let him go. I was sadder than I’ve ever been before. I held on to him for his dear life. And then it stopped. My crying just stopped. A beautiful wave of such profound peace began to wash over me, filling the fault lines and fractures in my heart. Maybe-just maybe-I wasn’t alone. I could feel the angels hovering, keeping a close eye, and granting me respite from my sorrow. The time was very near that they’d carry him home, and it felt peaceful. It now felt permissible. I felt just as tapped into the other realm as my father now was, and it was nothing short of extraordinary.
I don’t remember letting go of his hand. I don’t remember lying back down. I awoke the next morning to see my mother standing in the middle of the room. I sat up, eager to tell her about the night’s antics when she said, “I can’t wake him up, Julie. He’s still breathing, but I can’t wake him up.” I, too, tried to wake him, but there was no response. A soft gurgling sound now accompanied his breathing. The death rattle had arrived, but it was not loud. It was not disparaging. And so we waited.
It was Friday, May 10th, and the Hospice nurses arrived at noon and told us to prepare for departure. As they provided my mother with instructions on how they could be reached throughout the day, I text messaged my friend EJ, a pastor with a direct hotline to God, and asked that he pray for my father. Seconds later my phone rang. It was EJ. I placed the call on speaker and held it closely to my father’s ear. We listened as EJ offered up the most poignant, beautiful, and sacred blessings- akin to instant thousand-voiced choirs and trumpets that could shatter glass. Even the Hospice nurses wept with us. All angels within a thousand mile radius were now on stand-by, waiting to carry my father forward on his journey. A Catholic priest arrived a few hours later and administered the Last Rites. We made sure we had enough prayers over my father that day to ensure all the spiritual bases had been covered, just in case.
Along the way, my parents grew old together. For more than five decades, the partnership endured. My mother now reached a major knowing that her life would never be the same. It was too big, too painful, too much for her to bear. For the rest of the day, she and David could only stay in the room for as long as their emotions allowed. But I never left my father’s side, except to quickly use the bathroom. I watched him breathe. I studied his hands. His face. I memorized him. “You are safe. You are so loved, Dad. And you’re free to go whenever you’re ready,” I whispered in his ear, gently stroking his hair, trying to soothe the places the morphine may have missed.
It was now 8:30 pm. I hadn’t slept much at all for the past three nights, and I was growing tired from the vigil I kept. I quietly told my father I would be resting on the floor. Again, I reassured him I was going nowhere. I would not leave the room. Just minutes after laying my head down, I noticed his breathing begin to change. It was pronouncedly softer; much slower. I got up, sat on the bed again, and held his hand. Although he had been gently leaving for the last few hours, everything about the look, feel, and smell of him abruptly changed. I watched closely with watery eyes as my dad now fully began to disembark. He took three final breaths here that carried him through the divine doorway there. I watched closely as his guardian angels gently removed him from his shell. And he was gone.
“There he goes,” I said in silence, knowing full well that those on the other side were now watching his arrival. “Here he comes!” They most surely were cheering. I caressed my father’s cheek, stroked his silver-white hair, and then softly kissed his forehead and hands before calmly calling for my mother and David. And together we wept.
I’m Daniel Yovich’s daughter, his Caboose-the last car of the train that took him to his next destination, his next big adventure. There was no pain, no struggle, no regret, only peace as he made his return home. He made death look beautiful, peaceful, and easy. He was the first to welcome me into this world, and when my time comes, he’ll be the first to welcome me into the next. Until that time, my father is no further than one thought away from me.
Develop within you a positive mental attitude so powerful that it seeps down from your conscious into your subconscious mind. If you do, you will find that in times of need and emergency, it will automatically flash back to your conscious mind. Even in the greatest emergency of life: death.