There was chaos on the streets. People running, screaming a language I didn't understand. I wasn't sure where I was exactly, but it was in Eastern Europe and it was a country on the precipice of war. I hid for a moment in an alley, observing the frenzy, unsure of what to do and regretting whatever stupid decisions had brought me here. Life is like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, I told myself, and sometimes you have to face an untimely "The End". As I mentally prepared for this, I heard the voice of my father say:
"I'm always with you, even though I'm far away".
And then I woke up.
It wasn't anywhere close to the time my alarm normally goes off but it didn't matter - five a.m. and I were now forced to get acquainted.
Everything felt too real. I assumed the scenes of Ukraine's current crisis subconsciously infiltrated my dream as a result of all the mass media I consume but wasn't sure where my father's words originated; ever since July 3, I have been hoping - praying, even though I'm agnostic - for a sign from him telling me that he was alright. His last days in this realm were so full of struggle and strife that I desperately need to know if at one point he accepted his fate. Did he find the peace that we primitively envisage the afterlife provides? This may have been the cosmic reassurance I require … or it could be nothing at all. The previous night, I had a dream that Jack White was sleeping on my couch and I don't know what the fuck that could have been about.
Next July I'm climbing a mountain. Mount Fuji, to be exact. During his first hospital stint, I told my father I would celebrate his birthday in 2015 by doing this and he gave me the most epic side-eye I'd ever seen, knowing full well I'm ambitious but also incredibly lazy when it comes to physical activity. I now feel I have to prove him wrong. How hard could it be? Thousands of people climb it each year with little to no training. The real challenge will come in 2016: this is when I plan on traveling to India.
My father always wanted to visit India; its kaleidoscope of humanity proved intriguing. He would talk about it often, always with the postscript "I need to do it before I get too old and sick". How little we knew that time was more finite than imagined. There were always reasons to put it off…travel to India seemed less a holiday and more of an experience that one must be in the right frame of mind to appreciate. He was never ready. I was never ready. Now I am. And I'm taking him with me.
The Funeral Director warned me that India has very strict rules about bringing remains within its borders. Special certification needs to be obtained. Approval must be granted. After a few false starts in trying to obtain the necessary information, I've been redirected to and have initiated communication with the Ministry of External Affairs of India. It seems like it will be a slow process but I have almost two years and am confident my wish will come to fruition. I hope to spread a portion of my father's ashes on the Ganges at Varanasi, the most sacred spot of the river according to Hindu religion. It is believed that the dead will quickly ascend to Heaven when their ashes are spread upon the water. I may be ambivalent towards faith but if I'm going to do something, I'm going all out.
My father WILL visit India.
The Eastern European schism wasn't the first time I had a dream about my father. A week prior, I dreamt that he was standing next to me. When I reached out to lovingly embrace him, I was jolted awake the moment my fingertips touched his flesh. Again, it felt real. I was disappointed that it wasn't. Reality remained askew. Staring at the ceiling at 3:00am, partially illuminated by a new office building across the lane, I prepared for another long night as melancholia set in.
The importance of seemingly simple things becomes clear after loss. Back in May, I visited my favourite bakery in Winnipeg to purchase some cinnamon buns for friends before heading back home to Saskatchewan. Making small talk as I searched my wallet for change, I noted to the cashier how much I loved their goods and that I'd probably be back over the summer as my father had terminal cancer and I would be returning to care for him as the condition worsened. She expressed sympathy and related her own experience with parental loss. She was honest. It wouldn't be easy. Afterwards, she came around the counter and gave me a hug.
I don't know if she will ever realize how significant this simple, genuine act of empathy and kindness amongst strangers was to me.
I need to get black-out drapes.