This past spring and summer Phil was my Living/Dying Project client. Phil was 48 years old and lived a mile up the hill from me with his wife Joelle and their son Philip who had his third birthday during our time together. When I met Phil his oncologist had just told him that the cancer that had begun in his tonsils had spread to such an extent into his head and neck that there was no longer any hope for him to survive much longer.
Usually when I “work” with someone who has a critical illness, this client has definite spiritual issues and questions or definite human emotional issues or, more than likely, both. My job is to see the relative, human dimension and the absolute , spiritual dimension at the same time. It’s not so hard to do one or the other- to be lost in the human drama of the person who might be dying soon while forgetting the spiritual context, forgetting what is real, or, on the other hand, to rest in the vastness of Living Spirit, realizing the perfection of it all, while not being there for the person in that bed who is dying. The challenge is to balance the two, being with the finite humanness and the infinite perfection. With Phil, this was an easy task. Phil lived in this balance. He had done his spiritual work -I could find no fear in him-but he was also a man, especially a father, and was deeply saddened by the prospect of his young son not having a dad.
By the time Phil died, more than a year had gone by since he had been able to eat or drink or lie down. During the four months that I knew Phil, he lived and died with grace and dignity. When we first met we meditated and explored spiritual things, but there didn’t seem to be anything particularly important that was new to him. So then we started to talk about our beloved Giants. Finally we just sat with nothing to say. No need to be more spiritual or more human-relative and absolute becoming one.
To my dear son Philip,
Philip, I’m writing this letter to you now, while I still can, to say goodbye to you. I hope and pray that God gives me a miracle and that I live through this and heal, but I’m very sick, so that just in case, I write to you now.
You see, son, my doctors say that I’m going to die soon. That means I have to leave my body behind and go on to be with God. This is something that happens to all of us eventually and it is not really a bad thing, but it often makes us really sad and it makes the people we love sad. It means I won’t be here to be with you and mommy and all the other people we love.
It makes me really, really, really sad, Philip. I don’t feel ready to die. It feels too soon. There are so many people that I love that I don’t want to leave: you and mommy, Naggie, Paulie and Chris, David and Denise and Ariel, Auntie Evy and Rachael and Michael, Jeff and Chris and Rob, June and Mairrle and Ralph, and so many others…
But Philip, there is one person in the whole world that it makes me the saddest to leave. That person is you, Philip. I love you so, so, so, so much, and I don’t want to leave you. I don’t want to leave you. I love many, many people, Philip, very, very much. But I love you more than anyone else in the world. I’m so proud of you. I’m so proud to be your daddy. You are the most wonderful gift that God ever gave me, and God has given me so many gifts. Just thinking about you makes me feel so happy.
You have a wonderful, bright spirit. You’re very, very smart and creative, and you love to laugh and play and have a good time. I hope and pray that these qualities stay with you and grow as you grow. You love people and are good at communicating with them. I know that you will be blessed to have many people in your life who love you.
Loving people (including yourself) is the most important thing in life, Philip. It is something we can learn to do better and better as we grow up; life keeps offering lessons about love. Even though I was already a man when you came to us, and I knew a lot about love, I learned so much more about it from you.
Love comes from the heart, and the more you love, the more your heart grows and opens. Then you can feel more of the love that’s around you and your heart grows more.
Well, since you’ve been here with us, my heart has grown bigger than it ever was. So my love for you has helped me to love everyone else more too.
I wish I could be beside you as you grow up, to help teach you about life, about the world. There’s so much to learn between being a little boy and being a man, and you deserve to have your daddy there for you. Fortunately, your mommy is a very smart and very wise woman and she’ll be great at teaching you about life.
I’m also going to write some more letters to you to help you know what I would have taught you, but there is one thing I want you to know right now, Philip. Even though I’m gone, I’m still your daddy. That means that even though you can’t see me, I’m always with you. Every boy and girl is made up half of what their daddy is and half of what their mama is. It’s like making a cake-you’re half made of me and half of mama.
So everything I am, Philip, is part of you. You’ll have me in your heart all your life. Actually, I’m in your whole body in a way, but whenever you want to talk to me or to feel me with you, you can just tune into your heart. Mommy can help you learn how to do this. That’s how I would feel Pop Pop after he died, Because he was my daddy, he was inside of me. (He’s inside of you too, because he’s half of me and I’m half of you!)
I’ll watch over you, Philip, and I believe someday, after you grow up, after you die, we’ll be together again in some way. Just know that you have all my blessing, through your whole live.
I love you so, so, much, Philip…