Death Is Not What It Used To Be


Life happens. Death happens. No matter what I think, no matter how much I try to control it, these things happen. I have learned that what is as important as what is happening is my perception of it. I had achieved some measure of this when my father died.

Following are excerpts from my book, The Messenger:

I am sitting before him [Reverend Brown, the gifted medium] once again. “I don’t usually say this to people,” he says, “but Spirit wants me to tell you this. I see a circle of American Indians. They are dancing, rejoicing, getting ready to welcome your father into spirit.”

I am not surprised. After surviving cancer and three heart attacks, my father, who is almost ninety, has had a massive stroke. I dread the visit to the hospital. What will I say to him? He can no longer talk. My father makes it easy. He looks at me and smiles. I know that smile.


It is Christmastime. He comes in from the cold and sits down at the kitchen table, still in his policeman’s uniform. My mother gives him a steaming cup of coffee. I push my chair as close to him as I can get, waiting for the story. He always has a story, and while my mother is cooking dinner, I’ve got him all to myself.

“Guess who I saw today?” he says.


“Santa Claus.”

“Oooh…” I say. I know that Santa Claus is in the department store on Market Street, where Daddy works.

“He told me something.”

“What?” I am breathless. And then he smiles that I-know-a-secret smile.

“What did he say?” 

“He says he knows who you are.”

“He knows who I am?” I am practically screeching.

“Shhh, ” he says. “Don’t tell anybody.”

“Okay,” I whisper, so excited I can’t sit still.

“He told me he was going to bring you that thing you really want for Christmas.”

I can still feel the world light up, as it did that moment, when Daddy and I shared the best secret in the world: I was going to get the doll with the real hair.


He is almost ninety years old, and cannot move or speak. He looks up at the ceiling. His eyes are following something. He looks over at me, looks at it again, and looks at me. I look up.

“I can’t see it, Daddy,” I say.

His eyes are merry and shining. And then, he smiles the smile at me. It’s our last wonderful secret: Someone, or something from spirit is here.

“I know, Daddy,” I say to him. ” I just can’t see it.”

The next day when I visit, the nurses have just finished bathing him and are adjusting his pillow, trying to make him comfortable. I talk to him, try to get his attention, but for the first time in my life, my father is not interested in me. He has gone away somewhere. He dies the next day while I’m at work.


…My father’s pastor gives an affectionate, funny eulogy, and later, the family gathers at my house. It’s been a long day. I see to the guests, thank everybody for coming, and later, when my mother is resting and Bill and I are washing the dishes, I remember my last visit to Reverend Brown. “I see a circle of American Indians,” he had said. “They are dancing, rejoicing, getting ready to welcome your father into spirit.” In the hectic, exhausting months of dealing with my mother’s Alzheimer’s and my father’s stroke, I hadn’t thought much about Reverend Brown’s words. But now, it comes to me: My father’s father was Native American.

That night, I go to sleep thinking of my father in his hospital bed, smiling. looking at a circle of dancers, led by his father. There is no need to cry. Death is not what it used to be.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.


The Messenger IMG_0416

Look for The Messenger: The Improbable Story of a Grieving Mother and a Spirit Guide by Helen Delaney on

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