I’m writing this in room 323 at Hilton Head Hospital, South Carolina.
Song after song of my classic country music collection pours from my laptop.
Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Charlie Pride, Elvis Presley and Sonny James. This background music sings of a bond my Father created between us long ago.
I grew up listening to it with him over and over as a child. Even in the car as a pre-teen in the 70s, this music powered our road trips together. I loved punching the button on the car’s 8-track cartridge player. Some of these songs I have not heard in over 30 years and the lyrics still come to me as I sing along.
Over my shoulder, in a hospital bed, lays my father in what appears to be the final hours of 69 years of life in this body.
It is easy for me to separate my father from this body.
The body beside me, which is scarcely breathing, is far from the beautiful being that I have known and loved for over 45 years.
The last few years have been challenging times, due to the final stages of dementia: Alzheimer’s. Now that he lays in hospice, it is just a matter of time until his eternal spirit slips out of this tired body and on to whatever comes next.
The mix of melancholic music and my emotional state brings back a limitless flow of memories. Most of these memories are of childhood and adolescence with my father. As the memories play through my mind like a movie, there is a reccurring theme of love, support and freedom.
He is teaching me how to ride a bike, attending hundreds of my baseball and football games and cosigning a bank loan to buy my first car. He is supporting my plan to be the first in generations of extended family to leave home to study at university.
As a world traveler, he is always interested in where I go, and what I am learning along the way.
My father’s love was always combined with freedom. And that is a tough combination to come by.
All he wanted was for me to have the things he never did—to live with the possibilities he never had. Friends who felt they could not follow their desired life path, because of their father’s plan or expectations, always puzzled me.
My father was always proud of my choices as long as I was happy.
Even when I turned to a life of yoga, something he had never even heard of, he was supportive.
Two years ago, I said goodbye to my yoga guru of 10 years, Sri.K. Pattabhi Jois. His students always knew him as “GuruJi.” In India, the “Ji” is added to the end of a name or title to show respect. It’s typically used for teachers, gurus, spiritual guides and other types of senior personalities.
When GuruJi died, I had a similar movie-mind experience, remembering so many things that I had learned by his side. Recalling this, makes me realize something important about my father: he was my first guide in this life.
He was my first teacher.
He led me through the formative years. My father was my first guru.
Today, I will say my last farewells to him—my first guru, Harley Robert “Butch” Gannon, my father. I leave the room saying goodbye to his spirit, not knowing if it will be the last time. (It was.)
Like many times with respected gurus and spiritual guides in India, I intimately touch both of his feet with both hands, and then bring my fingertips to my heart, repeating it three times. Then again, from his feet to my third-eye, three times.
One last time, in his living body’s presence, I open my heart and my eyes to all he has shared with me. Drawing in the essence of his unconditional love and support that will stay with me for as long as I remain in this body.
To my first ever guru, the man who guided me through my youth, from the darkness to the light—ButchJi, I bow to you.
Harley R. Gannon “ButchJi” July 30, 1942 – August 20, 2011
Author: Michael Gannon
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Images: Courtesy of the author