In the days after my dad died many friends came by my place to support me in my grief. One of them told me how after his father died he'd always felt that he'd needed a few more years with him and that there was more to learn or too much left unsaid. I turned this over in my mind many times. And I decided it wasn't true for us. I wish that my dad had lived another ten years. But I think we understood each other. I think it was complete.
Yet, there are times when I'm reminded of the days when I was young and foolish. Last week, as I rummaged through a stack of old journals and papers in my bedside table drawer, I came across a note I'd written to a friend back in high school complaining about how I thought my parents were ruining my life. It brought back vivid memories of some of the despicable things I once said to my Dad under the influence of raging hormones. Today I'm sorrier than I can say. A father is his daughter's fiercest protector. While the daughter may not appreciate all that yelling and screaming; she should allow it to happen and be glad for his protection, because one day he won't be there to do it.
Following the death of my father, I found myself getting increasingly mad at him. Even in my sorrow I felt trapped because I didn't have him to share it with. I thought him selfish for abandoning me, especially after having devoted the entirety of his lifetime to us, his children. But now the storms are calmer and I know he didn't take leave of his own free will. It was his time. It's funny and sad and amazing all at the same time, the force with which life continues, even where and when death is impending or has happened. Within my own family, while my Mom was spending her days with my ill father, one of my sisters was getting ready to get married in a matter of weeks. I didn't think life must end or cease to be. But it must. Yet, life goes on.
In my line of work, you see people essentially having to watch a loved one die, inch by inch as their life ebbs from them - first losing coherency then being unable to recognize their own family as they slowly succumb to the disintegration of knowledge, memory and their friends with it; while becoming incontinent and experiencing all the other indignities visited upon the terminally ill. Consequently, they not only lose their loved one but also the brightest memories of them. Part of me is at ease because I realize I was fortunate to lose my own father quickly, painlessly, and without warning, so my memories of him at his best are intact and not overwhelmed by less happy ones. And as an adult living far from home, those times etched in my memory are perhaps more precious to me than the man himself.
My father did right by me. One of the greatest heartbreaks of my life is that he would not be there each time I hit a milestone in my life – graduation, career, marriage, and children. But even in the midst of the grief that crashes over me I have the satisfaction of knowing that my father lived long enough to see me make something of myself. And I know he was proud of me because as he lingered for three very hard days in the hospital at the end, he spoke of me between varying degrees of lucidity. And in all the years I knew my father I don't think there was any time I knew him happier or more content than in the final years of his life. Still, I worry. I worry and grieve about whether I made it clear enough while he was alive how proud I was of him, how much I loved him and how he'd been my anchor through my life. He meant so much to me that my fear of his death sometimes scared me away.
Dad, thank you for creating the spark that ignites the passion within my soul. And thank you for doing your very best, every single day. You earned your place in heaven.