One year after my dad’s death I am 365 days stronger. I am familiar with heart-breaking acts of compassion, acts of love, forgiveness, and grace. I know what it means to have a father and to have a male figure to hold my hand and just sit with me. I miss my dad. I miss the time we spent together. I’m glad I was able to do the things for him my other sibling’s would/could not do for him. Having to take care of his affairs made a young woman grow up rather quickly. We were mad at each other, for far too many years. But, if only for necessity, all was forgiven. For three weeks we shared hurts and joys and meals.
The month of August was tough on me last year. I flew out to New Mexico on August 1st to see what was ‘really’ going on. My step-dad had been dying for years and it was my siblings and my understanding that this was another ploy for attention from his estranged children. The next day, while my dad was seeing his primary doctor, I went up to the oncology ward, and I found out, I knew our time was limited. From then until he found out on Friday I had a heavy heart. Our time to make up was no longer a day to be put forward. His time was now a finite commodity…the time to forgive was now.
His sentence was 4-6 months. And our journey to find each other started. During the day I gathered paperwork, made cremation arrangements, arranged for siblings and family to visit. I urged them that this was pressing, that it wasn’t a lie that he was going to die. At night I would stay up with him, get his insulin, take care his needs. We would watch TV together. He would tell me stories about Vietnam. We opened up to each other.
We talked about our anger. Unforgiveness that had been brewing for over 9 years. I talked to him about why I moved out. How my mother’s struggles were affecting me. What their relationship was doing to me. I was too young to do all that he asked of me. He had forgotten why I moved, but never forgot the hurt. I had been forgiving him for a long time for the comments, the hurt he caused in my own life. But, as soon as he denied, or a new disservice happened? I was having to forgive him all over again. During that time, I was able to just throw those things out the window. With only 4 months left I knew if I held on to the hurt we would both lose
Eventually, I flew back home and jumped back into work. I worked everyday to try and save money in order to take time off in a couple months and go back to New Mexico. I applied for a southwest card so I could get a free flight. I called him everyday.
After only 9 days my mom had called me sobbing: they were taking my dad to the hospital by ambulance. She gave the doctor my number so he could explain what was going on, my mom wasn’t able to convey all that was happening. And the doctor called. He explained that my dad wasn’t breathing on his own, that his blood pressure was dropping, that he was on medication in order to keep it up. That night I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t. Instead I thought about my dad. I struggled with whether or not I was going to fly out. The next morning the doctor called and said he was on the maximum dose of three medications. They weren’t going to give him anymore; he might not make it through the night.
So I flew back to Albuquerque. In the bed, with all the medications and fluids they were pumping into him, in order to keep him alive, he had swelled up 50%. My dad was unrecognizable. I was strong, I didn’t cry. The only time I broke down was when I told him I would make sure we followed his will. My sisters flew in, and we gathered around his bedside.
The next day, August 28th, I told the doctors to take him off the ventilator. My mom couldn’t tell them to take him off of life support, to let him die. By 12:30 he was gone. A few days later my dad was in a shoebox. For all the life he lived, his death left him in something that could be placed in a closet and forgotten. I brought my dad back with me when I flew home. My dad wished to be with his mom in Ohio. Security had to ask what was in my bag. On the plane I couldn’t handle another’s luggage on top of my box. My senses were acute. I was hurting and afraid.
Thanksgiving I used my free flight and I did take my dad’s ashes up to Ohio. My sister and I spread them where he desired. Well, the portion that my disobedient self did not spread in the Hudson.
My dad’s death hurt me. A lot. I was forced to do many things out of necessity. I also gained sisters I had lost. I gained strength. I gained insight. Part of the insight was how much I would have loved to be able to send my dad a father’s day card. Because of the unending anger I never did. Isn’t it sad, when a person is gone is when we wish to have the ability to be sentimental? To realize that he will never walk me down the aisle and he will not be able to hold my children. But we also had a wonderful three weeks.
Dad, on the anniversary of your death, I want to say thank you. Thank you for your forgiveness. Thank you for trusting me with your final wishes. I know how much you love me and I’m grateful. Most of all, thank you for teaching me such a true lesson on dying, on grief, and on growing up.