As an adult, I grew to know him as a fellow traveler in this earthly life instead of just as my dad. I came to understand that he did the best he could with the tools he had. Still, as his health has deteriorated over the years, I’ve been afraid that when he died, the biggest tragedy would be that I wouldn't miss him enough.
That fear turns out to be unfounded.
I am so grateful for the chance I had to be with him in his final days. For the past year or so I have felt called, for the lack of a better word, to help my parents through this transition – both to ease my father’s suffering and to comfort my mother. As difficult as the last week of my father’s life was for all of us, I constantly felt a gentle reassurance that I was exactly where I needed to be.
I was afraid to leave his bedside toward the end, so I sat near him for hours at a time listening to the rhythm of his jagged breath while the "click, click, click" of my knitting needles soothed my aching heart. The day before he passed away, he awoke for a brief moment and turned to me, his eyes bright and clear.
“Sometimes life gets complicated, doesn’t it?” he said.
I was startled by his sudden lucidity. He had spent the past several days in a hallucinatory la-la land filled with cowboys and indians. “Yeah, I guess it does, Dad,” I replied. He soon drifted back into his haze.
The next day, family gathered around to say goodbyes. During the night, with my mother, my sister, and I gathered around his bed, his breathing gradually eased, and the time between each breath grew longer and longer. Then in a quiet, peaceful moment, I felt him slip away. The hospice nurse listened for a heartbeat and said, “He’s gone.”
All I could say was, “I know.”
In the end, all the bad stuff between us didn’t matter. He was my dad. I loved him, and he loved me.
I miss him terribly.
October 4, 1929 - July 5, 2008