The Last Time I Saw My Father

Funny how a memory pops up when we least expect it.  Our minds go to unexpected places at unpredictable times.  Sometimes there’s an obvious link; often, memories seem to appear out of left field like an errant baseball thrown past home plate and into the stands.

The last time I saw my father was at the lunch following my mother’s funeral.  My dad didn’t want a funeral and, along with my two surviving siblings, conspired to make sure that my mother didn’t get the service and burial she would have wanted and deserved.

The grand compromise?  There would be no funeral home service but a small one at the gravesite.  Some compromise.  But that was the best I could do.

And there we were standing on the front porch of a distant relative’s home (Everyone else had moved away) —my husband, son, good friend from high school and my dad.

The friend waxed eloquent about how my mother and father had been like substitute parents and how much he appreciated their concern and support.

“Well, at least someone appreciates me.”

He looked straight at me.  “That’s more than I can say about some others.”

Was he serious?  What the hell had I done?  Maybe the knock on his head (actually, he fell and suffered a subdural hematoma two days before my mother died)  had rattled his memory.  I’d been the dutiful older daughter who jumped through hoops to make him love me.

Okay, so he was pissed that I’d “forced” a service for my mother.  Well, screw him!  He couldn’t forgive me for what turned out to be a lovely celebration of my mother’s life?

My friend said a quick good-bye and headed for his car.  In what looked like a choreographed move, my son, husband and I stood and walked back inside the house. We were in no mood to weather my father’s abuse.

And that was it: I never hugged my father, said how much I missed my mother or how I knew the next months would be tough but that he could count on me to be there for him whenever he needed me.

He did call me once after that and offered me my mother’s car.  A peace offering?  I graciously said “no” because I had a car and didn’t need another.

He died two weeks later.

 

 

To Dad with Apologies on Father’s Day

 

 

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Dear Dad,

I wish you were here so I could make these apologies in person.  But as you know, you’ve been dead for just about 8 years now.  Remember: You died one day after my birthday.

And that brings me to my first apology: I’m sorry that I put pressure on you not to die on my birthday.  That would have ruined so many celebrations. Sure, I guess there would have been some kind of symmetry in your death and my birth on the same day.  But it wasn’t something I wanted.  I’m pretty sure you didn’t, either.

So, I stood by your bed in the middle of the night.  You were in a coma or, at least, you weren’t eating, talking or moving.  I was wearing mom’s silk green nightgown covered with some kind of bird pattern.  She loved birds.  And I came close to  you lying in the same bed where mom had died just three+ weeks earlier, gently pushed the nightgown toward you and said something like, “Smell this, daddy-oh.  I know you want to be with her.  So, don’t hang on any longer.  It’s time to go.”

What a bunch of crap!  You should have been allowed to die whenever the hell you wanted.  But you surprised us all and did just that.  When the hospice caretakers, Liz, John, and I were all out of the room, you went ahead and died.  A day after my birthday.

Apology #2

You were somewhere in your mid-80s and asked me to accompany you to the “gym” in your building.  You valued my fitness regimens and thought I might give you a few pointers.

I first suggested some stretches.  You made your way down to the floor matt without much difficulty and followed my instructions as I led you through a series of leg, back, arm and neck exercises.

Once warmed up, you asked if we could do the “circuit.”  Not a problem.

But you couldn’t get up from the floor.  And I couldn’t believe that you couldn’t.  “Dad,” I said impatiently.  “Just get up.” After several futile attempts, I had him roll over on his side, brace one hand on the floor and push himself up to a sitting position.  From there, I told him to get to his knees with both hands on the floor.  It took all my strength to support his back and pull him until he was upright.

What goes around comes around.  Isn’t that what they say?  Well, I got my comeuppance.  I’ve started having a hard time getting up from the floor.  My knees just aren’t what they used to me.

And, dad, every time without fail, I think of you.  I am so sorry.

Apology #3

Okay, you weren’t the nicest before and after mom died.  You turned bitter, angry, a man I didn’t recognize.  You didn’t want to give mom a funeral.  You said you wouldn’t be able to handle her casket being lowered into the ground.

I thought you were selfish.  Mom wanted as many friends and relatives to send her off in style.

“Dad,” I said.  “You can just walk away.”

“Let’s just ask people to give money to their favorite charity in her name,” you said.

At that moment, I hated you.

But I get it now.  You were scared.  You couldn’t stomach living alone.  In your mind, your life had ended, too.  It was just a matter of getting you body in sync with your mind.

The last time we ever talked, you asked if I wanted mom’s car.  I see it now as a kind, loving gesture.  Then, I saw your offer as some kind of peace offering that I couldn’t accept.  I already had a perfectly fine car.  I didn’t need another one.  And I didn’t need a reminder that mom was dead.

But that was a long time ago.