A year ago tonight, my father died.
All day, I’ve been trying to get my head around the notion that an entire year has passed. How can that be? How could twelve months slip by so quickly?
Much of that time remains clear in my mind: the telephone conversation with one of his doctors, telling me to call the family to come, that this was it; Dad in his hospital bed; him being his usual cranky self; the tender moment witnessed between him and my mother (truly the only person he ever loved); the moment of forgiveness between him and my nephew Lucas. I remember the thrum of tension in the air, my last sight of him alive.
But there’s a lot of murkiness, too. Was he admitted to the hospital on Friday or Saturday? When did I drive up to check things out – over the weekend or Monday? When did I have the phone conversation with the doctor, and fall and crack my ribs – Monday or Tuesday? So many things remain unclear. That bothers me . . . although I’m not sure why. Shouldn’t I have a clearer sense of the events leading up to my father’s death? (Even now I read those words “father’s death” and can’t quite believe they’re true.)
I’m surprised how often I’ve thought of Dad over the past twelve months. I didn’t expect to. We weren’t close. I’d wanted to be, but there was something in him so damaged or broken beyond repair, some hurt so deep, that it kept him from reaching out to his own family, to showing love and support and affection without some price-tag being attached.
I’m still trying to come to terms with our relationship, although I’m not sure resolution will ever be possible. How can it be, with so many questions left unanswered?
If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t stay with him the night he died. I knew he was dying; we all knew it. I was tempted to stay behind when everyone left, to pull up a chair and hold vigil as he passed . . . but I didn’t. I felt he wouldn’t want me there. He was a private man, unwilling to show emotion or give an inch. And, honestly, he was so mean to me that day, in the hours before he slipped into coma, that I didn’t want to be there (while at the same time, paradoxically, needing to be there). He wasn’t out of his head. This wasn’t pre-death dementia or confusion or any of that. It was just Dad playing puppet-master, pulling strings, poking the spot he knew hurt you the most in order to get a reaction, purposely playing us against each other one last time. I’d lived with that sort of shit my whole life. That night, the camel’s back broke. I was so sick and tired of his games that I left and let him die with strangers (assuming a nurse came in to be with him at the last). Maybe he died alone. Does it matter? I don’t know.
But if I could step back a year ago tonight, I’d do it differently. I’d watch my mom and sister leave to go home, and then I would pull that chair up close to his bed and settle in to wait. I like to think I’d find the courage to talk to him, maybe even ask a question or two.
Who hurt you so badly?
Why didn’t you ever love me?
Why did you always treat us as if we were a bother?
Are you sorry for any of it?
I like to think that maybe a bit of that gulf could have been crossed in those hours before he stepped off into the next great adventure, but I’m kidding myself. Talk about his emotions? Not Dad.
So here we are a year down the line. Mom doesn’t remember what today is, something for which I’m grateful, and I didn’t remind her. That would just be hurtful. Dad’s gone, I hope, to the peace that eluded him in life. And me?
I’m still working it out, still hashing it over in my head, wishing it would settle down and go away. Longing for resolution.