Two weeks ago I received a phone call from one of my sisters. She was in tears. My 94 year-old father was dying. I found myself crying, too, and made arrangements to leave to be with him and my family.
I wasn’t surprised by the phone call. In fact, I had been expecting it. I just didn’t know when it would come. My father had recently been hospitalized and when he returned home they started him with hospice. At age 94 he was fragile and vulnerable.
My father hadn’t recognized me or known who I was for at least six or seven years. Maybe more. I used to jokingly tell my friends it wasn’t that different. He had never truly seen me or known who I was.
In many ways, I lost my father a long time ago. Ironically, he once accused me of abandoning him. I’d left home to go to college and never came back except for short visits. But he’d also moved away my last semester of high school, which left me living with a friend and her family in order to finish the year out. My mother’s death, a remarriage, and a painful attempt to blend two families together all also preceded these events. So there were many abandonments between us.
Needless to say, we had our differences, not all of which got ironed out over time. But as he lost his hearing, then his vision, and slowly descended into dementia, I saw the man I had once worshiped as a child, rebelled against as an adolescent, and painfully tried to reconnect with as an adult, slip out of reach.
The skeletal figure lying on the bed, barely breathing, seemed a far cry from the man who had nurtured me as a child. And yet he was familiar, too. As I leaned over to kiss his forehead, I felt an incredible love that transcended time and space.
It was from that love that I wrote the eulogy I gave at his memorial. It stands now as a beacon as I navigate the waters of grief that includes grieving the father I didn’t have as much as the one I did.
His death was a liberation for him, from a body and mind that no longer served him in any meaningful way. I sense it as a liberation for me, too, as if a torch has been passed on, and I am finally free to be fully me, and with his blessing, as he has mine.