The hardest thing for me to accept the most about my father growing up was that he had very high standards and a critical eye. I never felt smart enough around him and every question that I had (I sometimes made them up just to talk to him while on a road trip) felt stupid when he answered them. In short, there was no father - daughter magic between us.
However, when I got married and had children he often complimented me on being a good mother and for the first time in my life, I felt approved by him.
But when the cancer came, things really changed. He called me personally to tell me that he was out of remission and he wanted to see me. In fact, he wanted to see all of his children. He was still gruff and hard around the edges but he seemed to be on the cusp of change. Unfortunately, the change came on his death bed and all that was harsh and distant between us melted away at the last minute.
On his last day of life, I came into his hospital room and whispered into his ear that all was forgiven between us and that he was free to go if he was ready. Ten minutes later, my father reached up out of a coma toward the ceiling and opened his eyes and tried to speak. Something powerful had gotten his attention and I’m sure I know what it was. I was there to witness his departure from this world and although it was somewhat startling at first, because it happened so fast…it was amazing at the same time. After reaching, he lay back on his pillow and seconds later, I leaned over and closed his eyes. We sang and prayed our goodbyes and when that was done, I put my head on his chest and wept. I wept because he was gone, I wept because I was there to witness it and most of all, I wept because he called for me to come to see him before he slipped into the coma…and I was there to say goodbye.
Death has been a steady stream in my life ever since childhood. I’m very familiar with the pain of loss and its’ dreaded finality (or so it seems.) For that reason, after losing my mother at 10, my oldest sister about 10 years ago and a slew of relatives in between, I live to die the right way. I desire to leave nothing important unsaid to those that I love. I laugh as much as possible with my children, so that the legacy of joy is passed down to them. And more importantly now than ever, I only allow relationships that are whole, nurturing and healthy in my life. Anything else just won’t do.
What I know about life I learned early on, that it is fragile and doesn’t have to be as complicated as we make it.
What I can appreciate about death is that it just keeps reinforcing the purpose of life to me over and over again, to live, to give and to love wholeheartedly.
From this vantage point, I can see much good in my father now and I realize that he, like all of us, struggled with the sentiments that leave us vulnerable to others. I am not marred by his lack of affection; I am simply encouraged to display it to my children as much as possible. I will speak with the voice of love that my father did not master. I will do it in his honor.
I wish to live a long full life with more joy than sorrow but what I really want, in the end, is to leave a legacy so full of the fragrance of love that it lingers in the life of my children forever.