(If you have time, this will probably make more sense if you read it in the order it was written. Part One, Part Two)
When my Father passed away
I didn’t get to tell him
All the things I had to say
Looking back, my father was sick for a long time–years–before diagnosis. I use that word loosely because with Alzheimer’s, and more specifically with him, Lewy Bodies, the early symptoms are subtle and excusable. Interestingly, I’m convinced he knew better than anyone else that his mind was escaping his body in pieces, and he did his best to open lines of communication that had previously been closed. We observed him trying to bring closure to business affairs, controlling the things he could with a sometimes frantic desperation to bring order and resolution. Many of these things would have future impact on us (his children and his wife); I think he was attempting to simplify those effects.
As I read…re-read…and eventually read again the comments from the prior two “Living Years” posts, I was moved; my heart ached after hearing the incomplete stories you began to share.
When you’ve lived unresolved relationship, you hear with a clarity not accessible to the unacquainted.
Not only did I hear what was said, I heard those unspoken, sometimes broken thoughts you dared not utter.
Speaking them can bring them to life…it gives them a strength you’d rather not allow.
After my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago, Daddy changed. In his own way, he began reaching out to his children in a way he hadn’t before. He was scared–the thought of losing his first-born must have been horrifying.
Sadly, I think I was somewhat hardened towards his overtures; throughout my college years I wanted him to be interested, invested in my life. Now that he was making more of an effort, I didn’t respond in kind. I certainly wasn’t disrespectful or discourteous, but there was a learned detachment that was slow to dissolve. Walls of self-preservation had been erected long ago, and to avoid putting myself in a position to be hurt or rejected by him, my life was easily filled with my husband, children, friends and activity. It’s important to note that his rejection was more a sin of “omission” (things you should’ve done, but didn’t) than “commission” (things you shouldn’t have done, but did).
Later that same year
I’m sure I heard his echo
In my baby’s new born tears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years
One day about two years ago, overnight my father’s health took a catastrophic turn for the worse. He went from being able to function independently–driving, dressing himself, eating normally, etc.–to not being able to do a thing. Although we’ll never know for sure, we have reason to believe it was an adverse reaction to a drug he was given. He was in the hospital over two months, near death on more than one occasion, but eventually came home with 24-hour care. He was confined to bed for 14 months and during that time there were only hints of recognition.
Because we wanted to give his wife a much-needed break (and because around-the-clock care is not only expensive, it’s unreliable), my siblings and I took turns traveling to their home to help care for him. Without going into the horrific details of parent-child role reversal, it was a blistering living hell–for him and for us. If you’ve lived it, you know what I mean.
This is the saddest truth: I spent more time with Daddy his last year and a half of life than I have for the past 20 years combined…and the man was out of his mind.
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye
There is a beauty in this brokenness…slivers of redemption among shards of regret–
I looked at my father for the first time in a long, long time. I looked at him, I watched him, I saw things I hadn’t seen before. He was 75 but had amazing skin, very few wrinkles. How could I have missed that? Without remembering I was his daughter (which was the case more often than not), he told me I was the “prettiest thing he had ever seen”, in his own way, still telling me I was a princess. When he thought of something funny, the twinkle returned to his eye and his laughter transported me back to happier times in his life.
Mostly, though, it was opportunity to just be with him, serve him, and learn what it meant to honor him when it wasn’t particularly pleasant to do so. I thought of all MY sins of omission where he was concerned and realized that in spite of both of our emotionally-protective walls and unmet expectations, we loved each other, and for us, that has to be enough.
I would have pursued him, I would have endured uncomfortable conversations to forge an intimacy of knowing each other we never found. Because intuitively I knew he didn’t want to “go there” (and “go there” meant a thousand different things), I never pressed, I didn’t ask…and he didn’t offer.
It’s not that I have it all figured out or have all the answers–I don’t even know all the questions. But…but…I KNOW there are a million daughters just.like.me. Little girls living inside a woman’s steel magnolia frame who simply want to know their fathers, to share life, and for HIM to be the one to initiate it.
And I write this to tell you…gently…it probably isn’t going to happen that way (if it hasn’t already).
But it can happen, I believe that.
It’s gonna have to be you in the driver’s seat. And it’s worth it, it will be worth it. Of course there are damaged, abusive relationships between father and child–I can’t begin to speak to that type of estrangement :(. For those who are like me, though, I think there’s a way to intimacy but it takes courage and determination and initiative. It requires a sacrifice of your “rights.” It demands forgiveness. Pursuing intimacy sometimes means loving in a way that doesn’t necessarily come naturally. Because I hold scripture in esteem and believe it to speak truth and to reveal the nature and character of God, it seems this is certainly a way to honor your father (parents).
For a few friends of mine IRL who’ve admitted some of what I’m sharing here–I practically beg them to take the first steps towards a deeper relationship with their parents. Consider this a “beg” to my cyber friends….I wonder if someone had kicked me in the behind five years ago if I would have heard…and responded….
This is the last picture I took of my dad…it was taken with my cell phone a few weeks before his death; I knew it would be the last time I photographed him and it seemed important.
I can’t think of a better way to end this post than with the closing words of “Living Years” and to share the music with those of you who are unfamiliar. Enjoy~
Say it loud, say it clear
Say it loud
Don’t give up
Don’t give in
perhaps I’ll tell a similar story — of losing a father once to a brain injury, and then a second time to the grave.
Double pain.. you lived it, too.
I couldn’t listen to the song. It made me way too sad. I’m actually involved in my parent’s lives, and I think they think everything is normal but when I see them it shreds me to know that they treat their dogs way better than they treat their kids. I’m glad you got some sort of closure, but oh so sorry you still have regrets.
On a different note, one of our professors does a lot of alzheimer’s work and there is a blood test that can be done but it hasn’t been developed yet. Hopefully if they can catch it early enough we’ll be able to come up with a treatment or a cure.
This was a beautiful, yet heartbreaking, story.
Oh, oh, oh.
Beautiful and heartbreaking. I just want to hug you right now.
I am extremely close to my mom. My dad, not so much. Although he never abused me, he did make me visit the man that eventually did. I don’t know if I can ever forgive my father for that.
Robin, This was tearfully lovely. And poignant.
This sage wisdom is good for any of us who need to move beyond the roadblocks in our relationships and take the long view… is it really worth it to cling to the perceived offenses against us?
I absolutely love your closing photo. The bright, sickly greenish, hospital-looking color from the phone flash is completely dissipated by the loving embrace between you and your dad. You are clinging to each other now, rather than that water under the bridge. Makes me want to cry.
Oh, Robin, what a touching story. I know this song very well – I cry every time I hear it.
I think I’ll give my dad a hug today….
A kick in the butt…so many things to say and do, but when you have those walls up, dang, they are so hard to take down. So hard.
Your story is poignant and very thought-provoking. We all have regrets. I have time, but can I do it?
That song always makes me think of my dad. Butterfly kisses does it to, as that is what I danced with my dad to, at my wedding 🙁
Well, Robin. You did it again. I had not planned on crying today, but just did. Your story is a beautiful one and I hope it reaches many. My father doesn’t have Alzheimer’s but sometimes it seems as if he does. It’s hard for strong-willed folks to take the first step. It’s funny because as much as my first son is like me (and you and I have talked about this) I am like my father – which is something I don’t really want to say out loud. Thanks again for sharing and making me think.
My first non-Fun Monday visit to your blog, and wow, this is deep. Beautiful, insightful, and sad at the same time. My condolences, and complements to you.
Hey guys, Just a VERY quick check-in to let you know my timing for writing/posting this couldn’t have been more inconvenient in terms of my ability to respond to your thoughts. I didn’t realize my day today was going to go the way it did–in a good way. We ended up being able to put our kitchen back together, and it was an all day affair.
My kids are on fall break, we’re headed out of town, I have no idea if blogging will be a part. BUT, I will respond to you eventually because I DO appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts.
Well, that brought tears. My dad passed away on July 27, 2007. He had spent 6 weeks in intensive care and it was an up and down road. We thought at first that he would make it and near the end again we had hope. His body finally wore out, oh my gosh, he had gone through so much. The ICU nurses were wonderful too. I live in Oklahoma and he lived in Texas, so it was hard for me to be there continually. I visited weekly. The last thing my dad said to me before he went into a coma was,”You know that I love you,” and I said, “Yes, Daddy, I know that you love me.” He was 77 years old. I was 49, I turned 50 a week later. Lots of memories….I’ll be glad to see him again someday in heaven. There were lots of things I wish I had talked him about and spent more time with him…but at least I did get last moments that I will never forget.
I agree there are TONS of daughters wanting better relationships with their fathers. You are right, Robin, that as much as we’d like them to take the lead, they may not. Thank you for telling us to forgive and forge ahead to mend the relationship. If it’s important enough to us, we’ll do it. Great series!
Robin, in this three-part sequel you have beautifully and gently urged all of us to build or reconstruct the relationship with our parents. Your worthwhile advice to take the first step can be extended to any strained relationship. Thank you for your insight. I am going to work on this when and where I can. Take care.
This was beautifully written…all 3 of them. I long for a better relationship with my father…I have tried twice in the past to be the one to take the lead to make the effort only to be listened to but not HEARD.
I suppose I could post about this…I dont want to get too lengthy here…your posts are amazing I could do my own and link so as to get your story and message out further…
Thank you for sharing. Your photo makes me cry. It makes me think of the song “Daddy’s Hands” which makes me cry because as a lil girl I longed for that song to be true for me and my Dad…at least I felt that way with my Grandpa.
Your post touched me. Made me cry. I love both my parents. I am just no longer that close to them anymore. I do tell them I love them, but I never hear it back. I don’t know if I ever mentioned before I have a dysfunctional family.
I know there are walls to bring down, but I do NOT know where to begin. I don’t know what to do.
Thank you so very much for sharing. I am really thinking about “sharing” sometime soon. 🙂
Robin, this post seems to have touched everyone. It touched me very deeply as I lost my mom to Alzheimer’s on September 11th last year. It was very, very difficult. So hard when she looked at me right in the eyes and said, “No, I don’t know who you are.” I will never forget that. I do need to spend some quality time with my dad. Thank you for sharing your story.
visiting here from willowtree’s place.
your story struck a lot of chords with me–especially when you said you spent more time with your dad when he was dying than for the years before. also, the sister with breast cancer.
thanks for writing this.
I lost my dad too soon and way too suddenly. There are long conversations in little hidden places in my heart that I still want to have with him. We were in a good place in our relationship, so I don’t have many regrets. But unfortunately, since she remarried after Dad died, my relationship with my Mom hasn’t been as good as I like. I have to admit, I’m a little worried I’ll lose her before I feel reconciled.
Well! I see a comment spammer found you. :-/
Thank you, Robin. There’s so much more I would love to say, but I reckon that is the essence of it.
I’ve loved this series on your father. Thank you…
Great series – just got around to reading them.
My father lost his own father when he was 13. In many ways, he could not be the ideal father when we were teenagers, mainly because he just could not understand the teenager dynamic.
Therapy on my part has helped me realise what relationship we can form and on his part, knowing that death is final means he is always actively seeking to make his family his first priority.
What a beautiful post, Robin.
I’m close to my father, after years of distance and awkwardness. My mother? Not so much, but I do try to keep the lines open with her.
There is much work to do. And your post only comes at an acutely appropriate moment for me. Thank you. And bless you.
Wow, that was an amazing story. Thanks for sharing… it will definitely stay with me throughout the day.
Robin – once again you’ve reached into my soul and plucked a single chord so powerfully.
Although I don’t have regrets about my haphazard relationship with my late father, I already mourn the disjointed and unpredictable relationship I have with my mom. Your plea for us to take the first step in strengthening our relationships with our parents — it is very meaningful to me. I’ve struggled with this for a long time, but have been unwilling/unable to address it like I should. It takes so much life out of me to take the lead — although I know if I could be successful in it, the relationship could give life too. Once again I find myself amidst complicated family and personal responsibilities — a situation that easily puts my relationship with my mom on the backburner.
I appreciate your insight and the beautiful way you write about your experience with your dad. It gives me pause to think about my own direction.