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….
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