My Last Real Day with Dad

dad and grandpaIt was three weeks before he died.

By this time my Dad was pretty much immobile.  He could get up to go to the bathroom and probably to go to bed but other than that he would sit in his recliner.

What I learned later is that he was only getting 8% of the oxygen into his bloodstream that he needed at the time of his death. I don’t think he had fallen and cracked his ribs yet, but he was still pretty immobile even on that day, when everyone was still hoping that he was going to get better.

lake tahoe in the snowThe hardest part about all of that was that I intuitively knew that my father was going to die even before I went there that day. When I first saw him in the hospital, after his surgery, three or four weeks before that day at his house in Calistoga, I immediately told my close friend, “he’s going to die.” She tried to convince me that that wasn’t true, but I knew, deep down inside of me, I knew. That moment when I saw him in the hospital and I knew that he was not going to be here long was  the saddest moment I’ve had in the last couple of years.walkingalone_2

But back to the living. When I got up there that afternoon he seemed to be in pretty good spirits. He didn’t get up anymore when I came in the room and I didn’t expect him to. I hugged Louise, went over, leaned down and hugged him. He was so small by then, he only weighed 125 pounds and he was 6’ tall by this time from his original height of 6’2”. I held his hands for a bit before I let go of him, because I knew. I  sat down on the couch like I always did.

A melancholy came over me. I could not explain it, just something I felt.  An empty sadness is probably the best way I could describe it to you.

k3646710As she usually did, Louise made us some food, and Dad was only able to eat a small portion of it. As I watched him eat I could see that he was struggling to even chew. I could see that he didn’t have enough energy to even chew a simple sandwich.  But like my dad always did, he didn’t complain. I was going to ask him if he wanted me to cut it up for him, but I’ve been around my Dad long enough to know that his pride would not allow that to happen.

cropped-heart3For the next six hours we talked like we had never talked before in our lives.

My Dad and I were never really close emotionally. I don’t remember being able to sit on his lap when I was a kid. We never sat together for hours like I did as a Dad.  He never went to any of my sporting events except for one of my high school basketball games when we lived in Calistoga.  He never read to me.  I don’t remember him tucking me in.  He never took me by myself anywhere.  There was just too much need for him to be a provider to be a close father.  I also don’t think he was taught how to be close to people by his father either.

What I noticed that day was that my Dad really wanted to know about me and about our lives together.  He talked about my childhood, his childhood,  his life, his fears, his regrets, and his pain more than he ever had in his whole life. He talked about how he treated his children. He owned his part in my upbringing more than he ever did.  He owned it in relation to all of my siblings

2-11-13-rose-jpegI have to say that it felt a little odd, but  it was also, exciting is not the word I would use to describe my feelings. However it was interesting, my father was finally seeking information about what others thought about his life. He was now taking stock of his own life openly in front of me. It drew me closer to him.

We talked about where we lived when I was a child, what he remembered about certain ages of my life, certain locations of where we lived. We had a long conversation about what he thought had happened to our family.mysterious-glowing-light-in-a-fnland-forest-mikko-lagerstedt

Despite his lack of skills as far as being able to interact with others and feel comfortable in a social setting, my Dad, once he got to know you, was pretty personable. We talked about his old friends, his jobs at the Forestry, the gas stations, the vineyards and his favorite work of all, gardening.

butterfly monarchI’m so grateful that my father taught me to love plants as much as I do.

We talked about his alcoholism, his emphysema from smoking, and his basic lack of ability to care about himself until the end of his life. My father’s candor that day was refreshing and gave me permission to be frank with him. I don’t need to talk about all the things that we talked about. It doesn’t change what happened that day because that day was between me and my Dad.

2009 Mt Shasta to Oak street 098What happened that day was that my father and I loved each other more than we ever had.  He cried a couple times and so did I. He gave me more support in two sentences, emotionally, than he had given me in the past 25 years.  A huge psychological load was lifted off of my shoulders that day.

But there is one thing I have to write about that I don’t want to write about.  Because my Dad only wanted one thing the last five or so years that I can remember.

He always told me, every time we talked, whether it was on the phone or in person, that he wished that all of his grand kids and kids could be at the same place at the same time.

me brad and MariaOne of the biggest regrets my father had at the end of his life was that we did not have an intact family. For the last couple years before he died my dad would always say “I just want my family to be together one more time.”

It wasn’t to be. There was too much pain and too much fear between the siblings for there to be even the semblance of a close family. We talked about that a lot that day. I kept saying to him “What is it that you need for me to do Dad,” as far as making that happen.   I would have done anything for him that day.  Finally at the end of the day he said, “Thanks son, I know you’ve done as much as you can try to make it so we all get along, but I just don’t see that happening now.”  The resignation that was on his face was palpable and I hurt because of it. I hurt now something fierce because of it.  I knew, and I  think my Dad had an idea that day that his time was limited.

2009 Mt Shasta to Oak street 018My Dad died without his family around him.  I have only experienced being around a death of a father in a family once before that.  All of his children were there.  I am sure it gave that man’s soul a little rest.

I am sad that my Dad did not get his last wish.  I am also glad that I got to hold my Dad’s hand when he took his last breath and to take care of him the last 3+ days of his life.

dad dancingMore than anything, I will carry that day with my Dad forever.  Just he and I in his house where we opened our hearts to each other for maybe the first time in our lives.  A father and a son were able to put everything behind them before one of them died.  I hope my Dad got the peace he obviously desired.  He deserved that.  He was a good man. We got closure as much as I think you can get “closure.”

He will not be known for his accomplishments, his things or his persona.  He was and will be remembered as a man who tried to love those around him the best he could.He didnt do it perfectly, as I havent.  But he attempted it, and I give him credit for that.

Thanks Dad.

100_1607finger touching nose of baby

123 It is better to seek forgivness than it is permission.blogformentalhealth20131


7 thoughts on “My Last Real Day with Dad

  1. An honest and told with an open heart reflection, father-son recounting of their final time together. Near death was used as the vehicle the father needed to talk openly and with emotion to his son. It’s a tragedy that this conversation couldn’t have taken place years earlier but thankfully, it happened. So often, by this time there’s so much hate and anger, closure can never be reached.

  2. Has me blubbering. Despite his shortcomings you were so blessed to have the ending with his hand in yours. It is a true gift from God. Beautifully written and how could it not be because it came straight from the heart!

  3. Hi Jim…this account of your last day with your Dad brings to light so many problems within probably almost all families and it is very moving. I often wonder why it is that we don’t seem to find the way to live until we are face to face with our own very personal mortality.

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