Wednesday, March 2, 2011
My father died in February. He was 84 years old. He had been ailing. He was blind and his kidneys were shutting down bit by bit. In the last few weeks of his life, his occasional dementia became full time. He was twitchy and agitated and did not want to eat or drink.
My sons got to visit with him shortly before he died. It was unclear whether he knew they were there or who they were. But I think somewhere he knew and let them know he knew. My youngest daughter also visited, as it turned out, the day before he died. He was unresponsive and did not seem to hear us as we spoke to him and held his hand. It is a hard honor to be present at the deathbed of someone you love. I want to believe he had already put one foot over the line in previous weeks, communicating with my mother, and, perhaps his own mother. I arrived at the nursing home a half hour after he passed away for good. I sat with him and stroked his cheek and head for a while as the warmth drained from him. It seemed like his soul left with the warmth. I felt him there . . . and then I didn't. He may have re-appeared during funeral services, just to see what we had arranged for him, and to make sure I sang the song he had requested I sing at his funeral mass, about six months ago.
Dad was stoic and proud. He was even a little bit of a despot, wanting things to go the way he wanted them to go and having little patience for anyone else's view. With the exception of my mom. It was a fearsome and wonderful thing to see how that tiny woman could control the heart of this big impatient man. In her final days, when Alzheimer's ravaged her brain and left us with a stranger, he showed his most patient and loving self as he gently steered her around the house to get dressed and eat.
It is true, and thankfully so, that we remember mostly the good things in people. My mind re-visits times with the good mom and the fun dad. He never left us, even in his mind, unlike his own father, who abandoned his young family when my dad was two.
So now, I am an orphan. First in line at the pearly gates and sitting behind the desk where the buck stops. I walk through the empty house where I grew up and hear children's voices - mine and my brothers' - and those of my own children when they were young and running into the kitchen for Grandma's brownies. Thinking of the times I was home sick and my mother would buy me a Venus Paradise Coloring Set to work on in bed. Thinking of the times my dad would let us climb the ladder to the roof to hammer nails into the shed he was building onto the back. Thinking about learning to ride a bike and dad running alongside, letting go just at the right moment as I pedaled away.
And with that image as metaphor, I will close this entry. I am pedaling away. Dad has felt free to let go. I ride down the block and turn the corner until I can no longer see him waving.