What comes to mind when you think about losing your father? If you have already, do you bask in good memories or maybe regrets? If you haven’t yet, have you considered when that time does come? If you are a father have you thought about what impressions you’re leaving with your children? Maybe you haven’t had a father or maybe you’re so young it doesn’t seem relevant.
My father is dying. I’ve no idea how much time he has left, only that he’s digressed quickly in recent weeks. “Rapidly” better describes it. Perhaps that’s a blessing of sorts, providing the experience of losing him gradually (for me) yet happening quickly (for him). It’s jolted me into a progression of grieving that, one can only hope, helps prepare for the inevitable … if there is such a thing as preparing for that. I seriously doubt it.
To say my father will be 90 next month doesn’t do him the least bit of justice. A few months ago he was shooing the neighbor’s escaped pit bull with a stick. As recently as last month he insisted on hosting our family reunion for yet another year. He’d just begun to go downhill then, acquainting himself with a new walker that a couple of weeks earlier wasn’t even on his horizon. Until then he was still puttering in his garage, taking his rambunctious pet out to chase squirrels, running household finances, keeping in touch by email … and the tell-tale sign of fatherhood, telling his kids what to do.
Dad was diagnosed with cancer about four years ago. He never was a doctor-goer or medicine-taker and, praise God, he rarely needed either. After cancer diagnosis he talked to oncologists and weighed his options. With bad effects from a first medication he decided quality of life was better than longsuffering misery. So he set out to make the life he had left as full and complete as possible.
His prognosis wasn’t good. Family said he had four months. He didn’t see a doctor again for a couple of years and even then not without necessity. Dad remained remarkably active and spunky, teaching himself ways to ease the pain that did come. He had always commanded authority and up to this very moment he does, albeit in a less intimidating way now. How he’s handled this disease and dying warrants respect if not unbridled admiration.
A couple of years ago he gave his old truck to me (see Home/About, Introduction). Being dad, it’s a fit old truck with all of the subtle bedazzledness he’d so tenderly invested. I’m an old lady and just accelerating at a stoplight makes the tires squeal. Yeah that kind of “subtle begazzledness.” Dad always liked his vehicles fast. He called it “The Red Dude” but upon gifting it to me he changed that to “The Red Dudette.” I suspect this has to be the first transgender pickup truck.
The last time I traveled to see dad (and maybe the last time I will see him) he invited me out to eat breakfast. That may sound like a small feat – it was anything but. He had just gotten the walker and was still fighting against using it, but he knew that was the only way to safely leave the house.
That was the first time he’d been back in The Red Dudette. I had her all polished and clean. He was so commendable to extend the breakfast invitation, but more so, to do – with his head held high and all dressed in nice clothes – what I knew he so dreaded: using that awkward walker to go out to a restaurant. He did it for me to have that bit of personal time before the end he now knew was soon coming … he certainly didn’t do it for himself.
A few days after returning home I tried to speak to him about establishing hospice and he wouldn’t hear of it. He had no qualms in telling me so. He asked questions about getting a scooter and I was excited he might be up to the possibility of better mobility. I don’t know when or how he changed his mind, but within a week he called to say he wanted me to hear it from him: he did contact hospice and he’ll be “bedfast” from now on. For me that was devastating news. All of this degeneration in a matter of weeks.
When I call now he’s asleep or occupied with caregivers. I want to, no, I need to hear his voice.
Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? [Matthew 7:9-10]
Dad was the only one in the family who stood by me in all of my life’s years and some were unpleasantly troublesome. He was there come hell or high-water. He never flinched, even when I reacted like the immature jerk I sometimes was. Mom died years ago and I remember how alone I felt then. Dad leaving really scares me, even at my ripe old age. I’m grateful he’s staying as astute as he was the last time I did talk to him. They say he’s not in pain and I’m grateful for that, too. He’s still at home and surrounded by the people he loves and that is a tremendous blessing.
Since his downhill trend all of these great memories have come flooding back. Happenings and events that dad made possible and that were so personally giving of him. Things that seemed insignificant as a kid but hold so much meaning now – not unlike the seemingly commonplace but strenuously unpalatable act of simply taking a daughter to breakfast. Things he didn’t have to do but did anyway. Things that made me who I am, that taught me what I know, that etched an unyielding personal character … that built a lifetime of love personified.
Thank you, dad. I may not have always understood you nor you, me. We’ve had many differences and we share many likenesses. This, your final lesson, is the most inspirational one: how to face the fear of dying and the pain of death with honor and dignity. You cannot know and words cannot say how much I still need you … how much I already miss you.
The Red Dudette has taken on a whole new distinction. She’s not just an old truck anymore. She’s as close as I can get to hugging dad. She’s tattered and worn, her windshield washer and a/c don’t work and one headlight is barely tethered in place … but her spirit still comes alive when you step on the gas.