My dad was 83 and had been in the care home for three weeks when he said to me, sitting next to his bed, “I don’t think you want to see this.” “See what,” I asked? See you die?” I knew that’s what he meant. “Yeah, I don’t know if you can handle it. I don‘t want to see you cry,” he said. “Oh daddy, I would feel so blessed if I could be with you at that moment, I promise I won‘t cry!” I said. “Well, ok then, if I have anything to do about it, I’ll wait until you are here,” he assured me. We looked at each other and smiled as he squeezed my hand.
I love my daddy. I’ve been a daddy’s girl since the day I was born. According to my mom, I knew when his truck had rounded the corner of our street when I was a small baby. “All of a sudden, you’d stop crying and just listen. Somehow you felt him just minutes away.” As soon as I started walking, every morning at dawn, I’d crawl out of bed and head for their room. “I’d feel your dad’s arm lift the covers and then I’d hear the pitter-patter of your little feet coming down the hall. You’d always get in bed on his side,” she’d add.
It was true he was my beloved daddy! Around the age of 25, I started worrying about him dying. I feared he would die before I learned everything I wanted to learn from him. He was a unique man, an eccentric fellow. My mother divorced him when I was 10 and he lived alone from that time on, until he died 40 years later. He said he didn’t want to remarry because a new wife might not want him to spend as much time with his kids and grandkids as he wanted to. Everyday he came to visit me. During the week he would come at 5:15 pm on the dot, and at 8 o’clock sharp on Saturday and Sunday mornings. He always brought donuts on Sunday. He’d honk his horn and I’d come flying out of the house to sit in his car and visit for an hour or so. After I went away to college, when I’d come home for the holidays, my mom and my step dad would invite him to all our holiday dinners. He would entertain us all with his interesting way of talking and story telling. He had a style all his own. He could tell a joke and have us all bent over in pain, laughing so hard. He definitely had his own unique way of thinking. He loved to talk about how unhealthy it is to see a doctor. He used to tell me not to listen too closely in school because I’d have to unlearn a lot of what they were teaching me.
He was an original and authentic man with some quirky habits befitting such an unusual character. He was a hoarder. His house was off-limits to all but family members. Others would have an uncomfortable time trying to maneuver through his stuff. There was literally a tight path from the front door to the couch and another to his bed and one more to the bathroom. If you wanted to go anywhere else in the house you had to climb over piles to get there.
He loved his grandchildren. He drove them to school every morning and picked them up after school. I lived several hours away, when my daughter was born. He would tape record himself singing songs, a cappella, like “Froggy Went A’Courtin,” and “My Blue Heaven.” He’d mail them to my daughter so she could listen to them at bedtime. He said he liked to sing her to sleep. He loved children and had a very tender heart. He could be very exasperating, too. He loved to be on the other side of a political argument and he delighted in tormenting my sister and her husband with his opposing politics. He was as liberal as they come. He wore horn-rimmed glasses and a goat-tee during the Vietnam War years. He spewed anti-war rhetoric everywhere and anywhere it would cause a ruckus.
He loved me unconditionally. I could always feel his love. He asked for nothing, told me I never had to demonstrate my love because he could feel it whether he heard from me or not. I remember him telling me from the time I was in my early twenties, “Your old daddy is gonna die sometime and I want you to get used to it. I don’t want you crying over me.” It seemed he was as worried about me crying as I was about him dying. Our relationship became very honest as I grew older and I could tell him things I thought I needed to say. Such as how I felt the way he had treated my brother was not as good as I thought he should. And how his spell of drinking, staying drunk for four years after he and my mom divorced, had been hard to deal with. And how he had been in denial of some aspects of his personality. But all in all, he knew I loved him unconditionally too, so these were just things I felt I had to say for some reason and he didn‘t seem to mind much.
Sometime around 79 years of age, he fell and broke his hip. He went to the hospital and they told him it wasn’t broken and to walk on it. He tried that for a month and when he could stand it no longer he returned for another ex-ray to find that what was a previous hairline fracture had become a full-on break. They operated and put pins in his hip. Although he tried to get back into the swing of things, he never seemed to recover from this trauma. He became much more quiet and sedentary. He watched television and movies part of the day but he mostly liked to just lie in bed and think because as he said, “the chickens had come home to roost.” He told me that all the “bad” things he had ever done to anyone were coming up for him to take a look at.
One day he called to tell me he had been in for a check-up and the doctor had told him he had lung cancer and probably only two more years to live. “We better make the best of it,” he said. He wouldn’t go in for a biopsy so we were never sure if he really ever had lung cancer. He never had any symptoms of lung cancer, but he did have something that was bringing him down. His intestines had stopped working and his hip hurt really badly. As a result, he was reluctant to eat. About three years after the diagnosis, I took him to see my acupuncturist. She told me he didn’t have much time left and should not be living alone anymore. We were hesitant to tell him, and the following day he told my sister and I that he didn’t want to live alone anymore. My sister arranged for a move into a local care home as her house was in the middle of a complete remodel and I lived two hours away. He was fearful at first. He raised all kinds of hell then he calmed down and began his journey. He stopped eating completely and just drank a small amount of water. Occasionally, he would request a tapioca pudding from my mom like she used to make when they were married. Everyone was bringing in tapioca pudding but he would only eat the one’s she made. She was remarried again and hadn’t seen him in a few years, but she obliged and made the pudding. Six weeks had passed since he had moved into the care home. I made bi-weekly trips to visit and phone calls. One night after I had returned home from teaching my evening tai chi class, I found eight messages on my phone machine. The first was my sister saying “get up here quick, he is going”. The second one was my uncle. The third was my brother. Each one sounded a bit more urgent. My heart pounding, I listened to one after the other, waiting to hear what I feared. The eighth one and he, was still alive. I called his room and told my sister, “I’m coming right now. I’ll be there as fast as I can.” He was unconscious at this point, heavily drugged with morphine and his breathing had begun what is called the death rattle. Steve and I hopped in the car and drove as if we were the only ones on the road. It was 9:30 pm. I kept alternating my thinking, “Hold on dad, I’m coming” and “Go ahead and die if you need to.” I felt so selfish wanting him to wait and yet I wanted him to wait so badly. We arrived at the care home, I ran in the building and down the hall to his room. My heart pounding, I rounded the corner into his room and there he was, ALIVE! He made a gasping sound and my brother and sister cried out “He knows you are here!” Suddenly, the strangest of things happened, I filled with ecstatic joy. I went up to his bedside and put my face near his. The smell emanating from him was the most beautiful scent. I was swimming in love. I looked at his body, which was once, a six feet, three inches, two hundred pound man and was now literally skin and bones. I saw only beauty. I felt as if we were merging into one. I whispered, “You can go now daddy.” He took one more gasp and his breathing stopped. My hand was on the top of his head. I felt a spark of electricity come out of the top of his head. What was once in this wilted body was now permeating the room. I was in ecstasy. I had never felt this bliss before. What he had taught me while in this form was tremendous, yet paled in comparison to what he was showing me now. We are, in our essence, only love. There is no death. I had merged and yet was still in my form. I lifted up my head and found my brother clapping my hands. “Oh daddy, you did it,” I said. I looked at my sister who was beaming, Steve was beaming, and I was ecstatic. Steve had moved toward his head and seemed to be soaking up the vibes. “I’m so proud of you!” My brother said as he stroked his forehead. Right then, I heard a man in a nearby room moaning and I found myself walking down the hall into his room. As I walked in his room, he looked at me as if I was an angel and stopped crying. “Do you need something?” I asked him. “I’m fine,” he replied. “My dad just died,” I told him, with a beaming smile on my face. “Oh, well, you better go take care of that.” He said. “OK,” I answered, “are you going to be alright?” I asked. “Oh, yes, I’m fine.” He said as he gazed at me in wonder. Part of me could hardly believe what was occurring and another part felt it was all divinely orchestrated.
My sister and I went to the nurse and told him of our father’s passing. We went back into the room and sat with our dad a while and waited for the Neptune Society to come and take his body. Oddly, there was nothing sad about this. His death seemed to be teaching us that there is no death. There is just the dropping of the body, a freedom. He had said he was ready to die, that he had had a good life and was eager to leave his body. I felt that he never left us he just took off that “tight shoe.” He is here whenever I think of him, permeating me with love.
I kept my word, I didn’t cry. I beam with bliss and gratitude that through his dying, he taught me the truth about life.
I love my daddy.