Thursday, March 24, 2011

Unfinished Business

A couple of nights ago, I slept for the first time since the end of January without the impending dread of a phone call in the middle of the night.  And for the past three weeks, I dozed lightly  like a firefighter – clothes, shoes, and keys set out—waiting for the alarm to sound.  I balanced on an emotional edge, waiting to hear “Come quick,” or “I am so sorry to inform you…”

Last Sunday, I knew even before I answered the phone at 4.55 a.m. in the early morning darkness.  “He’s gone,” my brother told me.  That day and the next, I went through the motions of the things that needed to be done, papers signed, keys turned in, and a final run-through his cluttered apartment.  Condolences arrived, but my heart and mind seemed in the final six miles of a marathon, just keep going, one step and then another, almost home, almost home, the rhythm set my pace.  Sympathies sounded so weak, drowned out by the assurance of a line in an old hymn in church later that morning, “Jesus has conquered the grave.” 

The plane landed late Monday night.  I am back in Chicago, feeling like I have completed a long race, spent and weary.  My dad went Home to be with the Lord on Sunday, finally crossing from one life into the next in a single breath, after lingering in hospice for three weeks, beyond even the belief of the doctors and nurses.  He defied the odds against him his whole life.  He wasn’t about to stop now.

One of the maintenance men who helped me carry some cartons out of his apartment said of Dad’s lingering, “Well, he must have some unfinished business to attend to.”  As I sat by his side for those three weeks, listening to his tales embellished by dementia, and making sure that he knew he was not alone, I realized that the unfinished business was, perhaps, not on his side, but mine.  I had a lot of forgiving to do.  Not condoning hurtful actions, but letting go of the bitterness.  And through the process, I began to see my Dad in a different light.  He could not hurt me anymore.  He was an old man now, dying in a hospice room, surrounded by strangers. 

Like many women I know, I did not have a close relationship with my Dad.  He was largely absent from my upbringing, working long hours, unencumbered by the norms of fatherhood, and dwelling mostly in his own little world.  He never played games with the family.  He never attended programs or meets or our school activities.  I don’t even remember him ever sitting down and watching television with us.  He provided, but even that was mostly on a shoestring.  He once made a skating rink in our back yard one bitter Chicago winter.  And then I found out he was only experimenting with a new kind of plastic.  When I graduated with my Master’s degree, he shook my hand.  I once asked him why he never told us he loved us.  “Because you know I do,” he replied, never a man to waste words.  The first time my husband Bill hugged him, his arms froze, straight out, not knowing what to think.  I had accumulated a lot of emotional baggage to dig through.

So four days before he passed away, his very last words on earth took me by surprise.  I had been with him all day, his eyes were closed, his fragile body rolled from side to side every two hours by the nurses without so much as a groan from him.  It was late.  I was weary, and I needed to leave.  I leaned over and kissed his forehead and said, “I love you, Dad.”

And with eyes closed, he mumbled, “I love you too, honey.”

1 comment:

heatherltrotter said...

Oh! How the Lord gives us what we need when we need it! I'm so happy that you were able to here those very simple, but very profound words! Still praying...