What a dreadful thing it must be to have a dull father. ~ Mary Mapes Dodge


The last time I spoke to my father he was in a hospital.

Five years prior to that he had suffered a major stroke.

Before the stroke, he lived his 59 years to the fullest. My father was a man who knew how to use a hammer, fix a car and read a map. True to his Irish heritage, he loved the sea, owning land and horses. He smoked Lucky Strikes and drank beer; lots of beer. Da was a restless spirit and loved to travel. His career on oil tankers, barges and tugboats suited him. Perhaps because he grew up without a family, he was always saving strays.

That being said, my father like all people, had many sides. He spent half of his life out to sea, a quarter of his life on a bar stool, an eighth of his life recovering on the couch and the remaining eighth making things a living hell or making amends.

Our relationship was strained at best and consisted of Q & A sessions with one-word answers, exchanges of humor and tales of travel. He was an alcoholic and I was one of his casualties.

My father did not survive the stroke. Half of him died that day. The remains ended up in a wheel chair, needing assistance in everything he did. He was still able to communicate and knew full well what was happening. Was this his penance? All of us frustrated, angry and depressed, my father remained at home; an independent man suddenly dependent on others to meet all his needs, striped of all dignity. The strokes continued, each taking another piece of him until we had no other option but to place him in a nursing home. I was prepared for my father’s death. He had suffered enough.

I was the last one to arrive at the hospital that day. The doctor explained it was not serious, just a touch of pneumonia and once the medication was administered he would be back to normal. Normal? Our lives hadn’t been normal in five years.

He was conscious and in good spirits, complaining about the hospital food. Behind the laughter and discomfort, I spied something in Da’s hazel eyes I never saw before – fear. When the room was empty, I asked if there was anything I could do for him. His response surprised me. “Yes, tell me what death is.” Stunned, I summoned all the strength I had, pulled my chair close to his bedside and whispered: “ I know love is forever and life is eternal and death is nothing but a horizon. And a horizon, Captain, is nothing more than the limit of our eyesight.” He nodded and closed his eyes to hide the tears. He was tired.

I kissed his forehead and told him to rest.

And he did.

Some days when I am alone and walking, I think about my father and the lesson he taught me. People don’t always love you the way you need or want to be loved, but the best way they can. If I look hard and long enough, I know he is there…just beyond the horizon, waiting.

The Horizon


Participating in Works For Me Wednesday at We Are That Family.



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47 Responses to Bearings

  1. Stephanie January 11, 2010 at 10:21 am #

    Thank you for this beautiful post.
    You made me cry (in a good way).

  2. Zuzu January 11, 2010 at 11:46 am #

    Beautiful. I don’t think you go on your walks alone.

  3. Kathleen January 11, 2010 at 12:21 pm #

    Extremely touching. I tell my younger brother all the time “accept people for who they are, and not what you want them to be.” I learned that in therapy.

  4. Ginny January 11, 2010 at 1:18 pm #

    Your words brought back many memories I have lived through myself.

    In today’s horizon, rapidly approaching, a new memory will soon be added to my collection.

    They still always hurt, but time does truly heal all wounds, and with each memory I learn more.

  5. Jayme aka The Coop Keeper January 11, 2010 at 2:53 pm #

    Well, I’m a bit speechless. Your father sounded alot like mine, but different….unable to really love us like we needed to be loved, but loving us the best he knew how. Your post today has comforted me, and your description of death gave me peace.

  6. Victoria January 11, 2010 at 2:56 pm #

    What a lovley post, it reminds me of my own father and the almost identical battle hes facing now. Its comforting to know were not the first people to go through it. Thanks. :)

  7. Colleen January 11, 2010 at 3:57 pm #

    Wow … I enjoy reading your posts.

  8. Olivia January 11, 2010 at 6:20 pm #

    Deborah.. tears well up, spill forth and mingle with my typing. This is what strength is. Nothing is or can be stronger than love.

    with love,


  9. Layla January 11, 2010 at 7:42 pm #


    I am moved beyond words after reading this post. I almost felt like I was reading something that I had forgotten I’d written. Your description of your father reads much like mine would. My Dad is still alive, but our relationship is almost non-existent. You encouraged me to reach out to him today. Thank you for that my friend. Thank you, thank you, thank you!


  10. Oklahoma Granny January 12, 2010 at 12:03 am #

    The words you spoke to your dad were beautiful, loving and comforting. Blessings to you.

  11. Janean January 12, 2010 at 8:41 am #

    Thank you for your honest, but kind description of your father.

    Saying people may not love you the way you wish, only the way they can is a golden bit of wisdom.

    Your description of Death in his terminology was loving of you.

  12. Rebecca January 12, 2010 at 10:17 am #

    What a lovely post. I’m sorry for your loss. I can totally relate to you on so many levels. My father has Parkinson’s disease and is in an Assisted Living and will need to go into a nursing home very soon. He was always very selfish in his life. He lived his life to his own drum beat and never really cared about how his life affected others. Now the tables are turned. He depends on others, he has no savings so he has to depend on the Veterans Administration for all of his care, as well as the help that I give him. I definitely see glimpses now of fear as he faces his mortality. It’s sad to see. So, I do understand. You are a good person for being there in the end for your father.

  13. Gail January 12, 2010 at 1:04 pm #

    Oh Deborah, I so enjoyed reading your blog post each and every one of them. You have a way with words that just kept me reading. Thank you for sharing and I have signed up to be notified of new post.

    Thanks again.

  14. Cindy @ The Flipping Couple January 12, 2010 at 2:13 pm #

    Such a beautiful, beautiful post. I’m definitely fighting back tears and wanting to give my dad a hug right now.

    Thank you for sharing such a touching moment.

  15. Christy Bright January 12, 2010 at 3:01 pm #

    Moved beyond words…


  16. Linda@Coastal Charm January 12, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    Thanks for coming by for a visit…I sure hope you will come again. The words you spoke to your father were amazing…how lucky he was to have you as his daughter.


  17. beth January 12, 2010 at 4:34 pm #

    That post brought tears to my eyes. Thanks so much for visiting my blog and taking the time to comment. I will definitely be back to visit yours while I have lots of time to browse.
    Hope you have a great day! Beth.

  18. stephanie January 12, 2010 at 5:28 pm #

    thank you for the lovely comment you left me on my post..your so very kind and such an above as you have shown grace to your have shown it to me thank you!

  19. Gill January 12, 2010 at 6:59 pm #

    gosh that is a lovely post, you were so lucky to have that moment with your dad……..

    Gill in Canada, with tears in her eyes

  20. Joanne B January 12, 2010 at 7:33 pm #

    Deborah-you have such a beautiful way with words! I am sorry for your loss. Your description of your father reminded me of my brother-in-law who also lived a gutsy life, right to the end, also a stroke victim of his own doing- poor eating, lots of drinking, burning the candle at both ends and putting my sister through hell. But Bill wouldn’t be Bill if he wasn’t all that, and perhaps it wasn’t until he was gone that we realized how much we would mis him. He had spirit and I would rather remember him the way he was than not remember him at all. Sounds like your father wrote his own legacy too. Just as your father loved you the best he could, you loved him too, the best you could. That’s all that matter’s now. All that was never said is now all felt. Peace.

  21. joan January 12, 2010 at 7:53 pm #

    I can’t say as I have ever heard a more beautiful and poetic description of death. What a gift that must have been for your father. I am going to write your words in my ‘book of words’. Thank you.

    It is indeed nice to meet a fellow antique farmhouse owner!

  22. grace January 13, 2010 at 12:35 am #

    i am honestly touched by this post, and type this with tears in my eyes. today marks the 3 year anniversary of my moms death. she died in my arms and was my best friend. we definitely have angels over the horizon watching over us!

  23. Michelle January 13, 2010 at 1:19 pm #

    That was a touching story about your dad. Your last moments together were beautiful. Thank you for sharing with us.

  24. Susie Harris January 13, 2010 at 3:44 pm #

    Thank you..thank you …thank you for this post. My sister and I struggle with our feelings about our Dad. You have just opened my eyes and heart. Thank you~

  25. Celeste @ Cottage Dreamers January 14, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

    You are a word charmer! You’ve managed to touch our hearts with some of the emotions you must have felt during that time. We all feel a bit of them now.

  26. Colleen January 14, 2010 at 1:57 pm #

    This brought tears to my eyes…thank you for writing this…parts of this were my thoughts, coming from my memories..thank you for sharing.

  27. rue January 14, 2010 at 2:07 pm #

    I think… no, I know I just found a new friend…. Hi Deborah :)

    I’m so glad you found me. I just read your whole blog and enjoyed every single bit of it. I laughed, I shook my head in understanding and I cried. You and your husband are quite a team.

    Thank you for being you.


  28. Jessica January 14, 2010 at 10:51 pm #

    I just came over from Rue’s….I read your comment over there and it made me smile.

    This post touched my heart. I lost my Pop 15 months ago ( feels like yesterday ) and I know he is with me at times. I can smell his coffee. I love what you told your father….that took strength. It was amazing.

    Take care~ J

  29. Maureen January 15, 2010 at 5:26 pm #

    Hi, Deborah,
    What a powerful post and quite an introduction to your blog. I started crying half way through, and was left with one thought at the end. What a gift you gave your dad when he needed you most. I look forward to reading your other posts. So glad to meet you!

  30. ain't for city gals January 15, 2010 at 9:27 pm #

    Oh my…you are more than generous in your feelings…I am a big believer in people only able to do what they have learned. That is why when we have an opportunity to change life because we have learned a little bit more we must grab it…as you have done.

  31. Wendy January 16, 2010 at 2:49 pm #

    This is my first visit to your blog and certainly will not be my last. Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving your kind comment.
    I too, know what it is to miss a father. It has been the biggest challenge of my life, and then I realize how remarkable that is. That I have been so blest. That many people have endured that and so much more. And that they are all around me doing their everyday activities, looking to my eyes to be happy and healthy, carrying on with what needs to be done. It humbles me.

  32. Laura Ingalls Gunn January 17, 2010 at 1:32 pm #

    I know love is forever and life is eternal and death is nothing but a horizon. And a horizon, Captain, is nothing more than the limit of our eyesight.

    Ugh. You are killing me. If you weren’t such a fabulously gifted writer I would quit torturing myself with reading what you have to say. (smile)

    To speak to your father in a language that he would understand is truly a priceless gift.

    May you have smooth sailing from here on out.

  33. deb January 18, 2010 at 9:01 pm #


    I know about being a casualty.

    “People don’t always love you the way you need or want to be loved, but the best way they can.”

    Absolutely profound.

    Thank you for visiting my blog this evening and your kind words.

    I love old houses…yours is beautiful!

    Sweet dreams.

  34. Laura Ingalls Gunn January 21, 2010 at 9:23 am #

    I am sure it won’t be long until you are inundated with blog awardsas you are truly fabulous. Yes, I predict you will soon be hanging a “Please No Awards” meme on your sidebar. :)

  35. Julie January 21, 2010 at 4:47 pm #

    Enjoyed my visit..


  36. Rene February 7, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    Deborah, I am here in response to your comment on the bench and now to read about your father I am deeply touched. My story is somewhat similar, but I could never begin to say it with such grace as you. I signed up to receive your posts so that I don’t miss out.

    By the way, I recently re-read The Catcher in the Rye :)

    Take care.


  37. Traci February 10, 2010 at 9:55 am #

    Wow! What a beautiful post. It is always amazing to hear the life stories of others. My mom’s father was an alcoholic. It left a big mark on her life. She used to tell me stories of going to the bars late at night as a little girl to get him. I can only imagine how much she wanted him to love her in a way a little girl needs her daddy. He died an alcoholic.
    I remember Mom telling me how she wanted to stop that “cycle” of abuse. She wanted her family to be different and for me to have a different childhood from hers. And she did it! She devoted her life to Jesus and her family, and I got to reep the blessings of that decision. I am so grateful that she broke that cycle.
    Thank you for sharing your beautiful story. You dad reminds me of my grandfather. He was a very special man, dealing with hurts of his own that I will never know. But I loved him just the same.
    Bless you,

  38. Vicki February 10, 2010 at 5:39 pm #

    Deborah, I finally took a minute to come here and read more of your writings.
    It touched my heart. And I can relate. Seems we have some things in common as far as family stuff goes. Not sure how much of my past blogs you’ve read. I go in spurts sometimes. Taking walks back to fun memories, then telling more serious things other times. And there’s so much I haven’t told…
    One thing I do know, we all have a story. And I love hearing the different ones.
    My parents are still alive but have not lived together for many years. I’m sorry about your Fathers death, but then I look at death a little different…
    I’m so glad you found my blog and I yours. I think we could sit and talk for hours if the chance ever came. Tears and laughter…
    And we’ll talk again I’m sure.

  39. Stephenie March 10, 2010 at 8:33 am #

    Okay, in less than 15 minutes, I have managed to cry twice while reading your blog. I can identify with you in so many ways (our fathers led similar lives — navy, bars, alcoholism, and now stroke, but still living . . . ). I might have to print this entry and keep in my journal to remind myself that “People don’t always love you the way you need or want to be loved, but the best way they can.”

    Once again, your writing is incredible (I am a former English teacher, so I don’t throw this compliment around on a whim!!!).

  40. Londen March 24, 2010 at 7:31 pm #

    That was so beautiful and well written. I love what you told your Dad that day.
    I can relate on so many levels. My dad and I have a nice relationship now as an adult, Im glad I have a forgiving heart.

  41. Shirley March 29, 2010 at 10:43 pm #

    Thank you for sharing about your Father in this post. I kind of related to it, as my father was a strong man and needed no ones help until his later years. This post made me have tears, but, they were good tears for of a very strong and loving person.

  42. ChrisLWagner April 26, 2010 at 1:45 pm #

    Wonderful post. My relationship with my father was strained too, but now that he’s gone I miss him. He taught me how to be responsible and self sufficient as he was from the “old country” also.

    No matter what our relationships were with our parents, when they’re gone, it’s hard to believe how final it is and that you’ll never see them again.


  43. Beth@A2Z February 28, 2011 at 3:25 pm #

    Beautifully written as always Deborah! Thanks for sharing it with us.

  44. Parsley January 8, 2013 at 11:07 am #

    This was truly beautiful and worth sharing with any who have experienced loss.

    Sending you a hug.

  45. Kim@todayismysome-day January 12, 2013 at 8:41 am #

    Very well put Deborah. I appreciate how you wrote about your father with respect even though your relationship was wounded and strained. I understand completely what that feels like. I’m sorry for your loss. Now and for the years lost as well.


  46. Lisa Palmese June 16, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    Thank You so Much for putting that up and I do understand, through the pain You his family suffered still wanting Daddy to tell his tales of woe.It’s no wonder you are such a Beautiful
    Person. Without Pain We truly wouldn’t know Joy. I’m happy you got to comfort him in the end. And I’m sorry if I caused you any hurt by asking to put this up. I would never want my
    friend to suffer. I Love You Just as God Loves You Well maybe He Loves You more lol But
    You are a True Friend Thank You Lisa

  47. amy watson December 5, 2015 at 9:25 am #

    Beautifully written, sometimes we don’t realize how similar yet so different our lives really are. I think about my daddy a lot, he was such a funny man and a big tough Marine until it came to his “girls” My mom my sister and me…..then he was putty in our hands….God Blessed him, and us.

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