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