A man of few words...
First of all, this is not me in the picture with my father. Although I wish it were. I was not lucky enough to keep my father longer than 57 years of his life. He passed away twelve years ago and it still feels like it was just yesterday. When I catch a glimpse of a woman my age assisting their father at a grocery store or crossing a street, I can’t help but feel a twinge of envy that I will never have that experience in my life. I often feel that he had more stories to tell me, more things to teach me, more hugs to give me before he left this earth.
My father was not a “well” man for the last ten years of his life. He suffered from a serious heart condition and his health deteriorated slowly during that time. He still lived independently, took his medications and worked part-time but there were emergency phone calls and trips to the hospital for treatment. I was always on alert to rush to his side as I was his primary caregiver whenever something went wrong. We were extremely close and despite the strain, I wouldn’t have traded those years with him for anything.
Now that I am suffering from my own chronic illness, I finally understand what my father’s last ten years truly felt like. I used to look at his furrowed brow and see him deep in thought but he never complained about what was on his mind. He was a man of few words. He would sit on the kitchen counter with me at the table as we talked late into the night and he never disclosed the depths of sadness he was likely feeling. Now that I have spent this time facing my own mortality, I wish that I had known the inner turmoil that he was going through. I wish he had confided in me.
The most difficult decision that I think my father ever had to make when it came to his illness is something that I finally understand. I had worked my tail off to graduate from college because that was his lifelong dream for all three of his children. I was the last one to complete that goal. On the morning of my graduation, I was rushing to get ready and I got a call from Dad. He told me that he wasn’t going to make it to the ceremony. I was devastated. I simply sat there and cried. He was the reason I had done it! He was why I had pushed so hard, taken night classes while working full-time, even wrapping up a weekend seminar on the morning of graduation just to finish in time to walk with the class. Now, he wasn’t even going to come and see me in the cap and gown.
There was a huge void at the ceremony but he made it to my house for the graduation party. After he left, my boyfriend pulled me aside and said, “Do you know why your Dad didn’t come to the graduation? He told me that he was afraid that he would have heart trouble, collapse and ruin the ceremony for you.” My eyes filled with tears and I just put my hand up over my mouth as I stood there stunned. I had never stopped to think about how difficult the day would be for him physically. I just wanted him there.
I’m sure it was awful for my father to have to make that decision. He probably agonized over it and didn’t sleep much the night before. I am sure that he watched the clock the entire time that I was walking into the ceremony, standing with my peers, climbing those steps to get my diploma and smiling for the camera. Before I got sick, I used to be so upset that my father didn’t go to my graduation. Now I realize that what he did that day was probably the most unselfish thing that he ever did in his life. I am sure that he wanted to be there to see his dream fulfilled, but he wanted it to be perfect for me MORE.
I know how it feels to be forced to miss out on major life events because my health will not allow it anymore. It hurts. A lot. Looking back, I can honestly say that I finally understand the turmoil my father went through during the last ten years of his life. I watched him suffer through a chronic illness with the most grace and dignity that a man could ever possess. He continued to take care of himself to the best of his ability, he showed kindness to everyone he encountered and he never complained about a single thing.
Happy Father’s Day Dad. My role model, my father, my teacher, my friend. I miss you.