Saturday, March 15, 2014

Circle of Life

When a wife dies, her husband is a widower. When a husband dies, his wife becomes a widow. When parents die, their children are called orphans. There is no word or name for the parent whose child dies. Parents burying children is unnatural.

How many times did I hear this when Allie died?  How many times did I even say it?  I still believe it to be profound and true.

But let's back up a bit.  When a parent dies, their children are called orphans.  But what happens when just one parent dies?  And what happens when the relationship was tumultuous at best?  What happens then?  What is the name or label for that?

My father is very ill.  This time yesterday, my brothers and I sat by his bedside thinking we were saying goodbye.  Turns out he might have some more time, but not a lot.   Perhaps a few weeks instead of a few days.  He is on hospice now and is in no pain.  He is receiving comfort care and we are urging anyone that wants to see him to go sooner rather than later.

Death is something very familiar to me.  I lost my dear uncle when he was just a few years older than I am now.  I lost my grandparents in junior high and then college and right after.  I lost an aunt way too soon.  I have been to funerals in the snow and I have been to ones in the scorching heat.  I have lifted shovels of dirt to place on caskets and I have marked my visits to cemetery's by leaving a pebble or rock on a headstone.  I know the "Mourners Kaddish" by heart which is a Hebrew prayer we say when we have suffered a loss.

And yet I do not know how to quite deal with the imminent passing of my father.  While never the dad I needed him to be, there is no denying that he created me and for that, I am grateful.  He helped create 2 brothers for me that are true extensions of myself.  Real living, breathing parts of me that mean far more to me than I can ever express.  For a while in his life, he made my mom very happy but I am not sure if that cancels out the years he made her very unhappy.

He taught me how to laugh and he taught me how to savor the finer things in life.  He loved New York City and all it had to offer.  An afternoon at The Met, just us, was wonderful for him.  Tickets to a Broadway show were always super fun and I loved watching him watch me enjoy an experience that he provided for me.

For many years, though, he was simply not there for me.  There were many birthdays that were not celebrated and many events where I sought him out in the audience only to realize he was not there.  In some ways, I think my dad wanted us to come out grown up.  He simply did not not how to relate to children or what to do with them.  Weekend visitations were often spent with a babysitter.

It's not my intent to make a pro and con list of the good and bad things he did...but it is my intent to come to terms with the man he is - or was - before it's too late.  I guess what I realized as I sat by his bedside yesterday and helped him take small sips of water while holding his hand was that first and foremost, he is my father.  I am who I am because of him but also in spite of him.  I think he loved me the best way he could and I in turn love him for making me.  For giving me life, even if at times he seems to make that life awfully difficult.  

At the end of the day, when he is gone, will I be mad or will I be sad?  I think I will just be sad.  Sad that he spent so much of his life trying to be someone that he was not and sad that he made so many other people suffer while trying to figure out his own way.  

I said to Gary the night before last, "He will be with Allie soon".  That actually gave me some comfort.  For in this case, I think it will be she that greets him and I hope reminds him how to laugh again and how to live in a forever where there is no pain and no turmoil - just happiness and love and peace.

My Dad and Me in NYC

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