I thought about my father dying, and for a second, I thought it would be easier. I said this aloud to my father, who was sitting in the room with me. A room with static air. Just us two. Nowhere to look to pretend he hadn’t heard it. No place to hide the raw emotion that I had just shattered on the floor like a broken piece of glass.
What kind of sociopathic daughter am I? Let me explain. I think about my father most minutes of every hour. I see him face-to-face almost everyday. And I’m fortunate enough to be able to call him on days when I can’t see him. He’s a great man. Maybe even magnificent. And these aren’t just my words, his friends remind me every time I see them. So much so that it actually annoys me sometimes.
My dad is the dad kids dream of. Showering us with more love, quality time, and attention than any of the other neighborhood kids received. But it didn’t stop with us. My dad has brought dinner to those too sick to cook their own every single Wednesday for years. He has stocked the coffee cart at church for as long as I can remember. He takes neighborhood kids to baseball games if their parents can’t take them. All of this before the diagnosis.
See, it’s really hard to be around someone who is inevitably dying. Chug-a, chug-a, chug-a. Like a train barreling down a track. Only, you don’t know which direction it’s coming from. You don’t know how fast it’s moving. You can feel the buzz in the rails. You can hear the whistle of the steam.
You’re holding eye contact with your loved ones. You realize you’re tied to the tracks. No, no. It’s them tied to the tracks. But it’s too late. It’s going to hit you both while you try to save them. Neither of you is going to miss that train – it’s a guarantee.
The irony, of course, is that we’re all somewhat aware that we’re inevitably dying. But when you find out your father has a progressive disease, taking him away from you a little bit at a time, it’s altogether different. Like, rocked to the seat of your soul different.
Every blood test, reflecting a percentage drop in kidney function. Topics like “dialysis” choked down during dinner like the nightly news. Waiting on miracles. Every night is spent waiting on miracles.
There is a definitive before and after. Before dad had kidney disease – we were happy and we worried about nothing. And that is not really an exaggeration.
Since dad was diagnosed with kidney disease, I make sure to tell him I love him every time I talk to him. I go to his house when I am tired and would rather go home and go to sleep, because I want to see him and make sure he knows he is loved. Every conversation now revolves around health.
You talk about things like miracles like they could happen to him, because you’ve already forgotten they’ve happened to you your whole life.
Now, every sentence he speaks has some sort of life advice. And he worries you aren’t going to remember it all. And you get frustrated, because it’s all too emotional all the time. Then you feel ungrateful because you got frustrated. Then you feel bad. Then you cry after you leave, because you were rude to your father who is suffering.
Of course, what I’ve done is made his illness all about me. Selfishly, it seems that I think that talking about how hard this is for me to go through will somehow make you more empathetic. I know it won’t. And I actually don’t want it to. All I hope for is that you can learn from me for a second.
I hope it makes you tell your parents you love them. I hope you tell them they’re magic in your eyes. And that you say thank you, for all of it. Because we don’t do it enough, if I know one thing for sure.
“It’d be easy if they were a shitty parent,” a dear friend told me – her own mother diagnosed with breast cancer months earlier. “Talk about family history with him,” another great friend said, having lost her own father suddenly, a year prior.
“It’d be easier if he were a shitty dad.” That’s exactly the same mentality I had when I told my father I thought it might be easier if he died. Because then I wouldn’t think of him constantly every time I left. If he were no longer in this physically suffering body, his spirit could stand atop mountains with me, looking back on the trail we conquered together.
Maybe then he wouldn’t have to listen, while I told him again, how the trip was incredible, the water was beautiful, the hike was hard but worth it, and the air was warm – just how he likes it. Maybe then, photos wouldn’t have to be shared over dinner after I got home from wherever I was – wishing the whole time he could have been there, too.
But all the while, I knew he was at home – probably tired from the day. Probably hungry for food he couldn’t eat. Probably wishing he could be on top of that mountain. Just one more time. Because if he died, then he could see it too. His soul could graduate to that place of almighty splendor and I would be able feel him with me.
Because all I feel now is distance when I leave. And worry when we talk. All I feel now is sadness for his suffering. See, I’ve been grieving my father for two and a half years now. Ever since the diagnosis. I’ve been patiently awaiting his death. And it was about time that changed – because it wasn’t beneficial to anyone. Not me and definitely not him. Because how are you supposed to help someone be strong when you’re already mourning their departure?
After I told my dad that maybe it would be easier if he died, we talked about death. For hours. Through tears and snot and hugs and laughter and sadness – we talked about death. And how much we loved each other. And we said things that you need to say to someone before they die. The things that most people never get the chance to say. Like that we’d both be “okay” in a figurative sense, although my heart and soul would be ripped out of their little homes and stomped on the ground then placed back inside to heal – for the rest of this life, because I know they will never heal entirely.
I told him there was nothing I wished he did differently. There were no ways in which I felt he wronged me. There wasn’t any resentment that I still held on to. I know his faults and he knows mine, but they are not something we will regret when we can no longer discuss them. Our slates were clean.
We had washed them with our tears, together. Tears turned from sadness to laughter, as we mourned his eventual death. Still some time unknown. Still hopefully far off in the future.
And for that discussion of inevitable death, I am thankful. My lack of filter. My lack of tact and abrasive bluntness allowed so much love to be exchanged between us. Love that may have fallen by the wayside. The beauty was that the reason why didn’t matter. It just mattered that we talked about it.
“There will always be time,” we say, we think, we pray to ourselves. Then one day, your time is up.
I promise you, the awkwardness of professing that love and gratitude to your parents is altogether forgotten in the love that is felt in the exchange. But you already know that.
Now, we talk more openly about death. Which once was extremely uncomfortable. But I have every bit of peace in my heart understanding that my father knows how vibrantly the golden light I view him in shines.
He has heard me say, “thank you.” He has felt my love fall as tears on his shirt and he has wiped those tears away from my eyes, reassuring me he will never leave me. And he hasn’t yet.
But I know, that if he ever does – I won’t regret telling him that it’d be easier if he died. Because in those words, and with the heaviness they carried – a weight was lifted off both of our shoulders.
Today, my father turns 69. And I hope that he is happy. And I hope that I get to see him happy at 70, and 75, and 80, too. But when the day comes – the day my father no longer grows older. The day I begin carrying him only in my soul, and my mind falls upon this moment of unabashed love-driven honesty, and perhaps as I look upon photographs from this very day – I hope that when that day comes, he knows that he was enough.
I hope he knows that his example of love will outlive the years we spent together and persevere into the many moons I will live with him packed into my soul. I hope he has no regrets about raising us. I hope he has no qualms at all.
Because to me, he is everything and he always will be. And I’m so thankful that my lack of tact let me tell him that. All because I told him it’d be easier if he were dead. A major faux pas, no question about it. But, that’s all it took, to break open our hearts and hold them out to each other.
Go tell them you love them. Do it now. Please, my urgency is no mistake.