My father died on February 15th of this year. It was a Saturday and I was working when my phone went off. I knew what the call was about before I even looked. He had been slipping away rapidly for the past six months, his mind eventually catching up to his deteriorating body, both of which were now just bits and pieces of who he used to be. Departure at this point was just around the corner. The last time we went to breakfast, about six weeks prior, I caught him in a moment of clarity, “You know Dad, if you want to check out there’s no shame in it. I’ll be fine, really.” Honestly, I am glad he heard me. I hope someone reminds me someday, if I am hanging on, fearful of what lies beyond this existence, of the same truth, that life is only a parenthesis in eternity.
We had a weird relationship, more like brothers than parent/child, anyone that knew both of us would readily agree on this observation. As a teenager and eventually an adult I found myself living with him on and off on several occasions, Once I awoke to find him standing over me in my apartment saying he had left his girlfriend and was moving in. We split the bills (which were always late) and never had anything worth eating in the fridge. Our TV was a piece of crap and matched what little furniture we had. We really did live at the fringe of minimum standards. It was not uncomfortable, just sparse. The only really good advice he gave me I think happened by accident. When I was fifteen I left my mother and finally moved in with him. He then laid down his intentions insofar as his parental duties were concerned, “Okay, here are the rules, I don’t care what you do. Quit school, do drugs, go to jail, does not matter, but know this, if you need me to bail you out, too bad. I have my own life and I’m giving you, yours.” I am not too sure he did this as a favor to me, although it did turn out that way. The time did indeed come on several occasions when this “law” was put to the test. He stood by it, and I quickly learned I was the unwilling owner to all the reactions of my actions. It did not keep me from a self-destructive lifestyle, but it did teach me to never expect a net when I fell.
I never knew until after I sobered up, almost twenty-five years ago now, just how much remorse he carried. I was way too self-centered to realize just he much he hated his own life. In our last year together, he lamented he did nothing he was proud of, and at the risk of sounding arrogant, I pointed out that I would not exist unless he had been… involved. I could empathize with his point of view because I have been buried by mountains of shame myself, and I know the hopelessness and depression it can generate. Even so he never complained about his surroundings, and he decided early on he was going to make the best of his situation. We were fortunate and the nursing home he ended up in was professional, and his caretakers, kind. I was also lucky that it was only a few minutes from home.
As his health waned so did our public social activities. To keep him entertained I would swing by pawn shops and buy movies for him. Truthfully, it got kind of hard finding titles I thought he would like, which eventually had me inadvertently purchasing several in duplicate. Often, I could come up with twenty to twenty-five at a time, but for the most part it was a dozen or so. Movies had always been a common thread of enjoyable discussion so I was thrilled when he called me and told me he loved “The Whole Nine Yards” which I think is well written and hysterical, but isn’t normally the type of film my father would go out of his way for. Unfortunately, his eyesight started deteriorating past the point where he could see the screen, and I really do think this is where he decided to start (purposefully) shutting down.
My father-in-law’s Wednesday visits were a wonderful highlight in his week, and he and my wife’s father eventually became good friends. His demeanor would always perk up when he talked about him, and I feel blessed to have married into such a caring and loving family that extends well beyond my wife. They helped to make my father’s last days a lot brighter.
I’ve been struggling with whether or not I should share something that happened only a few weeks before he passed. If I do not, I now know I will regret it. He left a message on my cell while I was working, and it broke my heart. He was crying, saying he wanted to go home. “I want to go home, I want to go home, please take me home, son.” It was my Dad of course, but it did not sound like him. He sounded like a little kid, lost and scared. I tried to call back, but he was not answering, so I swung by after work.
“I got your message today”
He started crying again, “I want to go home son, I just want to go home. Funny thing is I don’t know even where home is.”
I took his hand, “Yeah, yeah you DO know where home is, go there if you want.”
Well… he went home.
Be at peace Dad, finally… be at peace.
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With Love and Compassion, Daniel Andrew Lockwood