As I sat beside my father’s hospital bed last Sunday, I glanced up at the clock and saw that it was 6:30 am. I thought about the local Irish pub that was already opening up because it was St. Patrick’s Day, their busiest time of year. I found it quite ironic that my papa, a recovering alcoholic of over 31 years, would die on a day when people around the country would be celebrating with booze. I can imagine him shaking his head and give a little cynical chuckle at that.
For over 18 hours my father’s family gathered beside his bed to relax him and soothe him and to say our goodbyes. Dad was not conscious throughout much of the day, but when he was, he told all of us how beautiful he thought we were and that he loved us. But a few times my dad said things in this semi-conscious state that just broke my heart. When my stepsister was swabbing the inside of his dry mouth trying to give him some relief, he said, “No. I’m not worthy.” That took my breath away. Did Dad really not believe that he was worthy of a little kindness and relief from his suffering?
Dad made many mistakes in his younger years and when his children were young. He had a deep remorse for his actions while under the influence, but I always felt he made amends for everything he did. He found God shortly after becoming sober and although the church or his religion were not my cup of tea (nor my siblings), it was good for him. He was still Dad. He loved to laugh and constantly made us laugh (see where my brother got it from?) and he was a really good person. He taught nearly every one of his children and grandchildren how to fish, and his love for all of us was always evident. So as we sat beside him just one week ago, I smoothed out Dad’s forehead and told him what a good man he was, that he had righted all of his wrongs, and that it was ok to go. My stepmom assured him that we would all be ok, and I told him he had people to see. I may not believe in much, but my father did. So if there is an afterlife, he needed to go find my brother and hold him tight.
In a way, I feel like Dad gave me one last gift by allowing me to be there when he died. I was not there when my brother died, but I was able to say goodbye to Phil while he was completely conscious. I still struggle with knowing that I didn’t say enough to him, but he knew that I loved him and I suppose that has to be enough. I don’t know if Dad really knew I was there. My stepmom thinks he did, but I have my doubts. Yet….I was there. I don’t know how much comfort that was to him, but it comforts me in a way I can’t fully comprehend yet.
Dad supported and encouraged me throughout my high school and college years, and although he could never financially support me, he always told me how proud he was and happy he was for me. He was even excited for me when I got my library director position just last month. His obvious joy for me made me even more proud, if that makes sense. So maybe me being there for him during his last hours was just a small way that I could repay him for his love and support for me over the years? I don’t know.
I will miss my father every day. I am still having a hard time at the thought of never seeing him again. Never hearing his laugh or his singing ever again. I am hoping beyond hope that there is a recording of my father’s voice somewhere that I will be able to listen to. I don’t want to forget, but I am afraid that I will.