“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren't trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.” ― Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum Click To Tweet
Going home was hard. Celia wasn’t even sure she wanted to. If she were honest with herself, she would admit that she really didn’t want to. But it was the right thing to do, and Celia always tried to do the right thing, even when her Dad never seemed to appreciate it.
But there wasn’t time to think about that now, she told herself as she threw a few things in a suitcase as quickly as possible. She and her husband were heading out on a ten-hour trip to visit with her Dad on his deathbed.
They hadn’t had time to prepare, emotionally or physically, for this news. Her Dad had sworn both his Hospice care workers and his close friends and neighbors to absolute secrecy about his cancer.
This both angered and saddened Celia as she remembered how he had kept the knowledge of her Mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis a secret as well. He either hadn’t thought it important to let other family members in on the diagnosis, or he didn’t think it was any of their business. Of course, they had all noticed something was amiss: the repeated questions, the short-term memory loss. Yet, each time Celia had asked him about Mom, the answer was always the same, “She’s fine.” When Celia pressed further, he did what he was best at doing – cutting her down with an angry response – telling her it was none of her business, he was handling things and taking care of his wife, just as he always had.
He didn’t seem to understand that love could be shared; that more than one person could love his wife. That she wasn’t just his wife, she was Celia’s mother and Celia’s children’s grandmother. But he had always wanted his wife all to himself, and he wanted to be all that she needed as well. Maybe this accounted for his arms-distance relationship with his daughter all these years. Maybe he had never wanted a daughter in the first place.
Celia’s face burned with anger as she remembered the call she and her husband had received in the early morning hours bearing the news that her Mom had died suddenly of a stroke. In reality, Celia had actually lost her mom several years before in that kind of living death that Alzheimer’s is. If only she had been told, had been kept in the loop! By the time she had realized what was happening with her Mom, it was too late. Too late to say the things she wanted to say, the things she needed to say, the things she liked to believe she would have said if she had only known in time.
But maybe the unspoken things weren’t her Dad’s fault at all. Perhaps, they were her fault. Perhaps, she should have been sharing her heart all along with her Mom. But then, neither her Mom or her Dad was easy to get close to. They seemed to prefer to stay on the surface of things, talk about non-threatening issues like the weather, or what they had for lunch, or “what grade are the kids in again?”
Her husband’s voice snapped her back to the present. “All ready?” He inquired.
“All ready,” She answered.
She was so glad she had him. Solid, steadfast, faithful was what he was. She could count on him to be there in times like this. To do what needed to be done. To offer his shoulder to lean on, a safe place to hide inside his arms, and a strong but gentle hand to wipe away her tears.
They were soon in route to her Dad’s house. Ten long hours in the car. They maintained almost constant communication with her Dad’s good friend, and his hospice nurse, both at his side keeping watch. Celia really didn’t know if they would make it in time to see her Dad one last time or not, but she had to try. She was his only child, after all. And he was her Dad.
Celia and her husband finally arrived. Although their bodies were weary and their emotions raw, they headed straight inside to her Dad’s bedside. They stood opposite each other on either side of the hospital bed which had been set up in the middle of the living room. Her Dad was in a deep, yet restless sleep. Every third breath, he seemed to pause a little too long, causing everyone around to hold their breath as well. And then he would exhale, and everyone would breathe a sigh of relief.
The smell of sickness and death were unmistakable, and Celia wondered why no one had opened one of the nearby windows to let in some fresh air. She felt pity for the man who lay in the bed, so weak and frail, who now had no energy to yell at her anymore, for opinions she dared have that were different than his. His opinions were the only right ones; at least, that’s what he told Celia all her life, even after she was grown and out on her own. It was difficult to be in the same room for long or have a civil conversation with her Dad because he seemed to want to prove how much he knew or how little she did.
Still, she had tried. Tried to have some semblance of a relationship with her Dad. Simply because he was her Dad and her children’s Grandfather. She wondered now, as she held his frail hand if he had ever truly known the honor, privilege, and responsibility that those names carried. She couldn’t remember a time when he had ever said, “I love you” to her. Maybe, now, at last, she would hear those words if her Dad woke up.She couldn’t remember a time when he had ever said, “I love you” to her. Maybe, now, at last, she would hear those words if her Dad woke up. Click To Tweet
He did wake up after a bit and turned and looked straight at Celia. She still remembers feeling a slight tinge of hope, which was dashed almost as soon as it had appeared by the surprise and sting of his words. “Thank you for coming. You can go home now.” Celia managed to draw in a deep breath, and with all the grace she could muster, reply in a barely audible voice, “If you don’t mind Dad, I’ll think I’ll stay a while longer.” She reached out her hands and took his old, wrinkled, withered hand in hers. Her Dad sighed and fell back asleep.
He lingered for five days, in and out of a semi-conscious state. Finally, he drew his last breath.
Celia never heard the words she was longing to hear. And the words she had heard made no sense to her. Was her Dad being dismissive of her? Or did he realize that the trip she made down to see him came at a huge price to her health? Was he, possibly for the first time, expressing some concern for her? Or was he embarrassed to be seen in such a frail condition? Or was he simply still hard of heart, even when at death’s door?
Celia would never have the answers to these questions, nor the many more that often ran through her mind, nor would she ever know a father’s love for his daughter.
But what she did know is that when she extended her hand to her earthly father, and let her Heavenly Father’s love and forgiveness flow through her, she was set free. Free to love, even in the face of the deepest of rejection.
At last, she was home.
Hi, I’m Terry Gassett, Jesus Follower, Wife, Mother, Nina, Life Coach, and Writer. I was born and raised in the “Deep South” and I still live and work there. I have been married to my heartthrob for over 30 years, and we have three grown children, three granddaughters (two who are twins!) and a Chi Chi/Jack Russell perpetual pup.
I am a Life Design Coach and I work with Creative Christian Women to design lives of purpose, passion, and joy!
When not listening to women’s hearts through the coaching process, I am expressing my own through writing. Currently, I’m writing my first book – “Breathe, Just, Breathe: Breathing in the Extraordinary Gifts of God on Ordinary Days.”
Published posts on Two Drops of Ink:
Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing
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