The pain of watching a parent die is one of the worst you can ever experience. It is something that will change you as a person and reevaluate your priorities in life.
My dad and I shared a complicated relationship. While he was my best friend all throughout childhood, our relationship took a sour turn as soon as I hit my teen years. We went from being the dream team at home to not being able to stand each other in the same room for more than a few minutes. I couldn’t wait to move out and away from him. And when the time came, I did. The little communication we had up until that point came to a complete halt with my moving out and frankly, it didn’t really bother me much. That is, until I went back home for Christmas one year.
My mental image of the strong, tall, larger-than-life dad I’d last seen, was shattered to pieces when I walked in to find a frail version of him reclining on his favorite couch. Although I’d been aware of him having faced a few health concerns in recent months, nothing could’ve prepared me for the withered, almost-fragile sight that met me. Our conflicted history and my ego had stopped me from visiting him earlier and in that moment, guilt washed over me like never before. Tears rolled down my cheeks unbidden and I hastily wiped them away before approaching him.
All our fights, all the harsh words spoken, all the slammed doors… everything faded away in an instant as I kneeled beside him and held his hand. A look of surprise flashed across his wrinkled face for a moment before he replaced it with a warm smile. Without a single word uttered, we laid to rest our troubled past and spoke to each other like peers for the first time in forever. The overwhelming guilt that was eating away at me threatened to overflow in the form of tears any second and it took everything I had to hide it from the man before me.
My whole approach to life shifted in the few days I spent with him and I thought hard and long about my priorities. I vowed never to turn my back on family again, no matter what disagreements we may have and threw myself into making up for the lost time. I made it a point to visit my dad more often and with an aching heart witnessed him wither away bit by bit in front of my eyes every time I went home. Although I insisted on seeking the best medical help for him and dragged him to a few different doctors, it soon became evident that there wasn’t much we could do apart from making the time he had left with us as comfortable as possible.
Between the helplessness of not being able to restore him to his former healthy glory and the guilt of having perhaps played a part in his rapid aging, I was exhausted. Mentally and physically. I could no longer focus on work as I was haunted with a crippling fear that any moment the phone might ring with news of his passing. Although I pushed the thought away as much as I could, it hovered over me like a menacing shadow day and night. Unable to handle it any longer and not wanting to be away from him in his final days, I quit my job and moved back home.
Of course, even in his weakened condition, he wasn’t happy about me putting my life on hold. He had always been a proud man and the thought of his daughter thinking of him as weak, perhaps was intolerable. After years, we fought again over the subject and the brittle dam I’d built in my heart to hold back my emotions came crumbling down. I wept like a little child and begged him for forgiveness for having turned my back on the man who’d played a vital role in making me the woman I am today. Momentarily stunned at the sight of his hot-headed daughter drowning in tears, he mustered enough strength to pull me into an embrace.
The months that followed have forever etched themselves into my memory. They are the last memories I have of my father and everything from the sound of his laughter to the way his forehead wrinkled when he watched the news to the soft snores coming out of his room at night, will stay guarded in my heart till the day I die. Although the knowledge that he is no longer in this world breaks my heart every day, I’m glad that I got to be by his side in his final moments. Perhaps he is looking down at me from heaven with that exasperated smile on his face as he watches me fumble around every day. Perhaps he has forgiven me for my immature indiscretions. Perhaps, we will meet again someday.
Watching my father move closer to death taught me a lot of things that I’d never imagined it could. It taught me to always keep sight of the things that truly matter. It reminded me that I had to be grateful for the little things in life. It made me take a good hard look at my own mortality. And it was a lesson in how wasteful holding a grudge is. We have but a short time in this world, and to unceremoniously throw bits of it away to inconsequential things is the biggest injustice we could do to ourselves. Finally, watching my father die and now living in a world without him has made me realize, I still have a lot to learn from the man who raised me.