I’ve managed to live this long – 58 years – still being someone else’s child.
I may be an adult child…but nonetheless, there’s something strangely comforting about being in your 50s and still having a mother and a father. And although I may be fooling myself, being someone else’s child makes me feel less like an adult in this so-called midlife, and more like a (somewhat) young thing.
For that, I count myself among the lucky ones. So many people I know have suffered the loss of a parent when they were in dire need of parenting themselves – as young children, as teenagers, as young adults. It never feels good, I know, to lose your parent. But I’ve always subscribed to the belief that it’s easier to lose a parent when you yourself are old enough to be a parent; when you have reached a point in life of relative stability. When you are “launched” and pretty much grounded in your own life and who you are.
Yet, as my father lies in hospice waiting to die, it occurs to me that despite the fact that he has lived a long life – he would have turned 91 this February – it’s still difficult to accept the loss. Despite the fact that he has lived long enough to gather a group of great-grandchildren I’m still not convinced it’s time. Despite the fact that I know damn well that this is the cycle of life, that he needs to make room for all the new lives that are coming into this world, that he has far exceeded his life expectancy, it’s hard to come to grips with losing my “daddy.” (Sounds rather childish, I know, but ever since he got ill, that’s what I reverted to calling him; perhaps more for my comfort than his own.)
No matter what their age, the loss of a parent is untimely. Or is it? It’s all a matter of perspective, I suppose. Do we all feel this way, I wonder? Is it selfish to want to hang onto them, despite their own wish for their life to end? Or if someone we love is suffering, do we instead wish them a rapid death?
Up until the end – which is likely any day or minute now – my dad was vital and strong with a memory that rivaled any 20-year old’s. When his quality of life was not what he wanted it to be – a virulent esophageal cancer made it all but impossible to eat or drink – he decided to call it quits.
And so, each day, as another part of his body begins to shut down, a part of myself goes along with him. Each time I visit, I say goodbye, thinking it will ease his passing for both of us, convinced it is the last goodbye.
“I’m sorry I never listened to you when you tried to teach me how to fix a car,” I said before I left his bedside yesterday. He smiled, weakly at first, then closed his eyes and looked thoughtful. Was he recalling our frequent trips to local junkyards to search for car parts? (One of his hobbies was re-building cars out of spare parts.) I willingly went along, most times, because I knew on the way home we’d stop at the bagel store to split a piping hot egg bagel, even though it was dinnertime.
And then – after a few moments passed, my eyes wet with tears – I spoke again; this time a bit more softly, yet with more urgency.
“Let go,” I said. “I want you to be at peace….but I’m really gonna miss you.”
I think I’m the one who has to let go.