After my dad’s passing Aug. 29th, people kept asking me how I was doing. “Great,” I’d say. And I meant it. But I almost felt guilty.
I kept thinking: Shouldn’t I be really sad? Especially with the holidays coming. After all, when my father died at age 92 he was the last. Both of my parents are gone now as are my in-laws. But I am at peace. That’s good, right?
Every time I started to feel blue, I remembered how miserable my father was in the last year of his life. He wasn’t well and his activity level had slowed to a crawl. It just wasn’t him. He loved people and socializing and making a difference.
I think it killed me as much as him when Dad could no longer be the person he had been. Knowing that, I wouldn’t wish him back for a million bucks. We all have ideas about death and afterlife based on our individual spiritual beliefs. For me, it’s a comfort to believe my father is alive and well, and with my mother in heaven.
I told the hospice worker all of this when she called recently to check on me. “Perhaps,” she noted, “you had already done your grieving before your father died.” That made a lot of sense. Overwhelming relief had replaced mind-blowing grief.
I’ve come to the conclusion that we grieve each death differently. I was completely devastated by my mother’s death. I was 45 years old with a 9-year-old son when she passed. Unlike Dad’s lingering illness, Mom was gone in a month. At age 77, she certainly wasn’t young, but she didn’t seem old either. She was still sporting high heels, dying her hair black and wearing her signature red lipstick.
Dad’s passing seemed peaceful in comparison. His memorial service was perfect and just as Dad had wanted. All of his grandchildren were involved with music and readings, and my brother gave a touching eulogy.
The young pastor who had only known Dad a few years did a great job. Because of my father’s military service during World War II, the Marine Corps sent a three-man guard to play taps after the local VFW gun salute and perform a moving flag-folding ceremony at the gravesite.
We had a wonderful weekend visiting with nearly 200 people. It was almost more of a party than a memorial service. I was feeling so great about it all, like I had helped orchestrate the ultimate send-off.
We’d gone through the cards, letters and memorials, sent thank-you notes and taken care of business.
All was quiet, all was well. Until that one last card.
It was a large card addressed to me from the care community where Dad had spent the last four years of his life. And, until I opened it, I’d forgotten. In the days before Dad died, he’d told the care community director that he wanted his $1,000 security deposit to be divided among the staff after he was gone. They had become like family to him.
My brother and I overheard. So, when the refund check came, we did as he wished and returned it to be shared with the staff. The card to me was a thank-you. Each care community staffer had written a little note about my dad and how much they missed him and what a great guy he was.
And that was my undoing. The tears flowed for the first time since the day my father left this world.
I miss that care community – the staff and residents – and Dad’s friend Caroline who still lives there. I miss the beautiful drive to my hometown. That “village” loved my father and helped us care for him. I miss stopping at the boutique on the town square corner to shop and chat with the co-owner and staff who also were taking care of aging parents. I miss the hospital and the compassionate doctors and nurses who looked after my father.
I miss my dad.
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