Thursday, November 29, 2012

Loss and found

He is gone

The subject line in my friend’s email revealed her father’s passing after lingering weeks of poor health. Her words snatched my breath and swelled in my throat. Two friends, two daughters, two fathers, two farewells, too much. Each of us lost our father within weeks of one other. My disquieted heart leaked out wet, wet, sorrow.

My husband drove; I was content at being his passenger. These long drives often prompted me to call my dad and visit while we clicked off miles. The road ahead appeared blank. The other end of the phone would be blank too. The endless roadside scenery scrolled by as I wiped away snivelly streams from my lip with the back of my hand before any streaks of guilt oozed down my front.

My brother spoke accurately of our father at his funeral: “He never gave up.” More than 50 years after experiencing frozen feet in the Korean War, Dad pursued his case over several years with the Veterans Administration. A few years ago, he was finally awarded 100% retroactive benefits. And he continued to help other veterans submit their paperwork for benefits as well.  Whether it was contending with the VA, enduring dialysis for 7 years, or advising his family, he was unyielding. Perhaps little Irvy, sandwiched in between 6 other siblings, had to be more persistent to be noticed. Childhood patterns can stick to us like pink Bazooka bubbles that splatter all over our face when overblown.

Not unlike my dad’s childhood, my childhood included lots of popped bubbles and many sticky gum faces. Unfortunately old gum can last a lifetime and be passed on to the next generation. I’ve been intentionally picking away at ugly, stubborn gum bits over the years. The counselor and I agreed that the gum was gone. A welcome removal…a welcome relief.  And then my dad was gone too. A tearful loss…a tearful farewell.

I remember well my last conversation with my dad across 2500 miles. My dad told of all things on his mind; I listened. Nothing was out of the ordinary. “Did Adam find a job yet? He needs to contact that boat company in Green Bay. They make big boats there; I know they need designers.”

 “I mentioned this to Adam, Dad.”

“You gotta make him do it.”

Outside, the low September sun cast long shadows across the landscape.

“So, how’s Aric doing? He hasn’t called me.”  

The soothing shadows of Fall invited harmony, harvest, reflection, and connection. My father’s opinions, insistence, and boast could sometimes overshadow the sentiments of my seasons.  Through the phone, across the miles, over the years, my father did not seem to know anything about my Falls. Nor did he know of my efforts to grieve losses in childhood, to grow out of assuming responsibility for rescuing those I love, and to practice directness with him.

Like bruised, immature fruit falling not far from the tree, my response was direct, albeit defensive: “Dad, they are adult men with their own families. I don’t parent them anymore. I don’t pressure them into doing something, and I don’t want to guilt them to do it either.”  I had shielded my adult sons from their Grandpa’s emphatic insistence…in the same way I had often shielded myself from my dad’s indisputable assertions.

But then I heard what I don’t recall ever having heard from my dad before. His five-word response bridged the vast distance between Florida and Nevada. My ears—and my soul—seized my dad’s five words from the maze of airwaves. With imperceptible humility, he slowly articulated each syllable, “It –was–just–a–sug–ges–tion.”

My dad’s five words were his final gift to me. He heard me…therefore he cared. He acknowledged me…therefore he loved. For too long, the unsightly remnants of gum had become the distorted filter through which I had viewed my past, my dad, others, and myself. My dad’s simple response unleashed stores of good memories that had been shoved to the back while I had been focusing on old gum. As I accepted good and gum together, my heart heaved a sigh…and I sucked in fresh Fall air.

“When are you coming to visit?”

“We’ll see you in November around Thanksgiving; we’re coming to Florida for two weeks this time, Dad. We’ll have more time to visit in person.”

I saw him in late September instead. He was no longer worrying about his children, his grandchildren, and his great grandchildren. Even though he was silent with eyes closed, I was reassured of the love of my father. My father and I are at peace.