I talk to my dad a lot now. I can’t make him well, I can’t ease his physical pain, but when I asked myself what I can do, I realized that all he really ever wanted was for people to listen. So we talk on the phone, and we chat on AOL Instant Messenger. He tends to monopolize the phone conversations, but I type faster than he does, so I get to do a little more “talking” than he does online.
I regret that in the past, talking to him often felt like a chore I avoided. His speech was always slow and deliberate, and the most simple concepts were over-explained in excruciating detail. The same stories were retold time and again, and it seemed he never paused long enough for me to comment or politely work into the conversation a tidbit that made it obvious I had heard it all before. If anyone interrupted his monolog with an interjection, he took offense, and acted socially injured by being shut down and cut off mid-sentence. But now, given that his remaining time on Earth is so short, something has changed. I am more patient and interested, and he has become more socially aware and generally more interesting. We converse about so much in life, both philosophical and historical topics. We talk about life in the present and past, including some very personal matters and decisions he and my mother made because they loved each other so much, but that other people did not agree with and did not understand, and the impact those choices made. We talk about death as well. He’s not really afraid of dying, but is thinking a lot about whether he’ll be judged for having committed sin when he and my mother had an affair while they were both married to other people. I told him that I believe there can be no sin in love. I know they truly love each other, and they love all their daughters. I don’t believe in a punishing God. I strongly believe in love; my parents brought me up to try to do the right things, and treat other people well. My mother taught me to be optimistic and believe in the good of others. I believe if there were a “judging” God, he would clearly see that my dad loved my mother and my sisters and me, and he has already forgiven the mistakes made, and the hurt that was unintentionally caused as a result.
One thing I learned from those conversations was that because of his age, he didn’t really want to have that fourth child…me. My mother insisted and ultimately convinced him. He did say he was later glad they had me, but I don’t know how long it took for him to come to that conclusion.
My sister has taken a leave of absence from work to help my mother take care of him. Hospice care comes to the house, but it isn’t easy for my mom, and it’s getting harder and harder for my dad to get around. Taking a bath is a major event now. I am grateful for my sister to be there to take care of them both.
Last time I was up for a visit, my father pulled me aside to go through some business. He went over their financial documentation, and said he felt he had saved enough over the years that combined with social security income, with their house already paid off, my mother should be in good financial shape for the rest of her life. He asked me to help her to make the money last. I said I would do what I could to support her, but that I was sure she’d want to make her own decisions. He also confided that since she was still young, it would be fine with him if she met and married another man. Although he was quite serious, I had to laugh a little, and told him I didn’t think it would be the first thing on her list of things to do, but that when the time was right, I would definitely let her know how he felt about it. He talked about his funeral, too, and said he didn’t want anything fancy. I explained that we would all want to honor him. Bottom line was that he felt people spend too much money on funerals in general. Most important, he didn’t want to be a part of any of the decision-making, and didn’t want to know any of the details. I can’t say I blame him for not wanting to be able to envision his own funeral. As much as I didn’t want to talk about all these end of life things with him, or with anyone for that matter, I knew that it was important to him, and it eased his mind.
He has been selling a lot of his magic collection, but gave me a crystal ball that I had told him I had always been fascinated by since I was little. It was the only material thing that I wanted.