Saying Good-bye To My Father

My father, Dennis, a tear of joy in his eye, pondering 55 years of family life with Mom and his five children.

My wife, Ysabel, and I walked through the wet night, past the shopping mall, toward Chelsey Park Retirement Home, where my father Dennis was living out his last days.  The weather, unusually mild for January in Canada, was a perfect reflection of how I was feeling inside: dark, misty, and sad.   I knew, as we walked hand in hand, that this would be the last time I would see my father alive.  I was tense and nervous.

After crossing Oxford Street, a main east-west artery in London, Ontario, we made our way up the sidewalk toward the entrance of the 5 storey, red brick, retirement home.  I excused myself from whatever conversation we were having and said, “Honey, I need to pray. I need to know what it is I am going to say to Dad now.”   We made the sign of the cross, and I asked God to give me the strength and the wisdom to speak words of consolation and hope to my dying father.  And I asked the Blessed Virgin Mary for the grace to speak to my father the words she would have him hear.

We walked through the main entrance, signed the ‘Visitors Log’, and entered the main lobby.   My chest was tight with anxiety and heavy with a weight of sadness. I held back sense of wanting to break down and cry, but I knew I could not indulge these feelings, if I was to share with my father a parting of love and gratitude, something for both of us to cherish.

The elevator doors opened to the 5th floor, we walked to the left down the quiet hall to Dad’s room.  My sister, Kathleen, a retired nurse, and an angel of God spending all her time taking care of our father, when the caseworkers couldn’t, had just put Dad to bed.  She smiled at us, and said she would leave us alone with Dad.  The lights were off, but light from the hallway made for a soft mood in which to share an end to our lives together.

Dad was so thin.  He barely ate a thing.  As I sat beside him and touched his shoulders and his face, I felt how terribly emaciated he had become.  As much as a part of me didn’t want to accept that he was dying, there was no denying that this moment would be out last on earth together.

“Dad, Ysabel and I are flying back to Calgary tomorrow.  We’ve come to say good-bye. We just have to go to work.  I’m sorry.”

“Okay,” he responded.  His voice raspy and tired.

“I want you to know, Dad, that I am so very proud of you.  I know that you know it, because we talked about it, that you did a good job with us.  Each of us has turned out well and each of us knows that you loved us.  And we know too that you loved Mom.  You did a good job, Dad.”

He was falling into sleep and into a dream state, responding, “Yes.”  Then he called out, “Help, help.”

“It’s okay, Dad, you’re okay.”    I placed both my hands on his head, one on his forehead and the other at the back.  “It’s going to be okay, Dad.  The Blessed Virgin Mary will come and help you.”

As I felt my father’s warm head in my hands and his thin grey hair covering his scalp, I felt a union of my spirit with his that was strong, healthy, and whole.  All my life I had been afraid of losing him, afraid of not receiving the father’s blessing from him that every boy longs for and needs, and now, in this act of prayer, I was enjoying with him what I had always desired: an unfettered connection of love with my father, with my Dad.

“Hail Mary, full of grace, ” I intoned, “the Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” I stopped praying and said with confidence: “Now listen to these words, Dad, they’re very important: ‘Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.’”

Before I could finish, Dad said, “Amen.”

In spite of the weeping I could feel welling up inside me, I told him, “I love you, Dad.”

“I love you too, Pat,” he said.

“Okay, I’ll see you later.”  I doubted that would happen in this lifetime, but more to the point, I meant that I would see him in the afterlife.  I leaned over and kissed him on the forehead, a practice that had become my custom in the past two years.

Ysabel took my place on the bed and said her words of good-bye.  She thanked him and blessed him, making the sign of the cross on his forehead, and kissed him good-bye.   “Good-bye Dennis,” she said in her sweet Peruvian accent.

This was it.  I grabbed my coat and winter hat and gloves, took one last look at my father on his bed, and we walked back out the hall. Kathleen was there by the nurses station saying hello to a resident in a wheel chair.  I told her that we had prayed together, and that it was good. Finally, the tears and the weeping rose to the surface, I hugged Kathleen’s and I cried on her shoulder.  They were good tears, happy tears, thankful tears, and sad tears too.

Nine days later, on January 30th, 2017, my father died peacefully, his wife and our mother Margaret, my sister Kathleen, and my brother Tim, by his side.

Categories Blog Post | Tags: | Posted on February 12, 2017

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