She or Me

IMG_2394“I wish you could help me understand.”

“Don’t even try,” my mother and sister were terse and clear that there would be no response to my father’s last request.

I stood a moment, looking at him and knew the words had been said that could be said.

In that moment I heard again the words of the woman who shared her story of grief over her own lost years. She would wait for heaven to “redeem the years the locust took.” I would wait as well.

A lifetime of memories filled those seconds of time. There would be no undoing any words said, any actions left undone or done. My father and I had lived the lives we lived. All that was shared and unshared was finished. Even this visit was unplanned.

That Saturday morning had begun with the sound of angry words. My mother’s tension mounted as the angry man within dad surfaced accusing her of her absence the night before. I would be leaving on Sunday early. My niece’s party would be that night so we had taken time on Friday evening to eat together and visit one of mom’s friends while my sisters stayed with dad. She hadn’t been there when he pain had begun to grow and he had waited for medication.

My mother had reached her limit and the mother who I feared in my life was in the room speaking to my dad. The carefully crafted exterior was cracking and the angry child was speaking in threatening tones I knew too well. I would do what dad had not been able to do for me for reasons I did not yet know.

“Stop, mom,” I commanded.

The anger in her face felt like a hammer pounding into me. “Go away!”

I touched my dad’s shoulders and my mom scoffed at me, “He can’t hear you.” And she turned to him, her voice escalating as she railed at him for his ingratitude.

“Stop, mom!” I commanded again. I knew her. She would feel guilt for what she was doing, until she forgot that it happened too. “I love you, mom, but I know your anger. You have to stop.”

My mother stomped out of the room and sat with my sister. In that conversation she told my sister her own despair. She had little left to give in my father’s hospice care.

The angry man, who I had come to believe was a specter of my grandfather, sat in the room with me spouting words of hell fire and damnation. Something intuitive in me knew that my father was still in there and so I slowly calmed him dismantling his demons with love. When he calmed down I spoke the words I had known I would need to say when I woke in the night.

IMG_2388Today I would be saying goodbye. I was the privileged person. I got to say goodbye to him. No one could talk with him to make peace with his death. I hear it said that no one regretted the money they didn’t make when they were dying but they regretted the relationships that were missed. My father’s dementia had taken that away from him and from the family who lived with the need for family secrets. He became a hoarder of business even running for the checkbook instead of worrying about mom on one occasion when she began choking.

My father had been a pastor all my life, caring for many of the unlovely in the world. My father had been one who young people loved to be around because of his warmth and laughter. That my relationship was tainted by an unknown did not change the man he was in the life of others. In the end, he was surrounded with scripture of death and hellfire’s threats. I refused to be a part of it and had read him John. That Saturday morning I called him back to the God of love he had taught me about. I told him about how that God of love, not the condemning one the angry man spouted, had been with me in the darkest places of my life. I shared with him the words of a song about God’s faithfulness and then I left him. There was nothing more to say.

He sat and looked at those words. Then later during the nurse’s visit he told her about how he had not stopped resenting his mother for leaving his dad when he was young. He said this even though he acknowledged his mother wore scars to the end of her life from his beatings and that his dad had beaten him too. He resented his mom so much that he went in the Navy to get away from her. He gave up his dream to IMG_2131become a singer because he could not forgive. Even salvation and a lifetime of giving had not revealed that to him until this day. And intermixed with the story in the twisted threads of dementia trying to speak clarity, he wove the story of me until, when leaving, the nurse told me privately that my sisters were like my mom but it sounded like I am like my granny. I had never known until that conversation.

Later when in pain my father thrashed against the very medication that would ease his pain he looked over the shoulders of those who were trying to hold him in place and catching my eyes screamed, “When are you going to leave?” I will never know who he was talking to – his mother or his daughter – in those moments.

Now the evening party was over. My heart still raw in the late evening hours, I snuck back to my parents house hoping to give his cheek one last kiss to say my last goodbye to him. He was not asleep but sitting between my older sister and my mom.

“I’ve always loved you,” he stumbled, clarifying, “I’ve always loved all my children. I just wish you could help me understand.”

“Don’t even try,” my mother and sister were terse and clear that there would be no response to my father’s last request.

I stood a moment, looking at him and knew the words had been said that could be said. Leaning toward him, I gave him a gentle hug and a kiss on the cheek. “I love you, dad,” I said.

Then I turned and walked out of the house to the hotel room where I would spend my last night in their town. I never looked back.


4 thoughts on “She or Me

    1. ljandrie57 Post author

      Thank you, Rod, The emotions of this day and all that this day held are still things I am working through in my life. Your comments on here mean a lot to me.

    1. ljandrie57 Post author

      Thank you. It is something how a day like this continues to hold all its nuances for so long. Perhaps in putting them to paper, the paper can hold some of this now.


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