Saturday, December 14, 2013

Dear Dad - a thank you note

Dear Dad,

Today was an all-around dreary day. The kind of weather that makes you not want to leave the house, but rather stay in your sweats and immerse yourself in a good book while time fades away. Well, I braved the weather to leave the house all the same. I went Christmas shopping! Now I'm home, tucked in with Mr. Dog, candles lit, and Vince Guaraldi Trio christmas music playing on Pandora, and I thought I might start in on all my overdue thank you notes.

Ironically, this has been the worst year of my life and yet it seems like I'm constantly thanking someone for something. Twenty thirteen has been one huge lesson in gratitude. Even in death, and beyond, you are still teaching us valuable lessons. Last night I was driving IH35 and listening to a band I got hooked on in college called Death Cab for Cutie. You would have hated their music, more than likely, but their lyrics are like poetry for me and I'm always having new realizations or making new discoveries when I listen to them. It's "emo" music and I'm sure you would have found the songs very "self-indulgent," having no patience for that sort of thing. However, one song called "What Sarah Said" suddenly had a lot more meaning for me last night, one lyric in particular.

"love is watching someone die"

One of these thank you notes is addressed to you, Dad. And maybe not for the reasons everyone might think. As awful as it sounds, and as difficult as it is to say, thank you for letting me watch you die. Thank you for letting me a part of that phase of your life: the ultimate transition.

I have the courage to say this publicly, because I know you understand what I mean. And I know you would want others to understand it, too. I know death probably frightened you quite a bit, especially when it crept up so much sooner than we expected and with such ferociousness. But I also know that it probably intrigued you a little - just as all aspects of life so intrigued you. You could never do anything half-heartedly. If you had to participate in something, it was going to be to the fullest, and someone was going to learn from it. Well, we all learned from this, and we'll go on learning from it for the rest of our lives. In that way you made the ultimate sacrifice: wanting us to learn from your experience, even if it was the last thing you did.

In fact, in your death you probably taught me several of the most valuable lessons of my life, and some I can't even begin to fully understand just yet. I wish it hadn't been quite that way. I wish there had been other ways for me to learn, ways that didn't involve you leaving us. I wish that I had heeded more of what you had to say before the imminent threat of loss cast its dark shadow on our lives, and we had no choice but to listen, and listen closely. I wish I hadn't been so defiant, so scornful of your eagerness to share what you know. I wish I had been more loving, and patient, and kind. But one of the things I'm learning from you, and from all of this, is to Let Go. Let go of those regrets. Let go of those wishes that won't come true.

In those almost six months of saying goodbye, of letting go, I learned so much. I learned that what I put in my body can kill me - literally. I learned that what I eat can also have amazing healing capabilities. I learned that stress, negativity and anger can poison a person in a very real way. I learned that all the cliche things people say about family coming together in the face of tragedy are true and beautiful. I learned how quickly some once important things become so completely unimportant, and others, so previously undervalued, become so valued. I learned what it felt like to honestly, and 100% willingly, put someone before myself for the first time, ever. I learned what it truly means to "reprioritize your life." I learned what it's like to be angry at someone who is dying, even though it's not their fault. I learned about the massive amounts of ugly and irrational guilt caretakers will carry in their hearts. I learned to memorize things about a person I never want to forget. I learned how to talk to doctors and nurses, be a patient advocate, interpret scientific journals, ask the right questions, keep track of meds, and make judgement calls on zero sleep and in the face of heightened emotions. I learned the value in just "being" with someone. I learned when words are necessary, and when silence is enough. I learned when my opinion was crucial, and when support was more appreciated. I learned so much about myself, about our family, about the man you were, are, and how you will forever be remembered. I learned about legacy, the importance of a job well done, a life well-lived, and how we will all define those things for ourselves individually. I learned utter vulnerability: what you feel when you have nothing and yet everything to lose. And so much more.

And then in those last few weeks, oh . . . I learned so much I didn't really want to know, but which made me a better person, a more profound person. About what happens when you die. Like many of your lessons, "it was harmful, but worth it." Depending on my mood I am either very bitter that I can't ever retreat to my prior naïveté, or extremely grateful that I was given the "gift" of this whole experience. But I will never regret being with you till the end. I will never regret spending those five days with you, singing you songs, reading you letters, holding your hand, listening to your breaths, memorizing your heart beats, telling you how you impacted my life, saying my goodbye, and lovingly watching you die. I will never regret it because more than anything else in the world, that is what love is . . . I was there because I wanted to be with you. I was there because I knew you would have been there for me. I was there because I love you. Because love is being willing to watch someone die.

I thanked you in person for the father you were to me, for everything you taught me, for the life you gave us, and the sacrifices you made for our family. And now I'm thanking you for the exit you made, for choosing to spend your final days in your own home, for allowing us to care for you with our own hands, and for letting us be there as you slipped away. Thank you for waiting until we had all had our chance to say what we needed to say and what we wanted you to hear. Thank you for sharing that final experience with me, with all of us. Thank you.

I love you, always and forever.


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