2016 was a year of unpredictability and crushing loss. My father lost his battle to Alzheimer’s on September 30th at 1:10 p.m. And America lost its civility as I witnessed one of the most contentious elections in our country’s history.
I looked for stability and sanity at the wake of my father’s death. For nearly five years, I watched him decline, his brilliant mind fade-out, his body cave-in until he died. I was relieved. I was sorrow-stricken. My life was up-ended.
Exhaustion won over. For too long, we were managing his care–daily roller coaster rides filled with pain and suffering, zombie meds to manage, and bed sores to look out for. Was he losing weight? Is he alert? Does he have any quality of life left?
Our inability to help him speak rendered us speechless when perhaps all he wanted to say was “I love you,” one more time. Soon the swallowing of food proved difficult. He was confined to a wheel chair. He was trapped. So were we.
No one should endure this cruel end of life phase, no one. For me, the burden of guilt was too much to bear. Why couldn’t I have ended his pain sooner? Why did I let him rot in a nursing home? Why wasn’t he back at home with his family when he died? What happened to his right to die with dignity? What happened?
On that fateful morning, I was driving from Sonoma to L.A. to visit my father when I got the call from hospice that he was a few hours away from taking his last breath. “Would I make it in time?” They asked. I was 100 miles from the nursing home, stuck in terrible traffic, sitting with a paralyzing fear that I would miss saying good-bye to my father. My greatest fear was realized.
I wasn’t there for him when he took his last breath. I wasn’t there. I failed him, like I had failed him so many times before. This is how I saw it anyway. I wasn’t there.
When I arrived, I lowered my head in shame and sadness as I walked in to the small, sterile room. All I could do was hold his already cold lifeless hand. At least my mother made it in time. She showed up. Not me. I fell short once again. I wasn’t there.
I now understand what it means to be invisible. My father was my constant tried-and -true validater. He saw me. Never gave up on me. He was a beautiful, giving, and kind man who strived to be perfect and liked everything perfect. He had high expectations for his children. Expectations that were hard to live up to. Yet, he loved us unconditionally. He was my inspiration who never stopped believing in me. So now what? Where do I go from here?
This will be my first Christmas without him. His passing left me groundless, breathless, confused, and scared. But very few know this. I just kept going. Pretending. Moving. Go. go. go. Keep talking up a good game. Work. Write. Create. Pretend.
I am now learning how “to be” for the first time in my life. I am just an ordinary soul in Sonoma after all. One soul out of 7 billion. I don’t need to stand out. Be something I’m not. Be Somebody as they say. This thought is comforting. A little voice whispers: just be, begin again, breathe, take little baby steps to slowly transform your life.
So, I take a walk. There’s a heron standing stoic at the creek as the rain falls gently on my face, God’s hints that I have everything I need today. I have nature to comfort me. Being is enough. I am enough. It’s time to let him go, show up for myself and be free.