Sunday, January 31, 2010

Gifts from My Dying Father

I was standing next to the bed when the doctor began preparing the long probe and swabbing the target with local anesthesia. Looking up, he asked warmly, "So, who's going to hold your Dad's hand?"

Inside, I ran, but my feet remained planted on the hard linoleum. Hold his hand? I couldn't remember a single time in my life that I had held my dad's hand or vice-versa. It was so...intimate.

"Mom?" I called across the room. "Don't you want to hold Dad's hand?"

"Oh, no," she replied, without a second's pause. I'd seen her nearly faint at the sight of my sister putting an earring in; I knew there was no way she could stand spitting-distance from her husband in the process of a bone biopsy, but you can't blame a girl for trying.

My only other hope was my brother, Jim, sitting with Mom on the couch. Jim, the stand-up guy, the other male leader of our family, the executor of their estate, the brother we would all turn to first if we needed help.

"Jim?" My eyes threw the rope, but it fell short.

"No thanks. You go ahead," he answered, relief in his voice. "I'll keep Mom company over here."

Great. By default and proximity, I had been elected to stand with my dad as they shoved a needle into his hip bone and dug around for possible causes of his recent fatigue and the unexplained bruising all over his legs.

"Jim, we think you might have leukemia," they had told him two days prior, after he had driven himself to the Emergency Room to get checked out (Mom had uncharacteristically put her foot down and insisted). We would soon know if they were right.

"I guess you're stuck with me then, Dad." I took his hand, forcing a confident smile. He silently held on tight. The procedure seemed brutal to me; shoving a needle into someone's very core like that. Tears squished out of Dad's eyes as he grimaced in pain. Suddenly, this man I had loved, yet feared, so much of my life became as vulnerable as a little boy. My own eyes welling, I fought the lump in my throat and let him squeeze harder.

When it was over, he looked into my eyes and said tenderly, "You're beautiful."

Three days later, he was gone.



[This post is a small part of a long story that I hope to tell one day.]

This post is also available via audio. To listen, click here.

61 comments:

  1. This post comes from a very deep well, one I walk past now and then but don’t look down in to call my name or hear its echo. Today, I stood at the edge of that well and dropped a small stone into it. It made a soft “plunk,” and that’s all I’m ready to hear right now.

    I hesitate to call myself “a writer,” but I know that writing is something I have always loved to do and a vehicle I will one day use to write my story. I want to note that it is my story. I am one of nine children with their own stories to tell. It just comes from such a soft, vulnerable, personal place, and I’m not ready to start jabbing around in there on a regular basis. (Heck, it’s taken me five years to write this post, which tells you something.) Little by little, I may tell more. I just wanted to let you know not to expect a series or anything.

    One more thing…sorry I can’t commit to a title; it’s just so important, and I’m not ready to name this experience yet. Some day…

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  2. Your dad was right...you ARE beautiful!! Thank you for sharing such an intimate moment.

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  3. My goodness. That was heartbreaking and beautiful.

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  4. You made me cry too. Too soon to comment, but part of me wants you to laugh or at least smile, so how about naming it _____ __ __ _____ _ ___ _____. Let me know when you are ready for a laugh. I just can't type it right now. :0
    Thanks so much for sharing this...

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  5. Oh wow. I don't think I meant to get a cry in tonight. I really come on here for the smiles and clever logic of sorts. Thank you for such tender mercy.

    May

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  6. What a precious moment you shared here, I'm in tears thinking about it as I write this comment. It's so nice you had this special time with him.

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  7. What a tornado of emotion that is wrapped up in this post.
    I'm glad that you found it within to write this part of the story.

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  8. Thank you for sharing something so personal and intimate with us. Truly beautiful- in many ways.

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  9. and you were fotunate enough to have had that moment. It was an opportunity to see you Dad in a different light, which I'm sure now you are gratful to have had.

    xoxo

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  10. You ARE a writer and terrific one at that. What a wonderful gift holding your dad's hand that day must have turned out to be! So sorry for your loss. I look forward to hearing more of "your story" when you are ready!

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  11. If this post doesn't qualify you for "writer" status, I don't know what does. You took a heart-assaulting experience and related it to us in such a way that we felt like we were there with you. (I think this story stands strong on its own. To have drawn out the backstory or the intervening 3 days would have lessened the impact of the telling of that moment in time.)

    Maybe I felt it so strongly because I, too, have my own well. My mom was in a coma with meningitis for a week and almost died. It's been 9+ years and I still can't even look at the well, much less drop a stone into it.) I applaud you for your bravery. It gives me hope that one day I'll be able to face mine as you have yours.

    Thank you.

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  12. Barb-tears are flowing...i can't even type
    ♥you

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  13. And the waters at the bottom of that well will continue to ripple.

    Beautiful.

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  14. Wow! I don't know what to say....couldn't speak if I had to. Thank you for sharing this. We can all agree that you are beautiful and an amazing writer however in this post I think it was truly your heart speaking.

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  15. Thanks, you guys. And yes, Tammy, it was a gift; a series of gifts, and that's the word that swirled around in my head as I fell asleep last night, thinking about a title. I struggle with whether or not to use it, though, because "gift" is not at all a word I would be quick to use when thinking back on my dad's fathering. That said, as I look back now, I see the good in every negative thing that happened, and that final year was filled with gifts most of us didn't even know we were receiving. The nice thing is that I don't have any pressure to name it; it is what it is for now...

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  16. and afterwards I'm sure you were happy to have been the one who happened to be the closest one for the job...you got to hold tightly to your dad at a very vulnerable moment.

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  17. Barb -- This strikes me as such a fitting final act between you and your dad. A period to the sentence that was your long, complex relationship with him. May the telling of it aid you in your perspective on that part of your life. Well done, friend.

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  18. Heartbreaking and redeeming at the same time. Perhaps it was meant to be that you were the one to stand beside him just so you could hear those words.

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  19. Your strength and love is amazing your are a beautiful person and have a kind soul. I'm sorry he is gone I hope this painful memory you find his love. Thanks for sharing your story.

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  20. Beautiful. May your well never run dry and your stones never stop dropping...even if one small plunk at a time. Love ya!

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  21. I agree with Mrs. H. This is an extremely well-written piece. It is because it touches us for fully that it is so-well written. Thanks for sharing.

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  22. I think it is a giant step in personal healing b y putting a vulnerable piece out there. I applaud you and I also benefit from your words. Thank you.

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  23. My eyes are full....what a touching memory.
    It also tells me there is so much I did not know about Uncle Jim.

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  24. I have no words...without opening a floodgate. Thank you for sharing such an intimate glimpse into your life's story.

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  25. Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing.

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  26. That was beautiful. Thank you.

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  27. So tender. I remember once you mentioned how quickly your dad was diagnosed and then gone. That must have been hard, no matter the relationship. But you stepped up when your dad needed that quiet acceptance, and now you can always remember that you shared that moment. Thanks for your honesty and openness.

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  28. This is beautiful. Your writing is stunning, and not just when you're writing so close to the heart.

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  29. such a tender and endearing story - a beautiful memory - thank you for sharing.

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  30. That first time that we see our parents as people, rather than parents... people that have flaws, and fears....that first time can be earth shaking.

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  31. A heartfelt well told story my friend. I have a love/hate relationship with my dad. He could be so verbally mean and yet I know he would do anything for me. My dad is in latter stages of the leukemia he has lived with for over twenty years. My well runs very deep. This was a very courageous step for you to take. Your writing is to be commended.

    God bless and ya'll have a restful weekend!!!

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  32. You are gooder-n Pioneer Woman.

    Barbara

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  33. Barb, Once again, you have moved me to tears with your raw emotion and insights into your relationship with our father.
    I struggled to get past the second paragraph, dwelling on the sadness of the fact we never held our father's hand growing up.
    How appropriate that our heavenly father "saw inside you" and moved dad to give you his affirmation of the beauty in you that we all see daily.
    Dad's life was clouded with deamons he chased and he simply did not know how to affirm his sons and daughters as God intended all fathers to do.
    His regret of that fact became clear to me as he visited me one night after his death.
    As you recall, he came to me and we danced a joyful uninhibited dance that evening, unlike any experience we had while he was alive. (I too kept my distance physically and emotionally.)
    The feeling I remember was one of extreme joy and love. (so much so that when roger asked my why i was crying I told him "go back to sleep. I am talking to God".)
    We danced a carefree kind of "showing off" dance, arms open at times. I remember feeling "Look at us now!"
    For me, the message I got clearly that night was that I too had been given a gift.
    Dad asked if I would choose to define our relationship by this dance, a dance of forgiveness. He conveyed that the feeling of love i was experiencing was the gift of forgiveness we had offered him and that God offers us. He said he was not asking to be forgiven for his failures as a father, but that I redefine our relationship as a gift to me!
    He reminded me of a letter I had written to him, where i told him not to be so hard on himself and that we loved him for coming to us with his problems at long last.
    He said i "saw inside him" and that it was "Just what I needed".
    He reminded me to take my own advice and not be so hard on myself, a lesson I have to re learn often.
    While my needs and experiences are different than yours, as you say,
    I know in my heart we serve the same Father who has His own "dance" in mind for you.
    Keep going to your well for healing and understanding.
    I am in awe of your gift of expression and your honesty.
    Love, Mary

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  34. Yes you are beautiful. Beautiful as you are talented.

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  35. I am so glad you emailed me about this post; I was gone most of the weekend and as I am wont to do when I am gone like that, I would have simply scrolled through and missed this. I send you hugs, hard ones.

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  36. This struck my very soul. My heart goes out to you and your dad was correct, you are beautiful.

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  37. I'm humbled. Thank you.

    Mary, thank you for reminding me of your beautiful experience with Dad; what a gift...

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  38. This really touched my heart. I wish I could so eloquently tell stories of loved ones I miss like that. I think you should be proud of yourself for putting it out there.

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  39. Oh my word, this just gave me chills all over and brought tears to my eyes. What a special memory just for you. Hold it dear as I know you do.

    ((hugs))

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  40. What a beautiful moment, yet so utterly heart-wrenching. Thank you for sharing.

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  41. what a beautiful and wonderful memory to keep. Anything about dad's hits a soft spot in me, being mine was not around growing up.

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  42. When the story is written, I'll be waiting to read it. I suspect that as you work through your own healing, it will help others like me who need to walk down that same path.

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  43. I hope I never have to go through this, but if I do, I will try to draw from your courage! Beautifully written!

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  44. Wow! Thank you so much for sharing such intimate details with us. I've had this post starred in my reader to come by and comment but hadn't made it by until now! From the bottom of my heart, thanks for sharing with us. Beautifully written.

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  45. Well - a well

    Your post is as deep as a well both literally and figuratively

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  46. I have always thought you were a wonderful writer, and this proves it. Very touchingly written. Because of the way you chose to end this memory, you have allowed us readers into a painfully beautiful moment of your history. Because you have now written it down, your children and family can cherish it too.

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  47. How powerful are a father's words. . . Particularly when you've had too few over a lifetime.
    Love you. N

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  48. Oh my word! What a beautiful piece of writing about such a raw emotion.

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  49. What a difficult and beautiful moment you got to share with your dad. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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  50. This gave me goosebumps and brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing such an intimate moment with your dad. He was right - you are beautiful. ((HUGZ!!))

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  51. I am trying so hard to swallow the lump in my throat, but I am finding it very difficult.

    A beautiful post. Thank you for sharing, and I look forward to more as you are willing and able.

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  52. I have been saving your post in the dock until I had the time to respond.

    I'm so glad that you had that time with your dad. I was with mine when he died; the entire experience seemed both natural (he was in his recliner at home!) and surreal, as it was so similar in many ways to the end of our little Jeffrey's life.

    I hope that one day you (and your siblings!) have/take/make the opportunity to write the stories of your family. I have no doubt that your book would be a bestseller!

    Lucy

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  53. You are most definitely a writer, and a gifted on at that. Beautiful, of course, too. I loved reading this!

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