Writing uncovers the truth of my father’s love

It’s often through writing that I arrive at a new understanding. It happened last night and this morning.

I woke in the middle of the night writing my father’s eulogy in my head. Yes probably a bit unusual to be writing your father’s eulogy in the middle of the night. But my father is dying. He only has months, perhaps weeks to live. So it’s not as weird as it might seem, though I prefer that you don’t mention it to him just yet.

I was tempted to get up at 2am and write everything down, but my body moaned in protest. I might as well have sat up and written maybe then I would have slept again. Instead thoughts about my father and his leaving, folding up his tent as one friend calls it, flopped about in my sleepy mind like gasping fish washed up on the beach.

And yes I cried. Not the big loud crying of raw sudden grief but the soft misty-eyed sorrow of a quiet leaving, a dignified dying, sharing stories and saying goodbye slowly. The gift of a good death brings a different crying than a sudden death. And Dad’s not even dead yet. Maybe if I get in early it wont hurt so much when he leaves.

Here’s another thing about your parents dying. It is always a blow no matter how old you are. Sure, it’s much different to losing a parent when you are young. But no matter how old you are when a parent departs, the world becomes smaller with their leaving, there is no buffer between you and the hard edges of life, no one who knows and loves you quite the same as a mother and father love you, however imperfectly. For many people I know, including myself, the hollow place they leave is always unexpected.

In the morning I wrote down what I remembered. And the thing that shone out of what I was writing was Dad’s big love. He is a man who has loved large. He loves a whole town. He gave his life to that place, volunteered thousands of hours as a counsellor, mostly mayor. He was on every committee ever invented. But it was more than that. He loved everyone. He was interested in their lives and children, their successes and losses, like they are family.

As a child growing up under his shadow there were times when I wished he had loved me more, and them less. He always seemed important and busy. But this morning, writing about his big love I can see that his love was wide enough and strong enough to let everyone in. Loving others expanded his heart and let him love all of us more.

In these last months he has grown frail, his body shuffles and he walks tenderly as if everything hurts, and it perhaps it does, though he rarely complains. His skin is stretched tight over his face like thin rice paper. But the frailness of his body has only exposed the greatness of his heart, his big love shining out of that crumpling body.

He is still living on the farm alone and says he’s not ready to go into care or have someone care for him. He is fierce in his independence.

He protects his routines like a mother lion protects her cubs. He is like clockwork. Each small task is done with dignity, and now through writing about it I can see that this is grace, this is what grace looks like in flesh and blood.

When I am with him we talk about dying, about his life, I write things down to remember him. His big love is smoothing over the rough edges of our love that has never been easy because … why? I don’t know why we have found it hard to love each other. No, no … I can see there is no “we” there, “I” have found it hard to love him because I have looked for his failings, wished he could have loved me in my way, in some perfect way that perhaps doesn’t exist except in a child’s imagination. He loves me in his way. And spending these last weeks saying goodbye and writing about him, about my reaction to his dying is letting me know how he has loved me, how great his love has been, always.

And yes I could weep now, the big tears of losing someone you have only just found, truly found. But his leaving has let me forgive everything, forgive him for what he didn’t give me, and forgive myself for the times I failed to love him back. And when we forgive everything and look for nothing, but take in what is, there is only love, and it is a big big love.

I want to bow to him, as the student bows to a great master who has shown her how to love. That is the greatest praise I know to give anyone at the end of his life, you have loved greatly, and I can honestly say that to my father, thank you Dad, you have loved me greatly.

And now I need to ring him, while I can, and thank him for loving me greatly but first I have to stop the crying. I just don’t know how to tell him without mentioning the eulogy. Hmm tricky.

 

Postscript

Well I just called but he didn’t answer the phone.

My body behaved as if I was anxious. I don’t know what the feeling was exactly. Perhaps some mixture of apprehension and shyness that comes with expressing the most vulnerable and tender part of our hidden soul, that quivers in the bright light of day when we try to speak it or write it down. Yes it takes courage to show our vulnerability.

I left a message. It went something like this except it was jerky because of my crying; I love you Dad. And I just wanted to say thanks for being my Dad, and loving me the way you have…. and blah… blah… sniffle, gasp…. and I woke up thinking about you in the night – no I didn’t mention the eulogy. And it’s sort of happy crying Dad because I love you …. Then it drifted off into gibberish and I said goodbye.

The weird thing is that when I went to press the red button to end the call, the screen darkened like a shadow came over it and I couldn’t end the call. I pressed the red button perhaps twenty times, trying to end the call. It was hard to see because my eyes were teary and when I put my glasses on they fogged up. It was one of those woowoo-woowooo moments, when you need to play the music from The Twilight Zone, if anyone remembers it. Finally the screen cleared and I ended the call.

I left it as a message because I knew he would like to listen to it a few times. He likes that kind of thing, like when you send a card with some sloppy words and he can read them over and over, soaking in the love you sent.

And now I feel bigger, discovering the absolute truth of his big love and calling him to thank him, and writing it all down so that it shines bright in my heart, like a clear still morning after a rainy night.

It is my heart that is bigger, yes my heart has grown, burst out of some tight adolescent skins that were like a tourniquet, stemming the flow of warm love through me and into the world…. yes, something in my heart has been set free through writing and telling his love.

And now I feel the same trepidation and shyness as I come to post this for anyone to read this most tender place inside me. Read me gently please.

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