My dad died. On December 20th, 2016 he passed away peacefully in the care of his wife, my sister, and my brother, three short weeks after I left him in a Las Vegas hospital with a hug and “I love you” as I made my way back to Montana.
That day, I knew he was going to leave us soon. I could see it in his eyes and felt that sinking feeling of grief, already settling into my stomach. This shift in perspective, as I boarded a plane, knowing in my heart that last embrace, truly was the final contact of our relationship here on earth.
I wrote down my thoughts, as follow, as soon as I buckled in and tuned out the flight attendant’s redundant emergency training dialog. These feelings raw and of the purest form, the true grit of sobriety; feeling everything. I experienced emotions on a level that is at once uncomfortable, yet so necessary to move through the rest of my life on these new and still obscure terms:
“His jovial eyes are nearing a void, twinkling only with the prospect of a nap or of going home. Yet, he barely remembers home. For 49 years he has been my home. Without his memories of us, I feel like an orphan fumbling to find my way through the welcoming threshold of all that is pure and true.
I have faltered through the years, yet he remains my truth. Never judging me. Or maybe he has, but in a patient silence, allowing me growth through my errors.
Truth. Where is that now? Truth for him is in 5 minute increments, as that is as much capacity this wretched disease allows.
God loving and honest, he has lived within the golden rule. Today he swears, flips the finger, stomps his feet, his eyes often brim with tears, as he apologizes. For he knows, he is behaving out of character. Knows he is being stripped of his existence, and is still thankful after he completes a dreaded task. The goodness of this man lies deep within. Along with the knowledge that he makes mistakes, asks questions, and feels senseless.
I told him stories of my youth and the things we did. All that he has afforded us with his sensible and generous spirit. Lessons in all realms; emotional, physical, and spiritual.
On my knees today at the base of his wheelchair, I promised him he is going home in two hours as I board a flight to Montana and the life I have been unable to show him. I told him he is a good man. The best father a girl/woman can ask for, thanked him for all he’s done for me, how he raised me to be a good person, how he affected my life and how thankful I am and will always be. I asked him not to forget that…he said he would not forget it. In one last gesture, I showed him a photo of us from 6 years ago, his response, “You are beautiful, pretty, pretty, pretty…I love you honey.”
He, with one foot in this world we know, and a reluctant toe in the next.”
These thoughts of mine still seem random and scattered as my grief is in the mode of ebb and flow. There is a blessing here, enclosed in my sadness. I see the gift of my sobriety. It allowed me to be 100% present for those concluding moments with him. It gave me the capacity to devote a last week with him; this once would not have been a possibility. It gave my family the confidence to ask me to join them, to aid in the strategy to make his last days here as calm as possible. They WANTED me there. I WANTED to be there. And, I was THERE.
Not with my gaze in the bottom of a carafe, the obsession of my ensuing drink. The inertia of yet another hangover. The selfishness of wanting the symptoms of my own progressive disease to be nullified with another glass of something…anything. I was patient, present, and able to be…just be.
Be still with my dad, with sincerity in his presence. Retelling him the tales of my youth, now that my memories are uncluttered; real. Our time together, during his near final decline, are now some of my most beloved moments. I am sober; what a gift.
Once upon a time, not so long ago, I had a mental list of reasons I would allow myself to again imbibe, no matter what. The top of that list; the death of a parent. I mean, really…who WOULDN’T expect me to drink over this? No one could possibly judge me for it. This was definitely a reason to find solace with that old friend of mine, shiraz or merlot. In fact, my dad and I shared many glasses of wine together, many cheers over beers. He certainly wouldn’t be ashamed of me…
Truth: I haven’t had a drink. I haven’t had a craving. I haven’t wanted to disappear from this despair.
I would know. I would be ashamed. I expect more of me.
And this is the gift of sobriety.
I was on the floor in my closet, inconsolable, two nights after he died. Crouched in the dark, crying like I never fathomed was possible.
I have raged at my family. Angry with God, not with them. I apologized.
I sat through Christmas morning, sad. Sober. Present.
Almost immediately, I found solace in putting the holiday décor in storage.
I am feeling all of this in its entirety. There is no heartbreak that compares. There is no way to prepare for this. I’m not handling grief flawlessly.
I am doing it.
I want to feel this now. I need to know how to grieve. And, grieve I am. Every sadness that has been sheepishly pushed in a corner for my entire life, is now reintroduced for me to handle. Sort it out. Talk it out. Pray. Meditate.
Much of my life as a child, adolescent, and young adult is now bubbling to the surface for me to evaluate, absorb, and let go.
It’s time. Thank God.
I miss my dad and wish I had many more years with him. If there are gifts to be had in the longing for someone and the natural and convoluted process of grief, it is that I have a new opportunity to do this thing called life.