I cannot remember which brother called me that February day in 1993. I just remember the words, “Jeanette, Dad’s in the hospital.” And I remember the irritation welling up in my gut. My father was in the hospital, and I was angry – with him.
I did not want to see him. I knew why, and as my car traversed the freeways, the events of the last three years circled around in my soul like vultures waiting to land. I did not like myself that day, but I liked my father less.
He was explosive in temperament, but we were lucky. Our dad never sent us flying into walls the way his dad did. Respectful, but fearless in my confrontations with him, he could no longer intimidate me, so we made our peace. It unraveled when my first husband, Jack, fell ill and needed a liver transplant.
The procedure, not covered by Jack’s insurance, forced us into a fundraising mode. “Ask family members to donate first,” the doctor said. I felt confident that Dad, a small business owner, would help save my husband’s life. And so, I asked.
“What makes you think I have any money?” I became concerned about my parents — until my father put $30,000 down on a motor home.
I arrived at the hospital with my anger and my concern for my father competing like two wrestlers unable to pin the other to the floor. Mother wandered in and out, worried about Dad while he snarled demands. She was like an orphaned baby antelope being watched by a crouching lion.
As we left, I ushered Mother out first, and turned to my father. There was heat in my voice.
“Dad, you need to get off Mom’s case.”
“God damn it, Jeanette. Leave me alone.”
“No, Dad, you leave her alone.” I did not touch his arm nor kiss his cheek. I told him off, and walked out.
It was the last time I saw my father alive.
For two weeks, his loss dampened my soul. Loss is hard, but unfinished business is like a poison seeping into the veins and infecting the soul. It makes death so much more difficult. One night I awakened and sat on the edge of my bed. I looked up at the ceiling.
Okay, Dad, let’s have it out.
“I forgive you.” I felt his words in the silence of night as if he was sitting in the room speaking into my mind.
You forgive me? I’m the one that should be forgiving you! My fists clenched as I pushed the sheets and blankets aside. Then, I felt his words again.
“Your friend did not donate.”
What the hell are you talking about? I stopped abruptly, as an old memory surfaced. The minister who married us, a friend, chose not to donate.
“It was my right.”
At that moment my anger dried up and blew away like a dead leaf in a hot wind. It was not because I let it go, but because I suddenly understood that my father’s decision was his right to make.
I sat motionless for several minutes, transfixed by this exchange, then looked up at the ceiling.
Oh my God. You are right, Dad. I slowly shook my head, then covered my face with my hands. You’re right.
I never did tell him I loved him.
I may never understand how this conversation happened. I am grateful it did for had it not, our relationship would have been incomplete, like two ends of a rope untied, waving in a wind, tethers unable to touch. But if I could roll back time, my father would have heard me say, “I love you, Dad.”
© 2013 Jeanette Reese