Thursday, December 3, 2009

Saying Goodbye - Not Asking Why

I cannot imagine looking upon either of my sons’ faces and not recognizing who they are: my sons, precious gifts, the wellsprings of my existence whose names are inscribed upon my heart with both the joys and aches of motherhood.

My father looks at me, smiling in his now childish way, a grin really—with a look in his eyes that cannot be readily associated with an identifiable feeling or a thought. In a way, it is blank and in another it is expectant—not really childish, though, in the sense that a child’s smile is pure and present, not muddled and far away like that. A child also does not respond to every word, question and encounter with a smile, as my father does. A child’s expressions are varied, quite subtle and nuanced.

My father’s expressions are only two, either blankly staring, or smiling when I speak to him or look at him. Still, I futilely try to ask questions (to which he does not have answers), or tell him something (that he does not understand or remember).

I did not want to do it for so many months now, maybe almost a year, but today I did knowing what the response would be. “Dad, do you know who I am; do you know my name.”

That same look and smile back, maybe with the very tiniest of a twinkle which told me at least that he felt he should know. But he only looked at me. Again, “Dad, do you know my name? What is my name?”

Nothing, but that smile. “Do you remember?”

“No,” he said, not disappointed or sad, just with that smile.

I just gave him a hug, and told him I loved him. “I love you too,” he said--words he had never spoken to me in all of my 60 years.

I do think he knows that he knows me, or recognizes me as a person important in his life, but I can’t be sure. If he lives long enough, there will come a time when he really does not respond at all to me or to anyone or anything else.

Long ago, I once asked my father if he loved me, thinking he would at least say, if not “I love you” back, than a “yes.” I wasn’t’ sure why I thought that. To have asked that particular question in that particular moment was humiliating, as it was really my attempt to ask for forgiveness for disappointing, inconveniencing and embarrassing him and my family.

I did not realize back then that the curt answer back, “Let’s just get this over with,” was more of a reflection of his inability, his fragmented soul or lack of emotional development than it was an indication of my worth. Only I didn’t know it then—at the lowest point of my life.

The old song goes, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you just might find you get what you need.”

As I slowly say goodbye to my father day by day, I can say I did get what I needed—from the moments and experiences I had to struggle to understand and turn outward instead of inward to see who I am and what I could become. I have also learned that we do not, nor should we always, get what we want.  Also, I got to see the essence of the person who is my father--the gratitude, the love that had been filtered through his worry, fear and the anxieties trying to provide for his family of five, and dealing with the sad, tragic and life-long addiction of my younger brother, who died of an overdose just when my father was showing signs of dementia.

Those struggles have helped me in turn to give something more to my children than I felt I had received. I am sure I have made my share of mistakes parenting, but I am hoping that there was never a moment when my sons did not know and feel what they mean to me and that they have a strong sense of their own worth.

I can be grateful too--for many things and rest easier realizing and saying to my father, as I did to my mother, and as my children will hopefully say to me, "You did the best you could, the best you knew how," and that, after all, is all any of us can do.

Good bye, Dad. I love you.

My father passed away in September of 2010

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