I thought I would get used to it. Maybe feel some callousness to it. Walking into the building and being directed to the viewing hall. Walking to the front of the room and seeing a loved one lying in a casket. I have seen a cousin, grandparents, uncles and friends within the last five years or so pass away. These past few months I have had to come to grips that I will again face death. My dad is dying!
Twenty-four years ago my father suffered a near fatal stroke. The years following have been dealt with his heath declining and new issues he's faced including COPD and congestive heart failure. He has had a portable defibrillator installed in him in the event his heart stops. As I write this, he has been ordered to start hospice and is functioning on 30 percent of his heart.
In preparing for the inevitable day, my mother and sisters have made arrangements such as the funeral hall, the service and procession. I also have had to come to grips that I am my father's only son. I have already decided that I will be one of his pall bearers and will likely give his eulogy. My brain has been running miles with memories, family events and words of what I will say about my father. Do I speak candidly about his past? Do I mention how his life changed after his stroke? Where do the lessons in life I learned from him come into play? What do I say about the man I have called dad for the past thirty-five years of my life?
Most people who see my father are caught off guard with his appearance. He could pass for one of the long-lost, adopted Duck Dynasty brothers. He usually has a long beard that my kids say remind them of the caveman from the GEICO commercials. Growing up, neighborhood friends and classmates would say he reminded them of Yosemite Sam minus the hat and pistols.
Underneath all that is a caring and loving man. But it was not always like that. I was raised in a home of domestic violence. I saw things no child should see in the form of my father abusing my mother physically, verbally and emotionally. I remember like clock-work, the uneasiness of coming home on Fridays from school awaiting what was to come. I can remember the times he'd come home drunk, way past dinner time with dinner and since we had already eaten, throwing the food outside to the ground. I remember the time we walked down the street barefoot at night because we had ran out the house when he went to grab a knife. A few days later when we returned home we noticed a broken window. He carries the scars on his forearm from that night.
The drinking stopped and so did the physical abuse after he had his stroke. I was eleven years old and on summer break before entering junior high school. I was supposed to attend a "multi-lingual" school because even though I went through all that I had, I managed to be at the head of my class academically. Instead, my mother withdrew me to go to the middle school which was literally down the street. I remember hearing a loud thud from the upstairs bedroom. Several minutes later, my mom was calling EMS and a neighbor for help. My sisters and I stayed at my grandmothers that night and the rest of the summer in the hospital hoping, despite all we had gone through, for a miracle. Kind of weird, huh? Praying and hoping that this man, who for as long as I could remember, would beat up on my mom. This man would curse and yell and bring terror into the home I lived in. All of that did not matter as I stood there seeing my mom crying when doctors told her that he might not make it.
In the end, I am my father's son. What I take from that is not the abuse or the emptiness felt at times. What I take from all that I experienced growing up and what ultimately has shaped who I am is what I learned from my dad. From an early age I worked, not because I wanted to but because my dad had me help him outside the house. From mowing and raking the yard, to cutting limbs, I had my hands help him. When our house was being built, I helped hammer and nail and helped put up walls. I had fun doing it all. I never complained. I still like getting my hands dirty today. The lesson I learned from this was simple: work hard! You are going to sweat and get blisters and feel pain; but work pays off. Hard work pays off even more.
Picture a man strong and able and never asking for help. Now, picture a man slow to walk, having difficulties to communicate, and needing help. In all that my dad endured in the therapy he received following his stroke and even today, I have learned that you can overcome adversity no matter the challenge. It is easy to quit when life has thrown challenges your way. You look at them and question, can I do this? Can I overcome this? From all that I have seen dad go through, but also important, all I went through, the answer is yes.
As I face the inevitable of not knowing when my father will pass, I know that because of him, I will be able to get through it. All that I am as a son, brother, father, and person is not something that will end because of his death. More importantly, because I am my father's son and the relationship I have had with him, I will carry it on in who I am.
"Death ends a life, not a relationship." ― Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie