This year, at some, point, I will be saying goodbye to my dad. It may be this Tuesday, when my sister and I go to meet him for lunch--the first time that we will see our dad in almost a year. It may drag on for months, with phone calls and a few awkward visits. We're both going to try our best to keep it light--to tell him we love him--to not let him drag us into arguments about his perceived hurts, about the fact that we will no longer have contact with his wife--to not let the turmoil of the past year get in the way of what may be our final goodbyes to our dad. Regardless of how it goes, my sister and I have to start learning to say goodbye.
And the hurt is deep--the depths unfathomable. Because he's my dad. He's the guy who I wanted to love me unconditionally, although he never really was capable of doing so--he's the one whose approval I searched for for years and years but never really got. Until I became an adult and got married and had a child of my own, he was the one who I looked to for everything but always came away with little. All my younger self (and let's be honest, older self) wanted was to see him light up with happiness and pride upon seeing me; but it never really happened. My damaged psyche tries to blame myself and say that I was never good enough; but I know that really, he was incapable of giving me enough. He got so caught up in his own damage that he could never move past it to give us what we needed.
And then, he became an alcoholic and withdrew further and further away from us--from our children, from our wishes for a father and a grandfather. He was so injured by his own life that he could never make room for us.
And now, the end is nearing--he is an advanced stage alcoholic with wet brain syndrome, so he's confused a lot of the time as to why my sister and I no longer come to visit him. He has systemic heart failure from an abnormal heart arrhythmia. Did the alcoholism cause it? I have no idea. And the melanoma that he had five years ago has come back with a vengeance and is spreading throughout his body. We knew the cancer was back in November--he and his wife did nothing about it and just got around to seeing an oncologist about it now--and now it's Stage IV. Because he doesn't care anymore. He wants no further treatment. He wants no more of this life. His only wish is that it doesn't go to his brain. But it probably will, unless his heart gets him first.
And so, my sister and I will make the trek across the causeway to see a man who is angry at us but who still loves us. A man who wants us to forgive things that we are no longer capable of forgiving from his current family. And we will go and honor him, the best that we know how--while other people are full of advice for us....you should never forgive him after what he's done--you should tell him to go to hell--you should never speak to him again--you should cut your losses and move on--you should do what he asks and forgive his wife, despite the unimaginable hurt she's caused you, to give him peace--you should run away and never look back--you should know that--you should feel that--you should, you should, you should, you should. And still, my sister and I try to swim up from these depths of sadness and grief, not really knowing what to do.
How do you mend a relationship that is this broken--that is built on this much sorrow? A relationship that never really existed in the first place, outside of two little girls' love and adoration for their father?
And still we love him, despite all of the hurt he has caused us over the years--and so we sit within the unfathomable depths of our sorrow. We talk on the phone for an hour every night and cry, my sister and I, wishing it was different--wishing that he was a father who adored us and wouldn't, most likely, go to his grave harboring resentments against us--wishing he would go to his grave feeling loved, and us feeling his love in return. We wish our grandchildren asked about him--were interested in spending time with him. We wish, we wish, we wish....
We wish it was over. We wish it could all be done over. We wish it wasn't ever this way to begin with. We wish we could change it. We wish him peace. And love. We wish for strength. And for the wisdom we need to navigate our way through this, to find our way back from the depths.