I sat by my Dad’s beside as the doctor reviewed his medical condition and provided him with the treatment options that were available to him. Dad only had one kidney (he had lost the other to cancer several years previously), and congestive heart failure had conspired with the failure of that one kidney to create in his body the perfect storm.
That was four years ago, January 2009.
The doctor said if he didn’t begin dialysis he would probably be in and out of the hospital for the next six to twelve months; at which time he would likely be dead. With dialysis, she said, he could live another couple of years, perhaps. It was a bleak picture. And unbeknownst to me, he and mother had previously read about the options, discussed them extensively, and made their decision. There would be no dialysis.
I watched as Dad took it all in. Then I followed the doctor into the hallway to ask further questions. When I came back into the hospital room I tried to talk with Dad some, but he seemed to be in no mood to talk.
Dad was definitely the moody type; he had always been so as far back as I could remember. I recall trying to dodge his moods, catching him in the joyful ones, and avoiding him in the others. He was a good man, as good as they come. But he struggled with his emotions, and shared them little.
As I prepared to leave that day (it was late afternoon) I reminded him that I was departing very early the next morning, and that he likely would not see me for some time. He seemed to make no response; rather, he stared at the wall just below the TV set that hung there. Finally, I said goodbye to him. For the last time.
I left angry. Angry that he seemed to be mad at me, but would not discuss it. Angry that he had to be so moody.
I flew home the next morning. And for days I struggled over how things were left: unresolved, mysterious, and gloomy. I spoke with my brother about it on the phone that next month. He assured me that I was a good son, that Dad was proud of me, and that I should not brood over this situation. I decided to call Dad and ask him about it directly. If I didn’t, I knew it would eat me alive.
I said, “Dad, are you mad at me about something?”
He responded, “No, why would I be mad at you?”
I pursued him a bit more, rehearsing our last moments together in the hospital. But he was firm. He had no anger toward me, and was not upset. I let it go.
I began to realize that I had made his moodiness that day about me. It was a foregone conclusion in my mind; I never even considered it might be something else. It’s about me, I thought. But it was not.
The man had just been told that he would die soon if he received no treatment, and he had predetermined that he would not accept any treatment. So . . . conclusion: he would die soon. And I thought his morose disposition was about me. It was not. It was about him.
I cannot count the number of times in my life when I have determined (without much thought whatsoever) that a derogatory personal situation was about me. The truth is, it’s not often about me, not nearly so much as I think.
As I reflected on my father’s final weeks and days I was grateful that I had pursued him about my feelings that day on the phone. He died peacefully after a day filled with singing (according to his hospice nurse), on Thursday, April 9, 2009. He was three weeks shy of his 88th birthday, and six weeks shy of his 61st wedding anniversary (of which he was so proud; he had bragged to all the nurses about it).
It is important that I learn how to distinguish what is about me, and what is not about me. And I must learn to allow other persons the space they need to process things in their own lives.
The last conversation we had was on the telephone, probably about a week before he passed. My small car had been totaled, and I was telling him the sad tale. His mood was congenial, and for that I was grateful; he seemed to be at peace. He had been moved to hospice care, and was enjoying the desert view his room provided. His resignation and acceptance of the end is something I saw again several years later when Mom passed. I admire them both for that.
That day, when I left Dad’s hospital room in January 2009, I had already planned out in my mind that in the fall (September is actually what I thought) he would pass, and I would be returning to help Mom deal with all of this. But Dad surprised us all. And mother’s call came on a Thursday night in April around 10:15 PM Eastern time, announcing his death.
That too, was not about me (although I feel it in my gut as if it were); it was about him. His journey, his life, his passage. And I am left to live mine. With the strength he exemplified for me. Thank you, Dad.