I hope when I die, if anyone is moved to say anything, give a eulogy, that people are honest about me. They might say that I gave and gave, but that giving was my hubris. I didn’t take care of myself like I could have (or hopefully by then, that will have changed)….that I could have a quick temper and I was too strict with my kids. That I could have trouble articulating my feelings and therefore made it hard for people to get to know me, or to help me. That I let my feelings fester until they were unmanageable. That my introversion made people think I was bitchy. That I could have been so much more if I only applied myself to one thing instead of 100. I hope they also say kind things about me. But, above all, I want them to be honest.
Moreover, I hope that in my life I show the same good and not-so-good to all people, especially those closest to me…because if I don’t, they might be in for a rude awakening at my funeral. And I wouldn’t wish that on anybody in attendance, most of all my children.
Why so morbid? Well, after a long, drawn out “recovery” from a stroke, it was discovered that my father had rectal cancer in April. And mercifully, after two incredibly long years of a shitty existence, my step-mother made the decision to end all life-sustaining measures. The feeding tube was removed, the thrice-weekly dialysis was stopped. The hand that my father was dealt was shifted…and finally put on the table. Moving to hospice allowed him to rest, and just 4 days later on 4/24/19, he was relieved of his burdens here on Earth.
I hadn’t seen him in person since December 9, 2017. The last time I went to visit with Richard and Charlie, I became physically ill, and was that way for a week. Though I told him I would see him again at that time and I thought I would, I never did, at least not in person. Despite the feelings I had about not seeing him, my survival instinct kicked in and I realized that I could not go back.
Despite the judgement I felt for what began as circumstance, but became a conscious choice, I never did go back. I spoke with him a few times via video…well, spoke to him. He never did speak back. Sometimes he never even looked at me. I’m still nowhere near convinced he ever knew who I was after his stroke. I know my true goodbye to him was said in our last conversation just a few days before his stroke, and I came to realize the journey he was on from May 17, 2017 and forward was for him and his new family. Never was that more evident than at his funeral.
Beyond the moving color guard honor from the LAXPD, the mournful voice of Marc Anthony, the religious platitudes and the thinly veiled digs towards my father’s side of the family for not visiting enough, not believing he was having a miraculous recovery and it was the cancer that finally took him, not sitting at his bedside on the constant…were the stories of a man I did not know.
“He was joyful! Never angry. Grumpy sometimes. He fought for us. He championed us. He cheered us for not giving up. Always had a smile. Helped me out when I was just starting… he accepted our best.”
Wait – what?? Who did this?? Am I at the wrong funeral? Honestly. I almost walked out because I was truly floored.
Why so shocked?
I know my father loved me. But he also scared me. So much so I went to college 80 miles away instead of taking a full scholarship to UCLA. I know he loved me. But he also belittled me and the things and people I loved often. I can’t even repeat some of the things he said. I know he loved me. But he also treated me like I was a prisoner, despite my good behavior. I know he loved me. But he never told me I was good enough, much less just plain good. I know he loved me, but instead of speaking to me softly as you would to someone you loved dearly, he barked. I know he loved me, but he didn’t encourage me and only tried to dampen my spirits. I know he loved me, but he didn’t value our relationship enough to fix the hurt in himself — the hurt that made him hurt us. And trust me, I asked. He wouldn’t. It was too hard for him to talk to “strangers.” I know he loved me, but he didn’t trust me to make decisions. I know he loved me, because finally, more than forty years into his fatherhood, he was able to tell me without also insulting me.
I knew my father longer than any of the people who spoke out at the service, other than my aunt, his sister. He was gregarious, fun, funny, rude, vulgar, over-protective, excessive, selfish and inappropriate. He was a music lover, a movie lover, a traveller… he was also anxious, hurt, insulated, incredibly angry at times and sad. He was self-destructive, stubborn, fierce and fearful. He could tell a great story and had a strong sense of justice…though a lot of times not with his own flesh and blood. He didn’t take care of himself like he could have. He was forgiving and also, ruthless. He could make a girl wish she was anywhere but where she was because he made her feel small. He distributed affection unevenly and sometimes not at all. He was MY father. And no matter how deep somebody else’s denial, no matter how compassion-less people can be in their own blinding grief, I know he loved me. And as hard as it was for most of my life, I loved him too.