What Remains

My father died eleven days ago. He had been fighting hard for the last year and finally making good progress when suddenly he was brought down quickly by a hospital infection. He was like a cat, my father, always landing on his feet and defying death on several occasions when others counted him out. So while some might say, “Well, he was sick for a year, how shocking really IS this?” I can assure you it is quite shocking to the little girl in me who still thinks her daddy is the strongest man in the world.

We had a complicated relationship. I know that describes 90% of all families, and it was certainly true in our case. But one thing I can say for sure — without going into all of the unpleasantness and complexity of our particular situation — is that I woke up every day of my life knowing I was loved by my father. I woke up knowing that no matter what I needed, he would find a way to provide. I woke up knowing he would always be happy to hear from me, to see me, to help me. So while I cannot dismiss any of the other baggage, at the end of the day, nothing matters now but the love.

I was a good daughter. I know that I was, and people have told me so. But today, I feel full of regret and remorse. I wish I was kinder. I wish I was more patient. I wish I helped with a glad heart. I wish we had some conversations we didn’t have. In short, I wish I did more. I did a lot, but I should have done more. I should have been more compassionate, more forgiving. More like my father.

Anne Lamott wrote in Traveling Mercies I tell you, families are definitely the training ground for forgiveness. At some point you pardon the people in your family for being stuck together in all their weirdness, and when you can do that, you can learn to pardon anyone. Even yourself, eventually. It’s like learning to drive on an old car with a tricky transmission: if you can master shifting gears on that, you can learn to drive anything.

My dad was good at forgiving others and gifted at forgiving himself. He never wallowed. He never beat himself up. He never felt sorry for himself, even though there were many times when no one would have blamed him for doing so. As the Japanese adage goes, fall down seven times, stand up eight. Dad kept standing up until the very end. I am trying to channel him now and brush off the regrets. I know he would have wanted that.

No one loved life more than my father. That possibly explains why he put his body through more than most people would ever dream of in order to live. Here are some things my father loved, in no particular order: The New England Patriots, Wendy’s chili, online dating (years ahead of us on that trend), photography, obscenely well-done hamburgers, weather forecasts (especially those involving snow), The Air Force, Air Force baseball caps, NPR, the beach, the lottery, mountain climbing, good movies and elephants, which are said to bring good luck.

He was an eternal optimist. The last week of his life, we discussed the billion dollar Powerball lottery, and he wanted my sister to buy him tickets. We laughed at my refusal and my hardcore “I earn my money” stance, once again questioning my paternity. He told my mom (his original and favorite ex-wife — oh, there were more), “Don’t worry, Andi, when I win I will take care of you, too.” And there is no doubt in my mind he would have.

Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” My father made a lot of people feel special and important. He sincerely saw the very best in everyone he met. And he was possibly your biggest fan. He certainly was mine.

Everyone loved my dad. I have lived in this area on and off for 35 years, and I never knew as many people in my community as my dad did in just a few short years living here. When I went to the bank — both branches — everyone there knew my father. No one at the bank ever paid attention to me until they found out I was his daughter. When we would walk through Acme, various clerks would greet him warmly. I’ve spent approximately $50,000 in Acme, and no one there ever greeted ME warmly. Even the cute young salesgirl at the AT&T store knew him and was heartbroken to hear of his illness. He made friends everywhere he went.

The days following my father’s death were difficult ones. As I drove near his house to pick up my son at basketball, I asked my dad for a sign. I told him I was feeling sad and empty without him here on earth, and right at that moment, The Beatles “All You Need Is Love” came on the radio. I can not think of a song that embodies my father’s life more than this. It’s a simple tune which holds all the answers. Love is all you need. I never used to believe that. Sure, love is nice, but it doesn’t pay the bills. But as I spent my final days with my dad, love was all that was left…not houses or cars or watches or clothes…only love remained in that room, and it was all that we needed in the end.

While my father and I were quite different from each other, I am trying hard to employ more of his trademark warmth and goodness into my life. I will try to forgive people quickly and not hold grudges. I will try to to believe the very best about everyone.  I will try to be optimistic and not waste precious time on needless worry. Finally, I will try to help others and give selflessly and generously with an open heart. I will tell all the people I love that I love them, starting now. I love you. Thanks to all of you who have reached out to me so warmly during these difficult days. My dad would have loved that.

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15 thoughts on “What Remains

  1. Cousin Dawn, I laughed and cried simultaneously as I read this. I never realized this before but your Dad and mine were so similar – cut from the same cloth for sure. I will always remember how kind he was to my Dad. Back in 2003, my Dad & I returned from Florida, and your Dad was soo kind to pick us up at the airport. I am laughing thinking about because his car was not in the best shape & I could tell my Dad was a “tad” nervous but he got us home safe & sound. I am sorry about the cancellation of the service on Sunday but I have to smile thinking your Dad is sending us all a sign with the impending blizzard. All you need is love…….that does say it all. Rest in peace, Cousin Elliott.

  2. Dawn, what a moving essay. I know your dad would have been proud. And I’m better off for having read it. Hugs to you, my friend.

  3. Dawn, what a wonderful eulogy to your father! I have to print that and keep it as another example of your beautiful writing. The fond memories of him will live on forever with you and others who loved him.

  4. Beautiful reflection of your admiration of your father…thank you so much for sharing. Our time on earth is limited, and with my own father dealing with a terminal illness, it’s comforting to know that life does, in fact, go on.

  5. Reblogged this on Bikurgurl and commented:
    It’s almost too painful to reblog, but I know I will need this insight as we are each facing our own mortality, the mortality of those we love, and knowing that life does, in fact, go on, is a comfort. Knowing that my heart will be broken to pieces when my parents do pass, is reality.

    A message of love — I know my father also has this same message — his love is the strong, silent type, but always strong, always faithful, always surrounding us.

    The Greatest Gift

    “Though I speak with the tounges of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

    Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

    Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tounges, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

    When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

    And now abide faith, hope, love, these three, but the greatest of these is love.”

    I Corinthians 13, New King James Version

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