Sunday, September 23, 2012

One More Conversation

I recently read about how sometimes people who are going through the grief process think about what it would be like to have one more conversation with their loved one.

Thinking about that is complex for me, because, as far as I knew, my dad didn't think that he wasn’t going to survive his cancer diagnosis, and so the things that I'm guessing typically come up in those one-more-conversation type of exchanges weren't on the table for us to talk about when he was sick.  We didn't talk about end-of-life kinds of things during the ten weeks we had after his diagnosis; honestly, I don't know that any of us could have withstood that type of emotional wrenching, including my dad.  He knew that we loved him, and we knew that he loved us, and I think we thought there was still time to talk about everything else.

Part of me wonders now if we should have been straight up with him about what was going on medically; after all, he was an adult and maybe it was underestimating him or overprotecting him to keep that information from him.  He knew his diagnosis, but he didn't know the prognosis.  The bottom line, though, is that my family and I did what we truly believed was in Dad's best interests at the time, given what we knew and the resources we had.  We didn't LIE to him, but we did skirt around the truth about his prognosis and the severity of his illness on the few occasions he asked us about it, when he said things like "What if the chemo doesn't work?" and then we said things like, "It will, Dad! We just have to get through it."  He asked one of his doctors a few times about the usual prognosis of someone with his same diagnosis, and they told him the truth, but all of us, Dad included, discounted what they said because Dad wasn't "usual" - he was extraordinary.  Towards the end, he asked me a few questions like, "What's it like to die?" and "Do you think it’s cold in heaven?" (he hated to be cold), and I am so very glad that I answered him truthfully then.  Most of the things I said to him though, when I realized how very limited our time together was going to be were part of a one-sided conversation - when he couldn't talk back, and when I'm wasn't sure he heard me.  Looking back, I think it would have been so hard for us to say goodbye to him and then to have him say it back; the pain and sorrow that I see on his face when I picture this scene in my mind are heartbreaking, sending a stream of tears down my face, and that's when the vision is only in my imagination.  I think Dad might have viewed his own farewell message as quitting, and I am glad he was spared that, at least.  

So when I think about what our conversation would be like had he gotten an extra few minutes tacked on at the end of his life, it’s hard for me to picture anything other that what we did talk about when he was so sick.  Given that, I want to respond to the question of what would I say to him now - not as if he is still alive but as though he and I are able to communicate now, with him being wherever he is in the afterlife and with me being here on earth:

There are a few things that I want to be sure you know, and if I can be assured that you realize and understand these things it will help me to better deal with my grief:

I miss you so much, every day.  You had such a big impact on my life and on making me into the person I am today, and the things you taught me and the lessons I learned as a result of having you for a dad are carrying forwards, still affecting me every day.  So much bigger than that, though, was your impact on the hundreds of other people you knew and even on the thousands of other people you came into contact with over the course of your life.  What you left all of us with – and all of the people with whom WE will come into contact with in the time to come – is your perspective, your view on kindness, and your joy and gratitude in all kinds of situations.  Because of you, I know that I am lucky, no matter what is happening around me.  Because of you, I know that I can decide to be happy, if I choose.  And because of you, I know that family comes first but that every person is important and that being kind and giving to others is a privilege, not a duty.   I wish you could realize how many people admired and loved you; I think while you were sick that you might have gotten confused on just how many friends you had because we discouraged people from visiting you then because we were so worried about you catching their germs.  I’m sorry that we didn’t find a way for you to see how cherished you were by so many.  Finally, I want you to know that we will be forever grateful to you for the way you fought so hard to hang in there through so much over those last ten weeks, I want you to understand how we are so appreciative of every bit of light you brought to us over the years, and I want you to know that I will think about you and try to make you proud every single day, for the rest of my life.  

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