Last summer, days after my birthday, we received a call in the middle of the night from my dad’s girlfriend, Pat. He’d died in her arms and she was the one who’d brought him to the emergency room.
Before the call, received by my mother, his ex-wife, my siblings and I had received texts from our Dad’s phone actually written by Pat: they read “Please Call It’s an Emergency”. We were asleep when those texts came in.
It was my mom who woke me to share the news. I was not surprised. When I’d last seen my dad 9 months ago in New York, he’d seemed profoundly, shockingly feeble. We’d had a tense lunch after which he flew home to Houston and almost died from a heart attack upon arrival.
That awful lunch and its aftermath was a gift to me. I knew with almost supernatural certainty that he had about a year left. Even after an operation that we were told restored his heart to phenomenal functionality. A gift because a swift change of perspective took immediate hold: the father I blamed for numerous hurts and an ongoing failure to engage received my complete and total absolution. He wasn’t what I’d needed and still needed because he simply wasn’t. Hard stop.
I began sending him occasional text messages with pictures of what I was doing at any given moment.
Days before he died, I was celebrating my birthday in Houston while he happened to be in California. I drove by his beloved church in hopes of meeting his pastor, a man whose sermons he regularly emailed to me. Reverend Miller was there and we walked around the church for half an hour. Before I left I had a picture taken of the two of us which I texted. Back in the car, I got an immediate call from my dad who insisted I pull over so we could talk.
He was over the moon that I’d met Patrick. He cited the Holy Spirit as Facilitator in the unplanned visit. The connection meant just as much to me as it did to my dad.
That was the last conversation we had.
The pain came, as it surely would, and I was told by two therapists that I was experiencing ‘complicated grief’. The so called hardest kind; the kind one feels when a relationship was fraught with contradictions.
I manage it by myself because grief is tailor made. Mine is utterly unlike my mom’s. Or my siblings’.
The grief is a sacred space and I let it lead me where it will.