Three weeks ago, I promised my father, just before he entered palliative (pre-hospice) care, that I would be OK if he was ready to leave this earth. I’m not going to lie, I had to be sedated to say this to him. My sister told him the same thing. They were the hardest, most painful words either of us have had to utter, and yet, the most important.
My father, you see, always counted on me to be a rational, steady, reliable, yet hard-headed person, able to face obstacles thrown in my way, personal strife, and general in sundry disappointments in life. I always bounced back. My biggest tragedy to date had been the death of my maternal grandmother in 1998. I was the mother of a toddler who needed me more than I needed to withdraw into a corner and cry for my loss. Bouncing back was not easy, but it was necessary. And as my father had calmly assured me, I would eventually not hurt as badly as I was hurting at that time, but the hurt would never go away entirely. He was right.
Now my children are older- one in college (that little toddler who wiped my tears when my grandmother died) and the other a teen who no longer needs me hovering over her- I find it easier to curl up with my pillow and cry for hours at a time. Not that I want to cry, I sometimes just can’t keep it in check. My husband, who lost his father over 30 years ago, understands my grief, consoles me, but allows me space. And in that space, I cry.
So, after making this promise to my father, which I admit I struggled to make because I didn’t really know if I would be ok without him, our goodnight phone calls, his words of wisdom and his ability to solve any problems I brought to him, I didn’t think about what it actually meant. Yet I made that promise to him so he could let go and not suffer any longer.
In the past five days since he died, I’ve alternated crying jags with devouring articles about grieving the loss of a parent and making this website to keep his memory alive for everyone who loved him. In one of the countless articles I’ve read, a woman who lost her mother at 99 mentioned “honoring” her. I let that percolate for a bit. My father would be crushed to know the agony I am in because he is gone- after all, I told him I’d be ok. Ideas raced through my head. Then quickly, within minutes, it all came together in my mind. How could I honor my father’s memory and keep my promise to him that I would be ok even though inside, I’m so very far from ok? Could it even be done, given my state of mind? And my ideas started to gel. And if you know me, you know that once I get started, I’m like a run away train. (I’m composing this at 2:00 am, if that paints a picture for you.) Hence, this post.
I made myself, my father’s daughter, a few promises that will make my dad, who of course I believe is now my guardian angel, proud and happy. They are things we either discussed or which he asked of me in the last few years. Following through on these promises, in turn, will hopefully make my grieving process less painful because I will have focus and purpose. Here are my promises:
1. Attain the rank of competitively classified Sharpshooter in the National Rifle Association. I shot clays for the first time last May, impressed my dad when I nailed my very first clay target and subsequent targets my first time out, and he excitedly told me what shotguns were best. My father earned 3 sharpshooter medals in the military and had sharpshooter classification on the police force, so this has been a goal since I knocked that first clay out of the sky. It’s a long process, but I will do it.
2. Get my health back. I am the proud owner of a brand spanking new prosthetic knee and to maintain my new parts I need to get in shape. The caveats here are 1. I don’t feel like exercising and 2. my new knee can’t do much yet. But I need to get at least to where I was before severe arthritis sidelined me two years ago. That’s a really long road for me, especially since my knee is only 3 months old. (Below is my knee 2 weeks post-op, with staples.)
3. Pursue photography again. In the last year or two I seemed to have lost my mojo for photography. My father was proud when I started a portrait business in 2010, complete with studio. In between portraits I hauled my gear through Florida, New York City and my beautiful, historic state of Pennsylvania.
I racked up thousands of photos in a few years, sold some fine art prints and made my father, a big photography buff, even prouder. I don’t know how I lost that mojo but for my father, I’ll get back into the swing of things.
5. My father was a very devout Catholic and until Parkinson’s stole his mobility, he never missed Mass. Throughout the personal strife and tragedies my father endured in life, he never had a crisis of faith that resulted in him leaving the Church. He never missed a Men of Malvern retreat, never doubted God’s power. I can’t make this particular promise- that I will resume my pre-crisis of faith level of Catholicism but I promise to try.
Hopefully these five things will keep me focused and able to honor not just the promise I made to my father, that I would be ok without him, but that by focusing on what I promised myself, I can honor his expectations of me as well as his life and legacy. To do otherwise does not do justice to the man who shaped me and whose unconditional love was a constant in my life.
I’d like to thank Judy Fox who wrote this article that served as the catalyst for me to organize my thoughts and write this. The Grieving Process Unfolds by Judy Fox