Just Barely Out of Reach

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My father is dying of cancer. It's in his eyes that no longer quite reach me. It's in the way he searches my face for signs of recognition. Who am I again? It's in the way his mind pokes in and out of today's world, seeking something just barely out of reach. It's in the sheepish, toothless, grin he flashes when he is embarrassed because of something he thought or said. The letting go is everywhere. In his heart, in his spirit, in his failing organs fighting not to die. He is leading the way for all of us to learn to let him go.

Of course I knew this was coming; this very short second chance I was given to learn who my dad really is. I've had time to have brilliant and shiny moments of certainty that we are connected much more closely than I'd ever imagined. Our time together is illuminated with a double shot of love that was always there whether or not I was aware of it.

As I watch him slip away, I appreciate the tiny moments. The ones where our gaze connects and I can feel him somehow holding on, perhaps also sad for what we never had but could have. I ask him questions mostly to bring him back into my world, when he'd probably rather stay in that other far away place he escapes to. His words don't connect well to my reality. I wonder how they connect with his? What happens to the mind as it loses touch with its spirit? I'd love to know what he's thinking.

I asked him about the biggest fish he ever caught, my iPhone video cam trained on his big, droopy eyes. His answer was immediate, though it happened over 30 years ago. It was a 27" Pike, caught in Canada. His sloppy grin appeared, and his eyes focused in earnest. As he drifted, it was as if he were speaking to a stranger and not me, his daughter. He's in and out in no particular order and without a pattern. His mind weaves a tapestry of past, present and future, leaning into the place where time simply doesn't matter anymore.

The process of dying is fascinating, in a third person sort of way. The angels from Hospice offer comfort by sharing their tried and true knowledge of the stages of death. We know what is coming, generally. He may rally a few more times before his physical body leaves us. The signs are clearly present that he is rounding home plate for the last time.

Dad would appreciate that analogy, having been a lefty pitcher for the former Milwaukee Braves farm team. If you asked him, he would quite likely say that was his biggest accomplishment, and at the same time his most profound disappointment. He never made it to the big league.

On Father's Day, I gave him a painting I created recently. I told him it represented my idea of heaven. It's haphazardly hanging within his clear view, and he has been studying it. When I asked him if he thought that's what heaven would look like, he said he still wasn't sure. In a rare moment of cognitive clarity, he asked me if I had done any new works lately. It's amazing how precious those questions are to me now.

 

Each time I visit, another part of me says goodbye. I grab his cheeks and kiss him and tell him I love him. He smiles and loves me back. Sweet and sorrowful goodbyes -- and precious all the same.