My Father

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The death of my father affected me more than I expected. I feel stupid not seeing it about to happen. How we care for our elders and how we would ideally wish to be cared for ourselves is a huge dichotomy. We don’t want our children and grandchildren to worry about us. Knowing that death is coming, and the sad release of concern about oneself when the time comes near, seems like a necessary, mental preparation.

When I returned to Europe, wanting to give back and care for my father, I was welcomed. “You can live here as long as you want”, he said. His sunken eyes saw me as his son, and despite any past arguments – he was my dad, and I was his son. Laying on his bed with him, we spoke about the past, my memories of the stories he spoke of from his teenage years, the height of his life and the family we were. I brought him two hot water bottles and we would talk. I’m sure my face reminded him of his dead wife, my mother, and he felt comfortable and safe. These nights were probably the most beautiful and caring I have ever experienced with my father. His acceptance that he would die, and his love of me – his son.

The next morning he would be downstairs, smoking a cigarette and drinking a glass of weak wine. Looking out of the window at the birds, before driving up the road to place a bet and have a pint. He would return to eat a microwavable meal, finish another glass of wine and retire to bed and his TV, snacks by the bedside table and sleep. His days were barely four hours long. The Siamese cats my mother bred were as malnourished as he was, specifically ‘Feng’ – the only male, his having lost his dogs years ago – this male cat represented himself, weak and frail. The house was not only flea ridden but rats were occupying the walls. My father wanted me back home, he didn’t want me to leave. I had never heard my father ask me so directly to stay, and tell me he needed me. When I returned to America, promising to come back to care for him by Easter at the latest, I could see that he knew we would never meet again. I feel stupid not realizing that this was the last time I would ever see him alive.

Now I am back home, and he is gone. His room is still frozen in time. Unable to open that door – I finally ventured inside and felt a wave of sadness. By his pillow was a newspaper dated the day I left. His TV gone, the room ransacked. I just hope that when I die my departure leaves sadness and grief, rather than a mess to unravel as relatives search for wills and keepsakes.

Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don’t know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It’s that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don’t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.

― Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky

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