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I met an adult child, whose father had been chronically ill from the time she was three years old. She had no recollection of her father ever walking without the assistance of a cane and later crutches and a wheelchair. Yet the family picture album proved otherwise. But she could not conjure up any other picture but one of a disabled father in her mind. That was how she remembered him. Some say that memory is really a composite of feelings and actuality. A disabled Dad was her mental memory – her only memory of her father.
She told me that her Dad, in his last years was in and out of the hospital. He always defied the doctors’ predictions of it being “the end”. In fact, she remember so many times that the doctors called the family in to say their goodbyes, only to have her father rally and come back to the person he had been before the crisis. Well, not exactly what he had been. Each crisis took away a bit more, each crisis left him a bit weaker, a bit more dependent, a bit less of his former self. And each rally left him more tired. Tired of the illness and tired of having to fight for every degree of normalcy.
She told me that the last time they were called in they expected him to defy the doctors, as he always did. And he didn’t disappoint them. He went from unresponsive to joking in four days. And they knew he had come back to be with them again. But, this time was just a bit different. Or, maybe it was just her intuition. There was something in the way he sent them home after their round-the-clock vigil of four days. Something in the way he said goodbye and lingered over his words of love and thankfulness to them for being there that she found different and disturbing. At the time she couldn’t put her finger on it. Perhaps it was the way he sent them home, saying he was so very tired.
She had lingered. Maybe knowing intuitively what he was really saying, that he was tired of fighting the illness. She didn’t want to leave his side, even though the doctors said he was out of danger. She reminded him that she would be there in the morning to daven with him. She told me she woke in the middle of the night and had the strongest urge to go back to the hospital and make sure he was fighting hard to get back to himself, but she shrugged it off, feeling foolish. And later, the hospital called, and he was gone. She wondered if he had known the night before and had chosen, in his own way, to say goodbye, goodbye forever.
She told me she takes comfort when she reads about our avos who knew when it was their time and used it to pass on the legacy to their children and give them a beracha. Just as Yaakov blessed the tribes and Moshe prepared Joshua to takes his place. Just as each of our children takes our place as the family leader when we pass and desperately need to have our blessing and words of wisdom to help them successfully pass on our legacy to their children.
She wonders if her father was more realistic than she and her family had been. Perhaps knowing it was his time, he used his final contact with his children in a way that gave him comfort. She wonders if she could have helped him more, had she realized what he was doing. She could have said her good-byes as well, instead of talking about tomorrow and the future and perhaps not allowing him to have his final say openly, if that was what he wanted to do.
She wanted more time with him, she did not want to let him go and so she felt that she fought within her mind, everything her instinct was trying to tell her. She feels she was too involved in her own sense of loss to hear what he was trying to say, too involved with her fear of being fatherless to help him and give him permission to talk openly. She wished she had allowed him to speak about his feelings about leaving them, and she wonders what he would have said. What would he have told her; what legacy would he have he wanted her to have? But that is lost forever.
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