On Monday, my father died.
It wasn’t a surprise, and yet it was.
We sat there, in the room next to the one in which, two years ago, he took his first breaths with the replacement lungs that were supposed to give him a new lease on life and watched him take his last breaths. All of us holding our own, leaving him all of the oxygen in the room if he wanted it.
I’ve known my father was dying since he was diagnosed with emphysema when I was 20, almost 20 years ago, and yet, as I counted the seconds between his last breaths, I truly felt deep in my bones, that I wasn’t ready to let go, not ready to say goodbye.
If it’s this hard when you have that much time to get used to the idea, how is it possible to survive when death is a surprise?
Emphysema is a bitch of a disease. It slowly robs you of your breath, making it harder and harder to live. For a man like my father it was a tragedy.
He loved food. He loved wine. He loved sailing and traveling. He was always the best dressed, the most dapper wherever we went. Sometimes I swear he was born in the wrong time. He would have dominated the 20’s.
As he slowly lost the ability to breathe without support, the sphere in which he lived grew smaller and smaller. In the end, before his transplant in 2012, his life was mostly limited to his apartment, where he lived quite happily, if rather breathlessly, with his wife, his basset hound, their two cats, and his computer.
You’d think that, pretty much always knowing exactly where he was and what he was doing, would have meant that I’d take full advantage of the time he had left.
But I didn’t.
Because I’m an idiot. An idiot with baggage. Baggage I wasn’t able to let go of in time.
I posted to Facebook that I was rushing to get to Toronto before it was too late and messages of love started to pour in from around the globe. Friends from my childhood reaching out to share a story about my dad, a favorite memory, a small anecdote, or just a note to say how much they’d admired him and liked him.
And I wept. Because their tributes were beautiful and because so many of my memories of my dad are tempered by the anger I felt for him for years. Anger I held on to for much too long. Anger I nursed and coddled.
He was a fantastic, brilliant, charming man, but he wasn’t an easy man to love, not when you were his daughter.
I made my peace with my dad, with his shortcomings as a father, shortly after his transplant, on a day when we learned he had contracted a hospital infection and might be losing his colon and his life.
I panicked that day. Realized there was so much I hadn’t said. Realized there was so much I regretted. Realized it was almost too late.
I made my peace that day, but even though he lived, I didn’t embrace the fact that he was still here.
There is so much I wish I would have done differently. And yet I know that there was no way I could have really done anything differently.
Life is hard. And it’s complicated. And it’s so rarely as neat and clean as a tv script.
On TV I would have made my peace and we would have skipped (metaphorically) into the future, arm in arm, happy and easy with each other.
In reality, I made my peace, but never put down my baggage.
I believed my whole life that my dad held me to a higher standard. That he expected more of me than I could ever deliver. I always felt that I was letting him down, just a bit, just enough. And I resented him so badly for making me feel like I could never quite measure up to what he had expected from me.
But on my end I also held him to a higher standard. And he never quite measured up to what I naively expected of him.
We never fully allowed ourselves to see each other, the way we really were, flaws and all. We were just too much alike, mirror images of each other, reflecting it all too clearly, to let down our guard and just be.
He was an amazing, complex individual. He was smart, and clever. He was passionate about a million things and knowledgeable about a million more.
And I wish, more than anything, that I could sit down to a great meal with him, pour us both a glass of wine, and set down my baggage so I could really and truly appreciate him for the person he was.
He was a man who loved a good story, who relished playing the part he’d written for himself in that story. I spent too many years trying to pull him out of the story and into my reality when I really should have just joined in in his.