Losing My Father, Age 94

jane1

Jane

My father died three weeks ago.  He was 94 years old, and he had lived a good life.  He  was  a good man.  I’d like to write something funny for him because he loved a joke better than anyone I’ve ever known.  I’d like to make him laugh.  But I can’t do that right now.

Because he was 94, I thought, as a grown woman over fifty, I was prepared for his leaving.  He had, after all, become less of himself over the past few years.  His personality, which was once happy and somewhat mischievous, had dwindled.  He’d always been a cheerful and accommodating man; now he could be grumpy.  Although he still took enjoyment in things and people, it was on a smaller scale.  In earlier days,  he had loved to travel to distant places, eat strange new foods; now he was just as satisfied by field trips from his Assisted Living Facility to the local mall with its chain restaurants.

I had actually thought–because he was this diminished version of himself–that I would adjust fairly easily to his death, that I was even ready for it.  I had told myself it might make life easier, in some ways.  I wouldn’t have to worry about Daddy falling in his bathroom or being bed-ridden in a  dreaded nursing home.  I wouldn’t have to feel uneasy any more when I went to visit him and tried to think up topics of conversation that he would enjoy.  My oldest sister, the manager of his finances, wouldn’t have to worry about him ordering $900 worth of coins from a scam artist on television.  Things would be all nice and easy.  After all, he was 94 years old!

But when your father dies, your father dies.  It doesn’t matter how old he is or how diminished or sick he has been or that he may have had a massive stroke and does not even recognize you when you walk in his hospital room.  That person hooked up to wires is still your father,  or,  in my case, still the person who sang me out-of-tune, homemade lullubies, waited up for me after Saturday night dates in high school, and sent  me $25 checks in graduate school with just brief messages like, “A little something to keep the wolves from the door.  Love, Daddy.”

So, even if I may not have realized it by the hospital bed, I got it the instant he was gone.   After all the wires and machines and nurses had disappeared, that near-stranger became,  almost instantly, the father I knew and loved, the man who had raised me.

I wasn’t prepared  for that.  Any more than I was prepared for these weeks since then.

I miss my father on a gut level.  And grief comes in waves.  I’ll do fine, until I see something he would have enjoyed–a scratch-off lottery ticket, a comic strip, an amusing and informative obituary–and I’m gone.  Or I’ll be at work, trying to be normal and act as if nothing has happened, and someone will ask how I’m doing, and I’m gone again.  And, because my mother died five years ago and I am now officially an orphan, I am gone into a deep, dark place of childish fear and overwhelming sadness.  (It’s strange how my father’s death has made the wound of my mother’s death fresh again.)

All of this makes me remember a time in Berlin, Germany, when I was almost seven years old.  I was walking down a busy street, holding what I thought was my father’s hand, when I looked up to discover a stranger looking down at me.   The man was my father’s height, and, like my father, kind enough to let me go chattering along until I discovered my mistake naturally–but he was clearly not my father.  In an instant, before I turned and saw my father behind me, waiting patiently, afraid to scare me by interrupting my story, I was completely lost and terrified.  My story was gone from my head.  Berlin was no longer anything like a city I wanted to visit.

Just like my seven-year old self, I have been stopped, mid-sentence, to discover that my father is gone.  And all I want to do is what I did then:  plant my feet firmly on the ground, draw in a deep breath, and scream at the top of my lungs, perhaps even loud enough for him to hear me again: “Daddy!”

25 thoughts on “Losing My Father, Age 94

  1. Thank you, Char! It’s great to hear from you–and to hear your comments. Please keep coming back! How about writing something for us? Jane

  2. Jane, thank you for sharing your father with us. Your writing is so clear and so full of heart.

    Annice told me about this blog and I recognized you. My husband used to work with your husband about ten years ago. We commiserated when the Germans came to town.
    Take care.
    Janice

  3. Jane, your writing, as always, is so honest and beautiful. The stranger in Berlin story grabbed me – what a connection btw your 7-year-old self and your self now – losing your beloved father. I don’t know why we are conditioned to believe that just because we are older, just because someone else is older that, somehow, death should be a lighter affair. Love to you, my friend – and congrats on this wonderful new venture!!
    Char

  4. Jane, That was beautiful. Just like you. I was deliberating about whether or not to call my father for Father’s Day (you know the background) and picked up the phone part way through your piece. If this were a screenplay, he’d have picked up and I’d have a sweet story to leave here. Since it’s real life, he wasn’t home and he doesn’t have an answering machine. But I have put notes all over the house to remind myself to try again before I go to bed tonight. Hang in there. Lots of love,
    Kathy

  5. I just wanted to say that when Jane first decided to write about her father she hesitated. She felt our blog was only two issues old and she didn’t want to write a downer so soon. We all said, you’ve got to be kidding. You just lost your father and we want out blog t be authentic. We’re over 50 and we can speak the truth without worrying what others think. Everyone’s responses proved us right.

  6. Jane, thanks for writing this. It knocked me out. I lost my father forty years ago, and it never goes away. Every death takes me back to it; my mother’s, my older brother’s. And every big political event. I cried for both of my parents when Obama won because they would so have loved it, would have been so blown away to have it happen in their lifetimes. Lost my beloved mother-in-law just a couple years back, when she was 94, after several years in a nursing home, a stroke that took her so far away from us, that she felt, like you say of your father, almost already gone. I still miss her, and I try to turn that longing for her and my own parents into attending better to those who are with me now. But it feels good and right to grieve for the ones who are gone, for all of them. We should be crying and breaking down. It’s the right and human thing to miss one another and to remember who we are.
    So thanks for this.
    Pam

  7. Wow Jane –

    How deep, insightful, searing and truthful your article was….. I cannot wait to meet you and give you a HUGE hug.

    My tears ran for you today.

  8. Dear Sally, Lisa, Ginny, and Nedra, thank you all so much for your wonderful comments. Doing this blog is really fun! It’s great to meet you all through your writings. And Sally, we love your daughter! Jane

  9. Jane, your piece about your father was so touching. It reminds me of a friend who says that when both our parents are gone it “leaves us naked to the universe.” Strange how even though we’re over 50, and may have taken over a lot of “parenting” from our parents, we still feel like we are 5 when Momma dies, or Daddy dies. And it is scary to be naked to the universe.

  10. Dear Deborah,
    I thought of you when I was writing it–since we had fathers with similar personalities, I believe! Thanks, babe. Jane

  11. Dear Jane, your tribute to your father was beautiful and it touched my heart deeply. He would have been very proud, see, he raised you right! we all mourn different but it seems you are on the right path, mixing the memories up through out your life is a “happy” thing and one day soon you will be smiling at all the great memories, these are things that the lucky ones have, just like you! By the way I also like you pic! thinking of you Nedra in Albq

  12. Dear Sirpa, how exciting to hear from you. Thank you for your sweet comment. And thank you for reading our blog! Jane

  13. I, too, shed memory tears this morning…your father’s journey paralleled my mother’s journey in so many ways..she was my best friend, my mentor…I loved her dearly…
    and as I gaze into my grandaugher’s adoring eyes I see mom’s love reflected…I smile and feel blessed…Thanks for sharing such beautiful prose…

  14. I’d just said, “Leave the computer.” With a headache beyond repair… I knew I wouldn’t get back to the machine till morning… BUT since Annice’s blog & buddies buzzed over my way, I opened it immediately. I wasn’t going to read, but because it was about a father… I was hooked. I still have my father. He is 76 and feeling his mortality daily. He so appreciates me now. It wasn’t so during the middle of our lives together. I moved back to the home town to be closer. When I read this I teared up fast and thick. I feel for all of you who have lost yours already… and I feel for the days I’ll spend later on… without him. I lost a brother. I know loss. Not a day goes by I don’t grieve. It just is what it is… Thank you for sharing your soul. Thank you for stopping me and moving me into silence, into what is real, into what is important. Thank you for your clarity and communication which goes down like an expensive wine. Smooth.

  15. Dear Jane,

    What a lovely remembrance. I could share what you wrote about. The story about you at seven, mistaking a stranger for your daddy, was so vivid, my stomach bunched up. Losing first mom and then dad is a life-altering experience that, I find, changes over time, but the loss is there, reminding me of how short our little minute on earth is. Hug your children and your hubbie tight! I hope to see you soon.

    Love,

    Deborah

  16. It is the memories and warm tears that we shed that will get us thru a tough times like this one.

    No matter how long someone is with us – when death comes it is really hard – enjoy the memories.

    Hugs Sally (Sadhvi’s mom)

  17. Dear Jane

    I´m so sorry for your loss. Your parents were wonderful – I will always remember the warmth and hospitality I got to enjoy in your home many many years ago.

    You write beautifully. My dad died at the age of 58 – I was 28 then. It doesn’t matter when or where it happens: the world is a different place after that.

    My thoughts are with you

    Love, Sirpa

  18. Oh, Jane. I’m so sorry for your pain. I’m sure your father had a wonderful sense of humor, because you certainly do!

    My father died at age 93 a few years back, and I also felt like a little child when he was gone. It made the pain of my mother’s death fresh again, too, although she’s been gone for over 20 years.

    I’ll be thinking about you. When you feel it come over you, my advice is to have a good cry. Brief, but good. Worked for me.

    Big hug,

    Tisha

  19. Dear Jane – I was not prepared to cry first thing in the morning – damn – I’m so sorry – it brought my father’s death back to me so strongly. (And that’s a VERY adorable picture of you, btw) –

    x H

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