Tell Him I Said Goodbye

It’s been a rough summer with many conflicting and overwhelming emotions as I try to cope with my father’s impending death. He was seventeen when I was born and three years later I was adopted. I would only see him a handful of times (not his choice) between that adoption and my 18th birthday.

Ours was a close relationship for many years until we drifted apart. We were able to somewhat reconcile our relationship though I approached this endeavor with impassivity.

My father and I shared moments. We found ourselves separated frequently over the years but always found a way back to each other only to be separated again by some cruel twist of fate. Still, we managed time and again to reconnect. I had come to depend on the guarantee of those inevitable reunions and so when faced with what I knew would be our final moment together, I grew angry. Angry for the life we could have had and angry for the depression and self-loathing that had either kept my father numb or set him adrift in the tumultuous sea of his past, leaving him unable to commit to those who loved him.

Our final moment came in July as my father moved cross-country to spend the remainder of his days in California. It was a bittersweet farewell like all the rest. I had said goodbye too many times already and each parting proved more taxing than the last.

My father was a self-described simple man. He was a skilled craftsman, an eloquent speaker, a wise philosopher, and something of a feminist. In better times, a song always played at his lips and his eyes were the smiling kind. He played guitar and was a wonderful singer, the latter being a gift he passed on to his children.

My Irish-Cherokee clan. That would be my father sporting the afro and sweater vest.
My Irish-Cherokee clan: aunts, uncles, and grandparents. That would be my father, Richard, sporting the afro and sweater vest.

He left quietly in the night – I suspect that final goodbye was more than either of us could bear – and left this message with my husband: tell her I said bye and I love her.

He was gone when I woke with only a trace of his cologne left to testify that he’d been there at all.  And like so many times before, I stood staring down the road, thinking nothing and feeling numb. I was a child again, remembering the last time I’d seen him in his red car, remembering how I’d watched his taillights until they’d disappeared earnestly hoping he’d turn around while simultaneously hoping he wouldn’t so that I might never again know the pain of him leaving.

I realized then that my father had always been honest about who he could and couldn’t be for me. It was I who had expected and demanded more. Just as cancer devoured his body so had a childhood wrought with domestic violence, abuse, and poverty devoured his soul.

I had clung to the image of him as my father all these years. I recalled the memory of him putting on my shoes, but this time, the man kneeling before me was not a man. All these years, I had been a three-year-old girl mourning the memory of a twenty-year-old boy. The realization dried my tears and in that moment of clarity, I understood so much about this man who had for so long, been a mystery to me.

Somewhere out there is a boy haunted by his past and his failures, crying alone in the dark, hoping and trusting in God to save him.

And somewhere out there is an angry, weary man, waiting for the sweet release of death.

If you see him, tell him I said goodbye and that I love him.

 

 

 

 

 

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