The Death of My Father | Coming to Terms with My Dad’s Death

by Peggy Hammes

Relationships are important to me. I believe that people need relationships, and relationships need trust, patience, and understanding. My relationship with my Daddy has taught me a lot about myself. I have learned that what truly heals people is unconditional love; and what a person considersmost important in life will certainly affect the way he or she grieves, and the way he or she dies.

My Daddy is dying. He is dying of bone cancer. His doctor has told him that the time has come for him to move on from this life. He tells me that he isready to go. Now we must play the waiting game.

I have come to believe that our dying—and the way we die—can be just as important as our living, and the way we live. I have waited my whole life to have the Daddy I am with now. He light ups when he sees me. He kissesmy hand repeatedly throughout the day. He tells me he loves me. And he talksto me. Oh, how I have longed my whole life for him to talk to me! Now, I spend night after night holding his hand and talking to him.

We talk about him, how he feels about death, what kind of funeral he wants, what kind of parent he was and was not, and what kind of man he hoped he was. As we talk, I rub his feet, and he pats my leg. I lay my head on his chest, and he puts his arms around me. It comes to me that this is perhaps why he is still “hanging in there”—to give to me this physical connection that I have always longed for—just a few days longer. It is a sweet moment, one of the sweetest I have known.

I tell him everything I have always wanted to say, both the bad and the good, and when we finish talking, we kiss each other’s cheeks and tell each other how much we love each other. He tells me that he knows he has not always been a good father to his children, and that he is sorry. He tells me thathe does love me and that I am a good daughter. I tell him those are the prettiest words I have ever heard and I could bask for months just in the feeling ofthem.

I tell him that, as a child, I would steal $20 bills from his pants pocket. I wanted to punish him for not paying attention to me and had always hoped he would find out and talk to me about it. He tells me with a twinkle in hiseye that he always knew it was me and that he believed the guilt I would punishmyself with was far greater than whatever punishment he might inflict uponme. I tell him he is right. He tells me that had he not withheld his love,I would never have worked so hard to study relationships and the power of themto heal. I would never have learned how to love so very deeply, and therefore teach others the power of that love.
We talk about how I would come home to visit him later in life and he would give me $20 bills for gasoline in place of the kisses and hugs that I wanted. He tells me that he would do that on purpose, to remind me of my childhood thievery. I tell him that it worked, that I felt so guilty that I would stick the $20 bills back in his overalls and tell him that I just wanted his love instead. He smiles and says, “See, I taught you how to ask for what you wanted.” 

Daddy tells me he wants to “go to God.” I ask him why he is still here. He says he does not know. I tell him that cancer is the body’s last-ditch effort to teach a person to love what they have not learned to love. He thinks for a while and then says, “I hope that I haven’t cheated anybody out of anything.” I tell him when he cheated others, he taught them how to take care of themselves, and when he cheated himself, he learnedhow to take better care of himself in the future. I tell him that he could not get it wrong. The lesson that God wants for us is there, no matter which path we take to learn it. He takes my hands then, and says, “You are very wise. You hit the mark with what you say.”

It is an incredible moment of connection—one of the most profound we have ever shared. I thank him for staying around long enough for me to get it. I thank him for teaching me unconditional love—the lesson of loving, no matter what.

Life contains death, and death gives meaning to life. My Daddy is dying. I am grateful for this time with him. I am grateful that I never gave in andstopped fighting for the love I so craved from him. Somehow, I needed this—this fight—and this time with him now, to become a better person. As I hold my Daddy’s hand, I am thinking that I just want to hold him in my arms. Soon, he opens his eyes, pats the side of his bed, and says to me, “Just crawl in here beside me and hold me. What I have been waiting for is you.” 

Peggy Hammes, M.S., is a Licensed Psychotherapist, Certified Imago Relationship Therapist, and Teacher of Wisdom.