by Diane Rufino, April 24, 2018
Last week I lost my father. We buried him on Wednesday, April 18, in an intimate, quiet ceremony. It was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my life so far.
How do you say good-bye to your father? How do you say good-bye to the man who has loved you unconditionally all his life, who has loved you more than life itself? How do you say good-bye to the man who raised you with the happiest of childhoods, but who ended up living alone most of his adult life and was lonely, yet never complained when you didn’t have the time to visit him? How do you say good-bye to the man whose face lit up everytime he saw you and who hugged and kissed you everytime you left? How do you say good-bye to the man who, even as dementia denied his body of the use of his mind, still remembered you on every visit and still was able to greet you with “Hi Hon”?
My father and mother divorced when I was ten years old and although my sister and I grew up in a broken home, with a single working parent (sometimes two and three jobs), the demands of school, being active in our church, and the many sports and activities we were involved with, helped us to stay busy, keep our focus off the lonely house, and build the character that would help sustain us as we grew up. All that time, Dad made sure he was a constant and visible force in our lives. He moved into an apartment in the same town and we saw him often. He was involved at every phase of our lives – our moving out into our own apartments and living on our own, and getting married and having/raising our children. He was a hands-on grandfather, a job he embraced with the same joy and happiness he had when raising my sister and I. He couldn’t get enough of his grandkids. The stories of their childhood filled his elder years, and he told and re-told those stories all the time – to everyone, including perfect strangers.
He wanted the best for his grandkids, just as he wanted the best for my sister and I. I remember him telling me that I should discourage my girls from dating until they were done with their education. He didn’t want a boyfriend or an unwanted pregnancy to deter them from their potential. I told him I “was on it.” But that didn’t stop him. When my daughter Sierra visited him (she was around 20 years old at the time), he took her aside to warn her about the dangers of dating while in college. He tried to tell her about the birds and the bees… at age 20! I told him: “Don’t worry, Dad, I think she already knows where babies come from.”
It was his undying and unconditional love that provided the safety net to go out in life, to take chances in my education and career and not be afraid to fail. I knew I would never be judged or criticized; I would be loved no matter what. And that glimmer of pride in the way he always looked at me would never go away.
My parents may have divorced, and Mom even remarried, but that never stopped my father from being a part of every holiday, every special occasion, every Christening, every graduation, and every birthday. My Mom always included him at her house for every family event and my sister and I included him at our houses as well, regardless of whether it may have caused any discomfort for Mom’s new husband. Family is family. None of us doubted it, questioned it, or tried to diminish it in any way. Even though the actual family unit, physically, had changed, and I admit that I missed it very much, we all remained as a family unit in every other sense. After all, we are tied forever by DNA, personality, and history, and love. We are our parents. We are the sum of what they are/were, and what their grandparents were, and what their parents were before them – with our own special attributes and peculiarities. We are able to be the loving parents that we are because they loved/love us. They still do, and I believe, always will.
On Wednesday morning, before the ceremony, I saw my father for the last time, in his casket, looking so at peace. I wanted badly for him to be at peace, and so did my sister, but selfishly we also didn’t want him to leave us. Then I remembered the line: “Death is only the end if you assume the story is about you.”
But it didn’t help.
The fact is that I wasn’t ready for Dad to leave me. I honestly thought I had more time with him. I had more plans of days to spend with him and news to share. I thought there would be more days of going to see him and feeling the happiness of seeing his face light up and hearing the words “Hi Hon.”
And so, a part of me is gone now. I miss it so much and I miss him to my core. But my Dad is in a better place, I know, free from a body that was failing him terribly.
The picture I posted above of Dad and I will always be the one that best reminds me of how much he loved me. In the pic, his expression says it all. But the reality is that I felt that love and pride with me all the time, even when we were many states apart. My father had an exceptionally rough and sad life, but at least I know that my sister and I brought him happiness and love. There will never be a day when I am not reminded of him — all I have to do is look in the mirror, and I see his face in mine. Luckily, I will always have that blessing.
Dad, I love you so much. You’ll always be in my heart and in the rest of my life as I lead it. You’ll be with me.
Not certain I would be able to hold it together at his final resting place, I was able to mutter these words to Dad as I said good-bye at the cemetery:
I’m not ready for good-bye
Nor ‘So Long’ or “See You Later’
Not ready for the end
Not ready for this reality.
I’m not ready for this life
One without you in it.
I’m not ready for your good-bye
Maybe someone else’s
…… Anyone else’s
Just not yours.
Death doesn’t become of you.
It isn’t your best color.
So could they change the prognosis?
Tell me it was just a mistake?
Just another mis-diagnosis?
Please remind me you are indestructible
Just like I always believed.
Tell me you are still my guardian
And still going to be living..
Please tell me, Daddy
You will always be my best friend.
Please tell me you will never leave me
And you’ll be here ‘til the end.
Tell me I’m having a nightmare
And when I wake up in the morning
I’ll find you aren’t gone
Because I love you so much, Daddy
To Infinity and Beyond
Reference: https://www.familyfriendpoems.com/poem/not-ready-for-goodbye (Modified for Dad)
(Dad, age 18, on the left, with his cousin Gene. Navy days…. some of his happiest memories)