My father had been ill for quite a while. He managed to live with his cancer for several years. Over the past few months, things took a turn for the worse. I have been traveling back to DC to see him. The last few trips ended up with me caring for him — like caring for him as a nurse. Giving shots, changing bandages, managing the hospice people, etc. Every time a new hospice nurse would stop by, they would want to chat with me privately to get an assesment of the patient before seeing him. I would always start out with this statement:
“My dad is a shit kicker. He’s going to tell you how to treat him and he’s going to have things his way.” The nurse would always tense up with defensive body language that signaled she was ready for a fight causing me to put my hand out and say, “He’s also very charming and engaging.” It never failed. By the time the nurse was wrapping things up, my dad would have her eating out of his hand.
“Oh Mr. Barnett, it was so nice to meet you — and your son.” She would chirp. “You just let us know if there’s anything else you need.”
His main hospice nurse would always kiss him on the forehead when she left the house.
I was on my way home on November 30th. I had been there for a total of sixteen days, with a four-day break back in Bisbee. I bent down and hugged my dad. He kissed my cheek. It was an obvious “good bye”. As I was walking away, I stopped short of his bedroom door, turned around and put my palm out. He returned the gesture. Our eyes locked as our spirits acknowledged each other in a wordless gaze that reassured us both that we were indeed saying our final good bye without leaving anything unresolved. We shared all that needed to be shared, said all that needed to be said and he let me know how thankful he was not only for me, but Ray as well. (Ray, is and always will be a saint! I could not have done it without him.)
During my time with dad, I was able to thank him for adopting me. I’m the only adopted child out of six. My father (and mother) raised me with as much love and care as their five biological children — there’s something to be said about that. I put them through hell as a teenager with drugs, stealing, running away, getting in trouble with the police and being kicked out of school. It took me a long time to grow up. After thanking my dad, he smiled and told me I was a great addition to the Barnett family. It took every amount of effort and restraint I could muster up to say thanks and get the hell out of the room so he wouldn’t see me burst into tears. I absolutely broke down and sobbed over that because I had felt like a failure to him for so long because of my past.
Back in Early July, I started writing this all down as one blog post that kept getting longer and longer. I have elected not to post my writings about my father. Instead, I’m going to make an attempt to make it a book. Novel? Novella? Short story? I don’t know what it is, I just know that it’s too long to be a blog post and to good of a story to remain untold. My father took me on an amazing journey that had me laughing and crying at the same time. I just hope I can organize my thoughts and get it written down. It was pretty amazing.
There is one thing I have to share about my dad:
As he was rapidly starting to fail, he was having a discussion with my sisters about who was coming to see him on what day (this is from memory over a phone call so I may be paraphrasing a bit). We had family lined up to visit all the way through Christmas. He started to fall asleep so my sisters left him alone and went down stairs. A moment later my sister Anne went back upstairs and quietly said with a soft compassionate tone, “Dad, don’t feel like you have to hang around just because people are coming to see you. It’s OK if you don’t want to hang on just to see them.” My father opened his eyes and huffed, “Are you kidding? I’m trying to get out of here!” My family has quite the weird sense of humor.
Well, he finally did get out of here. Last Saturday my father passed away. After the ordeal I went through, I was more in “relief than grief” mode. Without going into extreme details, I have to say, from my perspective, my father had a slow lingering death. Being at his side, at times, was unbearable. He had developed a fistula on his abdomen and it had become very productive. Basically, whatever went into his mouth came out of the hole near his navel. He needed constant bandaging and was in a lot of pain. He knew he was dying, he had this thing that constantly oozed and he was in a great deal of pain…and yet he never complained.
That’s my dad. The shit kicker.
I’m kind of checking out this holiday season. No parties, no tree, no decorations and no travel whatsoever. I wept a little when I got the news. I had already done all my crying when I was with him. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my life. I’m proud to have been there for him and feel privileged that I got to have full closure and a solid “good bye” while he was still lucid.
All of my brothers and sisters are awesome. We all made it back to see him. Some of us managed to go twice. I talk about how hard it was for me but I have to acknowledge that it was just as hard for them — if not harder.
I am blessed to have had that experience and thankful to my dad for inadvertently teaching me an amazing lesson of compassion. My father and I were fortunate to share a long period together at a level of intimacy that is undescribeable to anyone who has never experienced it.
NOTE TO READERS: Don’t wait to patch things up with a loved one. Don’t wait until they’re dying to clear the air. I am so glad to have had the opportunity to make peace with myself and my relationship with my father. I was not close to him as a child, he left when I was twelve (but continued to provide for the family). I got to know him a little bit better as an adult. I am so glad I got to know so much more about him during the last few months of his life. He was is a great guy. Huge thanks to my friends, relatives and whatever higher power there may be who were there for me at a time when I didn’t know where to find strength.
Goodbye dad. I love you.