Living far from home means missing out on parties. It means missing out on birthdays, holidays, father’s and mother’s days. I’ve missed bridal showers and wedding showers and weddings and babies’ births. I’ve sent my heartfelt love through cards, mail-ordered gifts and Skype calls. I’ve given presents months later when I finally came back to visit and met husbands, babies.
Of course I had in the back of my mind the fear of missing out on sicknesses, even death. I knew that as my parents aged it would be more difficult for me to help. I knew that more weight would fall onto my sister. I just thought I’d have more time to worry about it.
Last week, I was still abroad when my father took his last breath. I was still in my room while my husband frantically searched for flights home. Just 24 more hours, that’s all I needed, and I didn’t have it. No matter how willing you are to take the “first flight out,” sometimes the first flight isn’t soon enough. With nearly 5,000 miles to travel, it definitely wasn’t soon enough.
After a bit more than a month of fighting off infections, my dad’s body couldn’t take it anymore. On October 15, 2015, just two months after walking me down the aisle, my father passed away. He was a successful transplant patient, who died nonetheless. Though I sobbed because I wasn’t there to help, my mom and sister were relieved I wasn’t there, the need to protect the youngest one still strong in both of them. Sometimes we don’t get second chances.
Dad never would have wanted them, anyway. He wasn’t one to waste time with regrets. Dad accepted all his successes, and even all his failures. He didn’t need the world to feel like he already had it. Wise Buddhist philosophy or simple hippie mindset, I don’t know, but it certainly helped him to have a good time.
Paired with a woman who sped through life like a brilliant windstorm, my dad was alternately the fire to her windstorm or the calm at the eye. In any case, life wasn’t boring with the two of them. We had everything we needed and then some. With a rare patience, my dad taught me how to read, pointing out letter after letter in my Sesame Street ABCs book. He taught me how to tie my shoes, how to push myself on the swing, how to build a fire and put it out. He let me play in the raked leaves, steal his “man cave” (basement) and never threw out the million Barbie pieces I left around, no matter how many times he threatened.
He brought me with him to work on his houses, the lone little girl lost in massive Home Depot. Going around town with dad taught me from an early age how to have polite conversation with anyone and everyone who would listen, something my husband would likely say I still know how to do today.
Dad could make friends anywhere he went, and the ones he had he kept for life. As an angst-filled teenager I was sure his friends had it wrong – he had tricked them into thinking he was awesome. But as an only slightly less angst-filled adult I watched my dad help his friends almost daily. His home was always open, and friends came for a beer and a football game, or for a longer stay while in town visiting. What’s his was yours. I watched as he baked Christmas pies for dozens of people, remembered birthdays and made long distance phone calls back when they still existed. If anyone knew how to maintain ties from far away, it was dad. That is obvious from the friends coming to his funeral from Wyoming, Florida, or Canada. Distance didn’t break friendships for him.
I had to make do with phone calls, text updates and, on the day he died, even Skype. And though it will never be easy, I know that if I ever want to learn how to live with love from far away, I only have to look as far as my dad.
I love you dad.