Why Father’s Day is Just as Somber to Me as Mother’s Day
N ot even four months had elapsed after the loss of my mother when I received the news that my father was in the hospital. Fortunately, I coincidentally had already purchased airplane tickets for that time for an uneventful visit with him; so I traveled to see him — but I had no idea what I was about to experience.
Why Father’s Day is Just as Somber to Me as Mother’s Day
A few months earlier, I had accompanied my father to appointments at the offices of various doctors who let him know that nothing was wrong or unusual. As I sat in the passenger seat listening to the radio and hearing Robert Plant quietly scream his way through the lyrics of Kashmir over the synthesized cacophony which resembled an orchestra of strings, my father then picked up a cup of coffee at the drive-through window of a fast food restaurant on that sunny and hot afternoon before going home.
After spending time with my father, I then departed for the airport for my flight home — not realizing what was awaiting me.
Fast forward to September; and there I am, seated aboard that airplane during what was otherwise an uneventful flight, concerned that my father was in the hospital, hoping that this would pass and that he would return to good health.
I rented a car and immediately drove from the airport to the hospital, where I found out that my father fell before I arrived; and now he was bedridden, barely able to sit upright. He recognized me and greeted me groggily with a weak voice.
Unlike my mother, my father was not in a gregarious mood. We had few conversations, as he was in unbearable pain. There was no laughter. We did not joke. My father was not in the mood to recall memories, which was unusual for him. I stayed in that hospital room as often as possible to spend as much time with him as possible.
When my father would not touch his lunch — or maybe it was dinner, I do not know — and instead offered it to me, I knew something was drastically wrong. A photograph of my father would be the definition of the term live to eat — as he epitomized that phrase — so to say that his refusal to eat was unusual would be a substantial understatement.
I spent some time with him — in fact, most of my visit was spent with him in the hospital — when a doctor asked me to come out into the hallway outside of his room. He hemmed and hawed and dispensed some medical jargon.
“Look — don’t pull any punches,” I said to the doctor. “I have not even gotten over the loss of my mother yet. Just give it to me straight.”
He let me know that my father did not have long to live, as he had a condition none of the doctors he had been seeing diagnosed. How they could have missed diagnosing his condition — which should have been obvious — I will never know; and the eerie coincidence is that he was about to die from the same disease the same way that my mother died.
On the third day when I was there, he was transferred to the hospice section of the hospital, where he was basically incoherent and asleep. I sat by his bedside for most of the day, holding his hand from which there was no response from him. I kept my bedside vigil, watching his health deteriorate, eating nothing all day, holding his left hand until several minutes after I watched him struggle to take his last breath that afternoon. Tears welled up in my eyes…
…and when he passed away late on that September afternoon, I felt like a piece of me died along with him. I had not expected this day to come so soon — and even if I did, I could never have been fully prepared for that moment when he died.
I kissed his forehead and said goodbye to him before leaving the room. I headed outside and sat on a bench near a small pond over which his hospice window overlooked. The sun slowly descended in the early evening sky, showering my face in a blaze of orange.
An Homage to My Father
You might have read about my paternal grandfather in some of the articles I have posted in The Gate in the past, as he was a major influence in my life. Although he was not perfect, my father was also an influence in my life in a positive manner; and he was smart.
Although he was indifferent to travel unless it was absolutely necessary — he had only been outside of the United States once in his entire life — he loved cars: classic cars, late model cars, sports cars. We used to go to dealerships to test drive cars just for fun — which was not something I particularly would have wanted to do on my own; but I enjoyed doing that with him.
During my early formative years, my daddy would come home from work and have me reach into his pocket, from which I pulled a shiny Matchbox toy car.
Losing its luster years ago, I have an old silver Greyhound bus which I still have to this day and cherish.
I was probably four or five years old when I pulled this toy — one of many which I had collected — out of his pocket.
As I also already mentioned, he loved to eat. Aside from cucumbers, I do not know of anything which he would not eat. Breakfast is my least favorite meal; but my dad could eat breakfast all day, as it was by far his favorite meal. I still think of him when I see a traditional full American breakfast.
No longer could I call him to hear his opinion or ask his advice; and it took many months for me to get out of the “I need to call Dad and — oh…yeah…I forgot” mode and have reality finally sink in.
A luncheon which I helped to plan was scheduled at the world headquarters of Delta Air Lines at which the chief executive officer, the vice president of the SkyMiles frequent flier loyalty program, and other executives, employees and customers were to attend — after my father unexpectedly died; but before his funeral. His death was coincidentally before when my original return flight was scheduled to depart; so I boarded the airplane to go home and attended the full luncheon the next day.
My father was honored by the executives at Delta Air Lines during the luncheon. I did not tell them; but I know who did — and it was unexpected. I did everything I can to hold back the tears, as I was literally several feet from them when they dedicated that moment to them. I will never forget that moment.
In a strange twist of irony, I wished my father could have seen that. He would have been so impressed.
Employees at Delta Air Lines even arranged for me to fly as a passenger at the last minute on a flight to the funeral of my father, where I delivered the eulogy. Rather than the expensive ticket used to travel to visit my mother, the fare to attend the funeral of my father was ridiculously cheap. I am still truly grateful to Delta Air Lines for helping to ease what was quite a painful experience.
Advertisements for Father’s Day are everywhere every year at this time in June — and all they do is sadden me. “Show Dad you love him.” “Win free tickets for Dad.” “Make his day special.” “Don’t just buy him another tie.” Getting bombarded with them from all directions does not help at all.
I realize that losing a father is natural in the course of life. It certainly beats a parent losing a child to a disease or an accident…
…but I have no regrets. It was a gut-wrenching loss for me, and it was clearly one of the toughest moments of my entire life from which I am unsure that I will ever fully recover; but the situation could have been significantly worse — like not seeing him one last time while he was still alive. During those final days — whether he was in the mood to hear it or not — I told my father everything that I wanted him to know and hear while he was still lucid. A part of me is who I am because of him; so in a way, he still lives on through me.
Bereavement airfares may no longer exist on many airlines; but having reservations agents and gate agents of an airline who can do what they can to ease an otherwise difficult situation in terms of flight arrangements can be a world of difference; and I was fortunate to have experienced that.
If your father is still alive, please let him know how important he is to you — and not just on Father’s Day either. In fact, tell everyone who means something to you how much they mean to you and how you are fortunate to have them in your life. It will brighten their days — and yours as well.
Fortunately, I have many hours of video of my father recorded from over the years; so I can always see and hear him again any time I want…
…and if this article seems familiar to you, it is because my parents died from the exact same disease the exact same way almost exactly four months apart. I held the left hand of each of my parents as I sat by their bedsides, watching them pass from life through to death. Everything was literally almost exactly the same. To endure that form of déjà vu is nothing short of incredibly cruel to a person. No one should have to live through that bitter flavor of grief.
If that was not bad enough, I lost a cousin with whom I was close before that horrible year ended.
In the meantime, I still miss my father — may he rest in peace.
This one is for you, Dad…
Photograph ©2009 by Brian Cohen.