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  • Writer's pictureEmily Taylor

He called me sweetie

On Monday, February 1st, I said goodbye to my father for the last time.

I have a post coming on what happened with November, but this is what is occupying me right now.

Relationships are complicated. Parental relationships, sibling relationships, marital relationships. And that’s really where we have to start in order to understand what is going on. I am my father’s youngest child. His wife was not my mother. And, my mother and father have had a relationship that spanned decades.

It sounds like it could be a book, and I feel like it goes to show that truth can be more fantastic than fiction.

A year ago, in January 2020, I started talking to my dad for the first time in 30 years. It was something I had wanted for about 30 years, and I was so happy to get my chance to talk to him, but, like everything it life, it came with strings. My dad was 85 years old and in a nursing home. He had dementia. He had end stage kidney failure. Things were not going to improve.

However, I decided to grab onto that chance with both hands. I’d always thought about my father, always missed him. Obviously, with all the other issues, things weren’t going to be the way I’d imagined them. There were questions I was never going to get answered, things he was never going to be able to tell me. When COVID hit the US at the beginning of March, his nursing home shut down visits, but he called me every day and I set up Skype video chats with him.

COVID stayed out of his nursing home for a long time, and finally, in October, we got to do an outdoor visit with him. It was chilly and rainy, but I got to see him in person for the first time in 7 months. It was fantastic. A week later, COVID arrived. My dad was the 8th resident to test positive. He was moved to the COVID ward and contact became sporadic. I called every day to get an idea of his progress, and I asked them to tell him I called and that I loved him.

He made it through, but by then almost every resident had caught the virus, and they weren’t moving anyone anywhere. Dad started calling me every day again, though. And we struggled through bad connections and worked to stay in contact. He always wanted to get out and go do stuff, but no one was going anywhere because of COVID. We talked on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and he even called me on New Year’s Eve.

I told him every time I could talk to him how much I loved him, how happy I was to hear from him. I tried to convey how important this connection was to me. He started each phone call with: “Hi sweetie.” He ended with: “Love you right back.”

Last week, on Tuesday, he called, and he was anxious and unhappy. The doctor had said something about him going to the hospital, but he felt fine. I texted his oldest daughter asking for information. His blood potassium levels were critically high due to his kidney disease. He didn’t want to go to the hospital, and she had decided not to force him. Because of that, they were opening him up for comfort care visits.

I went to see him on Thursday. He stayed in bed most of the time, didn’t want to eat his lunch, but he got out of bed and into his wheelchair, and perked up a bit as we chatted. He was looking forward to his birthday at the end of February. I asked him what he wanted, and he named two actresses. That was the last time I saw him in person.

He called at 9:29 pm on Friday. It’s on my phone in the call log. It wasn’t a very long conversation. He was tired, my mom had been by and hung a bunch of pictures, but he was having trouble getting through on her phone. I told him I loved hearing from him. He laughed and told me he was glad he wasn’t standing next to me when the lightning struck. He told me he called because he loved talking to me. I told him that I was the one who had to look out for lightning now. He laughed again. We were quiet for a moment, and then we said our goodbyes and I love yous.

That was the last time I heard his voice.

Each day, he had gotten progressively worse. On Saturday, when my mom visited, he didn’t get out of bed until the end, and mom said he was just so tired. He didn’t call me on Saturday night, and I couldn’t get through on his phone. It was the first time in months that I didn’t talk to him. Sunday, mom said, was worse. He was barely awake. One of the last, clear things he said to my mom was to stroke her hair and tell her he was so happy. When she left so his other daughters could visit, he was asleep again. I set up a Skype visit for Monday, February 1st, knowing I would be saying goodbye.

The video call was rough. He was unconscious and struggling to breathe. I told him that the past year with him had been wonderful, I loved talking to him and learning about him, that he was so important to me, and that, more than anything, I wished we’d had more time. I had hoped we had more time. Honestly, until that call, I had been hoping for a “rally”. It was clear, however, that was not going to be the case. By this point, he was not present in any real sense of the word.

He passed away a little before 2 pm today, as I was working on this entry. His daughter texted me to let me know. I am going through so much right now. I am tired, sad, angry, numb. Sometimes all at once. I know he loved me. I struggle with the knowledge that I will never hear his voice again. He was such a mystery for so much of my life, and in the past year, I felt hungry for that connection. And now, it is just gone. It hurts in my heart, and it’s going to be a while before I feel better.

I know he loved me. I know he was a flawed man who was brilliant and quick, and who TRIED. I know he struggled, and I know he felt things deeply. And even with all this pain, I know I wouldn’t have traded this past year for anything.

I love you right back, Dad.

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