At dinner Thursday night, I saw a man walking into the restaurant who looked a lot like my father. I had the same reaction I’ve had for the last eight years. Every time I saw someone who looked like him, I thought he had found me and was coming to confront me.
It took me a couple of moments to remember that it couldn’t be my father this time — because my father was dead and cremated.
I suspect it’s going to take a long time for me to accept that he’s dead and that he can’t show up at some unexpected moment to scold me or tell me I’ve done something wrong.
Over the last year or so, my father showed up at my house multiple times — despite me making it very clear I wouldn’t talk with him except with a counselor. I had a serious concern that he would show up at my office and make a scene.
He had no understanding of boundaries — and even less respect for other people’s clearly stated boundaries. He ignored other people’s wishes if they conflicted with his own. He genuinely didn’t seem to understand that he didn’t have a right to exert control over people — and he especially felt he had the right to try to control his children.
When I first moved away from living with him, it took me years to relax in my own home. I can remember sitting on my own sofa with my feet propped up on my own coffee table — something which would have brought an angry condemnation from him — and feeling the irrational fear that he was going to see me through a window and scream at me. This sort of fear was common for years.
One of my sisters recently suggested that all three of his children suffer from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. I had never considered that, but the more I think about it, the more it seems probable. I have emotional triggers that other people can’t understand. I can get lost in my fears when one of those buttons is pushed — and then I feel a corresponding anger rising before I realize what’s going on.
A month hasn’t been enough for me to completely realize that I’m free of his trying to force himself on me, but how long is it going to take me to feel free of that old fear?
His death has also left me thinking even more about my own mortality. I expect to live for many more decades, but the death of parents seems to have this effect on many people.
I know we all have to die — and I accept that — but I’m nowhere close to being ready for death, because I haven’t done so much of what I had intended to do years ago. I haven’t achieved things that matter to me and I don’t have the family that I want so much.
There’s so much that lies ahead of me.
I have another reason that death is on my mind tonight. Or maybe it’s more appropriate to say that I’m thinking about how lucky I am to be alive — and about how I need to take advantage of this life.
I read a couple of days ago about the death of a woman who worked in the real estate industry here in Birmingham. I had met her but I didn’t know her well enough to even wonder what happened to her. But as I was walking in to the restaurant for dinner tonight, someone called to tell me what he had heard.
She was about 35 years old and she had to have her gall bladder taken out — exactly the same surgery I had in early January. The surgery seemed to go fine and she went home. Then she developed a fever and she felt awful.
The woman went back to the hospital, where it was determined she was suffering from sepsis. The infection had spread rapidly enough that her organs were shutting down. Doctors were able to get everything working again except her liver — and that killed her.
It’s a sobering story to me because it makes it clear to me how close I came to dying in January.
Hours after the surgery was over, the surgeon told me that my gall bladder turned out to be so diseased that it would have broken open and caused sepsis if I hadn’t had the surgery quickly. As a result, my surgery took three hours instead of the planned 30 minutes. He said I was very lucky that it hadn’t already ruptured, because that would have caused sepsis. He told me I very likely would have died.
It’s scary to me to think I came that close to possible death.
I feel saddened that my father’s death meant as little as it did. There were a few people who were certainly concerned about him, mostly those around whom he had been living for the past few years — those who knew nothing of his lies and dysfunctional past until he went into the hospital and the truth slowly started coming out.
Since his death, I’ve had his old MacBook Air and I’ve kept checking his various email accounts periodically. I thought I would eventually run across some friend who had been concerned and had written to check on him. Despite the fact that he’s been offline for two months — with no warning — not one single person has written to say, “Are you OK?”
My father’s death seems to have mattered little — but only because of the way he had lived his life.
I don’t intend to be like him. I want my death to matter to some people who love me — and I want to earn their concern and care by the way I live my life with them.
I can see my father’s life in a lot of different ways. I know I don’t yet have enough perspective about it, but just one month down the road, his death mostly seems like a cautionary tale — reminding me vividly to live my life in a way that I won’t end up alone and unloved.
His death teaches me a terrifying lesson. I don’t want to die alone.