My good friend Rochelle got the call when I was sitting in her living room. Her 86-year-old dad was in an Arizona hospital and may not make it. She looked at me and asked, “Should I go?”
I stared at her in silence (screaming in my head, “Of course!”). Then I listened as she told her “Dad” story.
Yes, she adored him growing up; yes, he put her through college; yes, he was at her wedding; yes, she visited him in Phoenix—but there was no real relationship. In her adulthood, whatever fatherly responsibility he felt seriously began to deteriorate. Her dad told Rochelle he never loved her mother and cheated on her during their entire 30-year marriage before leaving her for another woman. Way too much information for a daughter. He told Rochelle he couldn’t travel from Arizona to Minnesota for her daughter’s high-school graduation, but a month later he traveled to Cancun for his stepson’s wedding. When Rochelle told him she may have cancer and would get the determining call from the Mayo that week, his response was, “I hope that works out for you.” He never called to ask about the final diagnosis.
Her stepmom borrowed money from Rochelle but wouldn’t allow Rochelle’s disabled sister to come to Arizona and visit because she didn’t want to have to “take care of her.” The list of slights and hurt goes on and on.
I sat, open-mouthed, listening to my friend recount these stories. Old wounds, but in the retelling, she suffered fresh pain. She had visited him a few months prior and brought her daughter. Her daughter’s birthday recently passed without acknowledgement from Grand-Pop or Step-Grandma. During the visit, Rochelle asked quietly to get a cake so they could celebrate her daughter’s belated birthday together. The response was, “Why should we? Your daughter wasn’t here for Grand-Pop’s birthday!” Oy.
These tales seemed unreal and made my stomach twist and eyes water. Now I knew why she was questioning going to Phoenix, even if the man was going to die. But I also knew she would regret it forever if she didn’t. Going to Arizona to say her final goodbye wasn’t for her father, it was for her.
The next day she was on a plane to Phoenix. When she walked into the hospital, she knew she had made the right decision. Upon seeing Rochelle, her dad’s wife snapped, “I can’t believe you gave the number to the nurses station to your sister… I don’t want her bothering them!” Wow.
Rochelle responded, “Can I please have a moment alone with my dad?” Despite the breathing machines and beeping vital signs, she knew he was gone. She talked to him, apologized, thanked him, forgave him, and said goodbye. The next day he died.
When Rochelle’s mom died a few years ago, she said she was left with a gift. As a child, Rochelle often felt burdened by guilt for being the healthy kid. But as soon as her mom died, all Rochelle wanted to do was love and care for her sister. She believes her mom left her with the gifts of understanding and compassion.
She said her dad left her the gift of gratitude. As soon as the doctors told them he was gone, Rochelle was filled with gratitude for the now-widow standing next to her. She was free from the animosity, anger, and resentment between them. She realized what a great wife this woman was to her very difficult dad and how she was a perfect partner for him. Rochelle’s only words at her father’s funeral were directed to her stepmother for the love and care she gave to her father. In the days following his death, Rochelle called his widow just to see how she was doing—and the calls were reciprocated. Wow.
I believe the answer to the question of whether or not go see a dying parent/relative/friend one last time is always yes. Not necessarily for them—go for yourself. Their death will likely release you from whatever negative emotions bound you together, but may also open you up to receive a gift from their passing.