Archive for February, 2017

A Year to the Day

Posted: February 20, 2017 in Uncategorized

“I wasn’t there that morning, when my father passed away

I didn’t get to tell him all the things I had to say…”

—Mike & The Mechanics, The Living Years

On February 20th, 2016, a man was taken from us. He wasn’t a great man, but he was a good one. To me, he was everything. Stephen Anselm Johnson was my father, my guardian and my best friend. He was there for me when no one else was. He took me in when I had nowhere to go. He provided for me even when it meant sacrificing what he wanted. He listened to what I had to say, and imparted what knowledge he had in return. We shared many of the same attitudes, humor, likes and dislikes. I could not have asked for a better man.

Then he was taken from me. This was the moment when the world said, “It’s time to stop being a child. You’ve had 39 years, now be an adult.” Even when he was sick, even when I was the one taking care of him, I hadn’t truly “grown up.” There was still a large part of me that refused responsibility, a part that believed  everything would go back to the way it had been: Dad would take care of me. He always had, he always would.

In retrospect, he did take care of me in his final months. Even as my depression, anxiety and stress reached new heights, he stayed optimistic. When we were facing eviction, he trusted that I would find a solution–and with one simple suggestion from him, I did. When the medical bills piled as high as a mountain, he trusted me to manage the finances–and I did. And his final gift to me is the home we shared ever so briefly. He insisted it be in my name. He said it was in way of thanks for all the care I’d given him, but I believe he knew deep down that he didn’t have long. He was looking after me and my future.

So when the time came, his optimism and patience had paid off. He had helped me become the adult he always believed I could be.

~ ~ ~

“The closer you come to death, the harder it gets.”

These were my father’s final words to me. He wasn’t able to speak them, and barely able to write them. I’ll never know exactly the true meaning behind them. The best I can assume was that Dad was talking about letting go. It was the only thing the doctors and I could seem to communicate with him about in those final days. He was going, and he knew it, but never was he ready to let go.

Dad fought for every minute. When he was still able to talk, all we talked about was what he would do once he was finally home: wonderful meals were planned, home improvements were discussed, and all of our conversation points about life, the universe and everything were bantered about. We talked about these things as if they were fact, inevitable. Dad was coming home, he was going to get better and we were going to have many years to come in our new home. Up until those last few days, we had no reason to believe any different.

I’m thankful for the extra days I was given to spend with Dad. Earlier that week I had the heart-to-heart with Dad about these things we should have talked about months ago, but never had the courage for.  But we finally got everything sorted out… almost everything. There was one very important thing left in the hospital’s hands, and they literally lost it. I was angry with them, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise; it gave me a few extra days to say goodbye. He was revived against our wishes, but I was told he wouldn’t survive the weekend. As I said, though, Dad wasn’t about to give up. The weekend became a week.

Sadly, I was unable to spend all that time with Dad. My compound stress reached breaking point at Dad’s near death, and me out extremely sick for two days and bedridden for a third. Luckily the nurses were keeping me up-to-date with  his condition and his prognosis was slowly improving. Which is why it was such a shock when I got the call that he was fading quickly. I didn’t even have time to get to the hospital.

There was little grieving to be done. Not that there wasn’t time, but rather most of it had already been done. What I felt most was relief that his suffering was finally over. There were tears, of course, I am still human. But time moved on, and I had to go with it.

The worst part of it all was the first few months after. I had accepted his death, as harsh a reality as it was. But there was a part of me, so conditioned to him coming in and out of hospitals for over two years, that expected to get a phone call any day telling me my father was stable enough to come home, to come pick him up.  In some ways, it was worse than the initial grief.

But as I said, time did not stand still. I had to be the adult. Bills to pay, mouths to feed and a furry friend to take care of. It hasn’t been easy, but I knew it wouldn’t be. I’m in a good place, but I still have episodes from time to time, and I haven’t done anything writing-wise in almost a year. But these are the wages of a soul-crushing, go-nowhere job.

One day at a time, it is getting better. There’s been some seriously tight scrapes, but I’ve kept my head and gotten through them. I’ve changed a lot in the last year, and I like to think for the better. Whenever I falter, I think of how there was one person who was always there, always believed in me, and helped me become the person I am now, able to face the future with the confidence that I can get through it.

I miss you, Dad. And I love you. Always and forever.

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