What Losing My Father Taught Me About Parenting, Planets and Pain
When we said goodbye, last New Year’s Eve, my father had already become hard of hearing. The end was very near. In our final video chat, I was able to show him how the rug from his childhood home, which we carried back across the Atlantic in an oversize suitcase on the plane, fit just perfectly in our new living room. My father marveled, through his small phone screen, at the size of our lush green garden, the towering, bending palms, the ancient olive tree. He delighted in hearing about our weekend walks down the windy Mediterranean seashore. From our terrace, I could use my phone to show it to him: a stretch of turquoise in the hazy distance. He admired the view from my new home office, virtually visited the kids’ messy bedrooms, and toured the kitchen, and the stone steps up from the road to the front door.
He called again the next day, but somehow, though my phone was increasingly glued to the palm of my hand, I didn’t hear the ring. I spoke to him one last time the following morning, between sobs, as my mom held the phone to his ear. He managed to blurt out my nickname, but nothing more, before fading away. For weeks I wondered what he had called to say, what I had missed that day before, when he was still able to utter words. What important message had he wanted to perhaps impart, before silence set in?
In the many sleepless nights since, I’ve reviewed our final conversations. In the darkest hours, I’ve revisited and revisited many of our last walks, our visits, those light-filled moments as a complete family, and finally, I’ve found comfort and solace in the pattern of our chats, in the single meaning behind each and every thought my father shared.
Like the darkness that holds together our universe, there’s a line in the sand connecting each grain of thought; he was, in fact, saying more than I’d understood, overwhelmed as I was by his dying, and by my grief. His questions and enthusiasm about our future were not just vessels for denial, or avoidance. They weren’t signs that he had nothing more pressing on his mind, nothing larger he wished to discuss.
This focus of his, in hindsight, reflected everything that mattered to him most, which was his family; it was us. Our happiness, our health, our comfort, our continuing existence in this world he was too soon departing. In the end, I realize what my father left me with were just the lessons I needed, to remain resilient through this move, his illness and death, and now also this pandemic.
My father was a fan of Winston Churchill, and as I carry my grief forward with me, along with these lessons from the man who brought me into this world, I’m reminded of a famous quote by this politician he admired: “This is not the end,” Churchill said. “It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Although I’m already decades into my life, like a new phase of the moon, the loss of my father also feels like a new beginning — one without a parent who’s been there every step of the way, so far.
Lorraine Allen is a writer based in Valencia, Spain.