“Is this it?” my father asked me, looking small under the blankets. There wasn’t much of him left.
“Well,” I said, and told him about his four brilliant, accomplished children, his seven wonderful grandchildren, how we got our love for intellectual inquiry and our liberal politics from him. He nodded. I don’t think it was enough.
I didn’t know enough about his professional life to reassure him about that. My sister could do that, on her visits. But I don’t think that was enough, either. He’d stopped doing research, didn’t publish much after a while. He wasn’t a star.
Four days before he died, Amy, the woman he loved after my mother died, came to visit. She held his hand and talked in her too-soft voice and I knew he couldn’t hear, but he told me later it was just nice to look at her. He basked in her presence.
She had refused his marriage proposal, but convinced him to remain friends. Did he need the adoration of a woman to feel complete? He had that from my mother for 55 years. But he lived five more years without her, alone.
“Is this it?” He didn’t have a god or religion to turn to. He wasn’t a warm person. He was ambivalent about living his last two years in my first floor apartment. He was lonely. I never expected to be enough, and Amy would go months without a visit. I took him to the local senior center once, but his impaired hearing limited his interactions. He didn’t ask to return until he was more or less immobile, days from dying, and I had to tell him gently I didn’t think that would work.
He didn’t die peacefully, but he didn’t live peacefully either. He was a mostly tortured soul. I spent a lot of years in therapy talking about the hurts of our family, dominated by his misery. But I was lucky enough to reach a place of forgiveness, I don’t know how. Lucky thing.
I missed the moment he died, out walking my dog, but I knew he would have approved of that. My sister and brother were there. The last moments were calm, at least. Breathing, and then not breathing.
I guess that was it.