My father, like most of us, was a much more complex individual than I had ever conceived; having conflicted views about life and its ultimate purpose. His rational explanations regarding his upbringing and the character of both his father and mother were taken on his word, by myself and others, without any thought other than to understand it at face value as the truth as best as his memory was capable of reproducing it; and thus the events of his life were recounted numerously and accepted . . . though I have no other lens to see his life through but his eyes and memories.
I might also mention here that my father was not a man of Christian faith though he was a believer in the Einstein partial belief of the cosmos at least being controlled by an intelligence which can be seen plainly behind all we continue to unravel through science as time moves on. Mathematics and orderliness seemed to indicate this but as to reconciling this with a personal God was not an insight given to him . . . or at least he was unable to grapple with this or assume anything beyond this one simple truth which he held on to throughout his life. He got this, in my estimation, from his father who also exclaimed the same thoughts though he often spoke of Jesus as simply one of many prophets . . . but not divine.
Dad was a loving son who was totally devoted to his father, a country doctor, who was himself a good and moral man, short on flaws and filled with a type of natural moral virtue; for it was clear that my father idolized his father, his wisdom, knowledge and unconditional love. His mother, on the other hand, was portrayed by my father in quite a different manner. She was a school marm who, in his early grades would slap him across the face and punish him publicly before the start of every class even if had done nothing to warrant it; presumably to show that there would be no nepotism in her class. So she was stern and yet unfair in her dealings according to my father who obviously felt no love from her in his upbringing and therefore in time there was no love lost in their mutual feelings for each other. On top of that, my grandfather, my dad’s mentor in all things, had been betrayed by my grandmother when he found himself in a dispute with my grandmother’s brother; my great uncle. This scandalized my grandfather and from that day forward he never forgave her. In fact, they never shared the marital bed again and they lived a life of continence though they continued to live a life of service to their family and fulfilled their duties. My grandmother continued her chores of cooking and cleaning while my grandfather earned the money and not only supported the immediate family but additionally he took care of my grandmother’s sister, a spinster her entire life. He performed these responsibilities until he died at the age of 87.
So that was the story as told and retold throughout my life. It remained so until 2010 when my father decided at the age of 90 to get elective surgery; his second knee surgery during his elder years. I will return to this in a minute with a short excursion into how my dad took the death of my grandfather and also his dealings with my grandmother as her life changed and eventually began to fade.
After my grandfather’s death, my grandmother and her sister continued to live in the house where they had lived all their adult lives. The sisters took care of one another and some weekly help was hired to aid them in the many chores that they could no longer perform on their own.
Now my father had an older sister, my aunt, who was close to her mother and probably a bit more removed from her father who held beliefs that were a quite different from hers (she was a Catholic convert due to marriage) and had a far more liberal outlook on life than her dad. For instance, she would argue with my grandfather concerning the merits of nationalized or socialized medicine. They only angered one another during such discourses. So they did not share the same bond which my father did.
Because my aunt was closer to her mother than my father was, one would expect that when my grandmother began to exhibit acute signs of dementia, that my aunt would be the obvious choice to take on her care. So it was bizarre when I found out that my father took on this task and moved grandmother to Florida and paid for a old age home (though it was admittedly a pretty poor facility.) He actually did go and visit her from time to time until her own demise and dad took care of all the arrangements including her burial. I know little of what my father was thinking in that time and he never spoke of it.
So now let me return to my father’s knee operation in 2010 which was neither advised by family, friends nor doctors at the time. He was far too frail for such an operation and the prognosis was most likely going to be his demise; which proved to be exactly what occurred.
After the operation, my brother and I visited him daily and spent much of each day at his bedside. He was not doing very well; not anywhere like the first knee replacement that he received in his 70’s. But he was awake and cognizant even though some dementia had started to exhibit itself probably a year before his operation and seemed to be getting worse. He would see things that nobody else saw and we simply were having a hard time seeing him as being capable of living on his own anymore.
But what my father began to see in his post operation dementia was what was extraordinary, at least in my mind. For almost every hallucination or vision had to do with his mother; that woman whom he seemed to loathe all of life. She visited him at his bedside, she could be seen walking in the halls outside of his room and almost no day went by from the day of the operation to his last dying breath did she leave him completely alone.
I would have thought, simply by his own love and grief that he held for his father for so many years, that the unconscious mind would have brought up visions of my grandfather to console him and to usher him through the portals of death into a new life. But that was not to be.
In my mind, this was a bit like a novel written by Flannery O’Connor. It was an awakening and reconciliation. It was also a change of heart and a type of perhaps a last confession to be made on his death bed. His last words, as he spoke of the beatings he used to receive from his mother as a child was, “I don’t know. Perhaps I did do something deserving of those beatings.” He felt relieved at saying this and letting go of his lifetime of anger and hatred. I think God may very well have given my father the one thing that he needed most. To remember love that somehow may have been forgotten and forgiving and forgetting those things that had haunted him and probably tortured him throughout his life.
Rest In Peace father and may God forgive you your sins as you forgive those who sinned against you.