Tomorrow is the third anniversary of my father’s death. It wasn’t a surprise and I would almost categorise it as a relief. He was sick for many years, sick of many diseases and ailments. I know what got him in the end but it could have been any number of things. It doesn’t really matter. And while he still took joy in the odd moment here and there, he wasn’t the person he wanted to be anymore and he was probably ready to go. It was my first experience losing an immediate family member. And it was instructive.
It’s often been said that the first time a person starts to really feel their own mortality is when they lose a parent. Not under tragic circumstances but in the natural order of things. I was forty-eight at the time and that’s not an unusual age to lose a parent. My father had his first heart attack when he was forty-eight so I had little expectation that he would have lasted this long. But rational reflection and emotional response are often incongruous.
He would have been turning seventy-seven this year. He had polio as a kid and in a sense his whole life seemed to be on borrowed time. Every day was an act of defiance in the face of the longest of odds. He was the eldest of eight, eight children who had an alcoholic and abusive father and a severely health-challenged mother. It was a broken home in real and metaphorical ways and that anyone survived it astounds me. It’s a testament to the courage and perseverance of my uncles and aunts that they made good lives for themselves coming from such circumstances.
My father wasn’t a great man. At times he did bad things, things he would regret for the rest of his life, but for the most part, he did good things. He was a good man. And he was a better man in the latter part of his life. He learned and he gained wisdom and he knew he was learning and gaining wisdom. Beyond that, he was among the most loyal people I have ever encountered. Of the hundreds or thousands of people I’ve known, my father may have been the most loyal person I’ve ever met. Particularly to his family. He would have died for his family, given the opportunity. Without question and without hesitation.
He was a flawed person, like each of us, who exhibited some of the most admirable qualities to the utmost degree. Courage, loyalty, and love of family. I miss him and I think about him often. He may be as big a part of my life today as he was ten years ago. I just see him less frequently. Tomorrow I will go to his grave, say hello, and if he’s still somewhere in some way, he might somehow hear me tell him I love him.