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80 Years Ago

Archives 2001 09-12-2001

North County Lines by Bob



My father died last year after Thanksgiving. He went out without a whine or a whimper, in his own room, in his own bed, exactly like he wanted, exactly like he planned. He exhaled his last breath. His light faded and disappeared. His body was cold and gray within seconds.

My feelings were mixed at the time. Sad because he was gone. Glad because he was no longer in pain. Angry because his cancer was discovered too late.

When I went back home recently, Mom asked me to go through my father's things. "Keep what you want. Get rid of the rest."

I didn't want to go through Dad's things. But I promised Mom I would.

Box after box after box, Dad's things were stacked all over the place. In his bedroom closet. In the utility room. In the two spare utility sheds. In the attic. In the garage.

The thought of sorting through all the boxes was overwhelming. But then I remembered something Dad taught me. To complete a big job, divide it into smaller jobs.

I was approaching the task from the wrong direction. Instead of focusing on the dozens and dozens of boxes stacked all over the place, I needed to concentrate on one box at a time.

One step followed by the next. You can't get to the end of the road in one giant leap. If you could, you wouldn't appreciate the trip.

Dad also taught me to work as hard as I can to do my best. This doesn't mean doing things perfectly. Perfection is unattainable. But doing your best can always be achieved if you're willing to try.

When I agreed to sort through the boxes, I did so under one condition. Everyone, including my mother, had to leave me alone while I was going through Dad's things.

I was about to open the first box, when it hit me. I didn't have to go through the boxes, I could load them up and carry them to a thrift shop. But a little voice in my head said, "Nope, that wouldn't be right."

Deep within I knew sorting through the things in the boxes wasn't really about sorting through things, wasn't really about deciding what to give away and what to keep. In the end, things are only things. When compared to love, things have no value.

When compared to my love for Dad, the things in the boxes were worthless. But I needed to sort through them.

Touching something that once belonged to Dad then letting it go was a way to face the reality of his death. Don't run. Don't hide. Do what needs to be done, no matter how badly it hurts.

I sorted through the boxes, placing things to keep in one pile and things to give away in another.

When I felt like I could stand it no longer, I would step outside and breathe deeply several times. Then I would return to the boxes.

When I finished dozens of boxes were packed with things to give away. One was less than half full of things to keep.

I hauled the things to give away to a Hospice thrift store.

The nurses from Hospice treated Dad with kindness and compassion. They didn't sugarcoat the truth. They gave it to me straight. "Your father's dying. All we can do is try to reduce the pain."

I appreciated that. No false hope. No pretending Dad would get better.

A few minutes after Dad died, I was searching for the number to call a hearse, when a nurse from Hospice arrived. I explained what had happened.

"Want me to call?" she asked.

All I could say was, "Please."

As Dad's body was placed in the hearse, I saw his thick, gray hair sticking out from under a sheet. He was proud of his hair. He didn't lose any during chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

After Dad died, several friends commented on the need to find closure following the death of a parent. I'm not sure where they got that notion.

Suffering from the death of a parent doesn't begin here and end there. Life isn't a mathematical solution, leading from A to B to C. Life is a gift, not a problem to be solved.

Dad is dead. I miss him and always will. But he's not far away.

I hear and see him in the speech and actions of my brothers and my sons. His eyes look back at me in a mirror.

Whenever I'm hammering a nail or sawing a piece of lumber or writing a story, Dad will be there making sure I do my best.

Dad will live inside my heart as long as I'm alive. Although I can't touch him, he will be there, listening and responding in ways that don't require words.



Overton County News
415 West Main Street
P.O. Box 479
Livingston, Tennessee 38570
tel 931.823.6485
fax 931.823.6486

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