It was two days after Christmas when my mother woke us up that fateful morning thirty years ago. My sister and I had started sleeping in the same room again. There was no discussion about it. We just needed the comfort another person can provide. I was twelve, my sister eleven.
I remember the look on my mother’s face. Her eyes were swollen. Her lips pursed.
“I have good news and bad news. The good news is your father is no longer suffering. The bad news is he is gone.”
The rest of the day felt like a dream. We’d just spent Christmas Eve at his house and he had been smiling and laughing. He didn’t look like a man who was about to die. How could he just be gone?
A few days later, I sat nestled in between my aunt and my uncle in the front of the church during the funeral. My mother was relegated to the back of the church since she was the ex-wife. At that point, I couldn’t cry. As the preacher’s voice resonated in the chapel, petals from the blanket of flowers lying on the casket began to fall off. For some reason, all I could do was laugh though I did disguise my laughter into sobbing. Several months would go by before I could really cry about what had happened.
My father had brain cancer. He was 36 years old when he died. Despite all the chemo and radiation, he quickly lost his fight with this disease. At the reading of the will, my father left my sister and I almost nothing but chose instead to leave most everything to my step-mother.
As I grew up and became a mother, I then became hurt about how little my father had left us. How do you not take care of your children - especially when you know you are dying? It left me feeling confused and at times, angry. I loved my children so much that I couldn’t imagine not being sure they were taken care of.
I watched my sister grow bitter. My father’s family quit calling soon after the funeral. We reached out several times but it felt awkward and forced. It was just easier to stay away. And to remain angry.
Over the years, I’ve never quit missing my father. A couple of months ago, my father’s sister sent some pictures to me that she’d found when cleaning out my recently deceased aunt’s house. There were pictures of my parents together in a time before I had a memory. And there were pictures of that last Christmas. They took my breath away. In those pictures, my father looked swollen, pale, sickly. Not at all like the picture in my memory.
For me, time has healed a lot of wounds. Unfortunately, for my sister, her bitterness has festered and grown. Now, I think I understand why he didn’t leave us much in his will.
He didn’t plan on dying.
And for that, I can easily forgive him.