A few hours before the running of the 142nd Kentucky Derby, I walked into an examination room in the emergency department of the hospital where I volunteer at every Friday. Laying on the bed, hooked up to cardiac monitors and IV’s, was my 74-year-old father.
(from left to right my mom, my dad and me – 2015)
Facing my verbal abuser
As quietly as I could. I sat myself down on the seat of my rollator, across the room from my father’s gurney. As I silently sat there, looking at the man who had been a good provider for our family, I was recalling all the years of verbal abuse I had either witnessed him inflict on my mother and brother and/or personally endured from him during my lifetime.
I flashed back to the night that he looked at a budget I had made when I was about 8 years old and said, “How are you ever going to get into college when you are too stupid to spell college correctly?”
I flashed back to the night that he set the birthday card that I had given him on fire because my brother and I had signed our last names to it.
In my mind I saw the nights when I and/or my bother stood in front of him for hours hearing him say “with grades like these you at not going to be anything but a stupid garbage man or a dumb janitor”
I recalled all the nights he fought with my mother and put her down because she did not drink, and he did. I remembered my brother and I holding each other in our arms, terrified by his yelling – especially the night he got so angry he put a hammer through the kitchen table.
With power comes great responsibility
That moment I realized the man who had verbally abused and terrified me as a child, the man people would walk miles to avoid, the man who I allowed to continue to a\verbally abuse and damage my self-esteem as an adult, was now powerless. With him being powerless, divorced from my mother and me being his oldest and only surviving son, I was now his legal next of kin. I also know that being his legal next of kin I would now have power over him – especially when it came to medical decisions that he was unable to make.
Some people may take an opportunity like this and use it for revenge against their abuser. But I am a man of integrity, I knew what I needed to do. I needed to set aside my issues I had with my father and be his advocate, and if I was to be his advocate I was going to do my very best to get the best care possible for him – after all he did the same for me when I was a small defenseless child battling health problems caused by rubella syndrome.
Taking the high road
For the next two months, I spent every day by his bedside in every room in every hospital he was in. During those two months, my father underwent several operations. When he was not sedated or on a vent, he was very confused when he was able to speak. Before Independence Day we learned that he had been living with sundowner’s syndrome (A form of dementia) for several years and he had not told the family.
Fearing that time is running out…
Every evening at home after learning he had sundowners, I knew that my time may be limited that I could have a conversation with my father while he was still somewhat in his right mind.
I began praying “Lord, if you can give my Dad just one day that he was thinking clearly, and I knew he could understand what I am saying, I promise I would tell him that I forgive him for everything that happened between the two of us. A-men”
One last July afternoon, while I was sitting in my Dad’s hospital room, I knew his mind was clear and he could understand what I was saying. I looked at my father, choked back my emotions and said “Dad, I forgive you for everything that happened between us during my lifetime.”
A little more than six months later, on the night of February 8th, 2017, I received a call from my father’s nurse and doctor: “Your father’s body temp has dropped to 85 degrees. He is actively dying”
I raced to the hospital and spend the last 52 hours of my father’s life by his side. Those last two plus days he was non-verbal. Early on the morning of February 11th, 2017 he took his last breath of air before passing.
My father died peacefully. When I returned home from the hospital, I was also at peace. Partly because he was no longer in pain, his mind was clear, and he was back home with his heavenly father, but because I had forgiven him before he passed.
Peace for the abuser and the victim
I’m thankful for my wife, Kimberly, who had been telling me for years that I needed to make my peace with my father before it was too late. She often said to me that forgiving him was more for me than for my father. I don’t know how much it meant to my Dad that I forgave him for what he had done – all those mean and hurtful words he had spoken to me – throughout my life before his passing, but I know that I am now able to move on with my life and begin the healing process from the scars that his words had left on me.