I interviewed my father days after we found out he was palliative. He had only a few weeks left to live, and this reality set us all into a bit of a tail spin. While we knew time was running out, we also felt it slow down, like watching a hummingbird mid-flight. The day before I sat down with him, he was in a time warp of his own. In a hurry to drive himself for a haircut he said he needed, and to put gas in their car so mom wouldn’t have to. The pain he’d been experiencing had begun affecting his clear-headedness and balance, and when he got out of the car after his “necessary” road trip, he ended up taking a nasty spill. He could not get himself up and to the front door, so he just sat on the steps leading up from the driveway for a while. Later that day the doctor would say it was probably a broken shoulder, and that little could be done aside from wearing a sling and giving him something for the pain. Little could be done…. This seeemd to be the key to our distorted sense of time and urgency. He knew that soon he would not be here. He knew he’d want a haircut, and that mom needed gas. He wanted to feel normal. He wanted to be productive. He wanted to “help” in some way. He wanted to do something other than sit around and think about dying. The day after the fall he accepted he could no longer drive, or go out on his own. He admitted he had been hasty and foolish. As I sat down across from him on the couch with my coffee asking if he was comfortable, or if he needed something else for the pain, he asked me to interview him. “You’ve never interviewed me”, he said. “You’ve interviewed mom and Granny Mary. I think you should interview me.” He was right. I’d done a few interviews about my grandmother’s life, my sisters’ adoptions, and my mom’s experience finding them, yet I had never really sat down with him. He directed me to where I might find a pen and paper, and I asked if I could record our conversation. He agreed, and I asked my mom to give us some time alone. I knew that with her there she would naturally want to chime in, and now that I knew we were doing this, I also knew I wanted it to just be his words I would scribe. I started with his favorite food, song and what he liked to do in his free time. I think I started slow as much for him as for me. I had this overwhelming urge to breakdown, while knowing in my heart that there would be time for that, and this time was about him sharing what he seemed to want to share. My father wasn’t someone who often wanted to talk, so this was big and worthy of my full attention. I also knew that for him to really open up I would need to guard my fear and hurt over his impending departure. So I put on my cheerful interviewer face, and with each question inched forward from the superficial to the profound. I won’t share it all here. It will have its own place in my writing. It’s own chapter. For now, I want to tell you about one sweet analogy he gave that day that has stayed with me for the almost 3 years since we said our final goodbye. An anology that I was reminded of in a dream the night before last. “It’s like a doorbell Shan”, he said. “A doorbell?”, I asked. I wasn’t sure if the pain had muddled his thoughts. We had just been talking about how we, as a family, had really come together since closing the circle and finding my sisters. Our connection had deepened. He went on, “Our family has always worked that way. When one person needs something, they just call and someone else will answer. When you need me, I will be there. Always. Just ring the doorbell and I will come”. Silence filled the space between us. We both let his promise, and what it really meant sink in.
Since his passing, I have listened to the audio of that interview many times. I have held the notes I took on his blue computer paper using his pen and wept. How far we’d come in closing the gap between us. How I would love to sit down with him today and ask him to tell me more. Just hearing his voice brings me right back. Every morning I sit with my coffee to journal beside his picture. Every morning, I say “Good morning Dad”. I have felt him with me in countless ways, and have on occasion seen him in my dreams. A couple of these dreams featured doorbells. The dreams always seem to come when I need them most. When I have been praying for some solution to a problem, or for strength to overcome something in my life. The night before last the dream was of me being awakened to the sound of a doorbell ringing. It was night and I was in the apartment that I grew up in. While I was frightened for a moment as to who could be ringing the doorbell in the middle of the night, when I looked down the long hallway to the door a sense of calm washed over me. I could see a glowing white light backlighting our front door. I knew in an instant it was him, realizing it was he who was answering my call; at the door when I needed him. As soon as this awareness flooded my heart I woke up, my face wet with tears.
To all of you reading this who have lost your fathers, may you feel them close today, remembering all the ways you showed up for each other. For me, for now, I am going to hang on to that dream, and that interview, knowing my dad always showed up when I needed him. Always. While I know he can no longer reach me in the same way, I also know that our souls are still connected, and that that connection cannot be severed. I will take comfort in knowing, that somehow, someway, his wisdom and grace continue to guide my head and my heart. Thank you Dad for always answering my call.