There isn't an easy way to say this, so I'll just say it: Dad is dying.
Of course, this isn't a great surprise. He's 93 years old and has Alzheimer's (or is it dementia? I'm still a little uncertain). I've written his obituary three times during the past three years. Each time we think something is going to take him from us--pneumonia, diabetes or a fellow care center resident with a surprisingly effective right hook--he rallies. If Dad were the Titanic he would have taken on water after he hit that iceberg, but somehow he still would have managed to limp into port.
Smiling sweetly, knot by waterlogged knot.
This time, however, the iceberg is going to win. Experts at the care center report that they've seen this scenario before, and the outcome is always the same. They give him a week or so, which should give me just enough time to make the 700-mile trip to see him and say . . .
What do you say at such a time? "I love you, Dad." Well, of course. That's a given. "You've made a profound difference in my life." Certainly. "We're all going to miss you." Absolutely. "Thank you." Yes--for a thousand different things. Even though I don't know how much he'll hear or understand, I plan to tell him all those things and more. But there's one thing I won't say to him when I see him this Easter weekend.
ESPECIALLY on Easter weekend.
I won't tell him "goodbye."
Sure, I understand that I won't see him again after this visit. And I'm aware of what a wonderful opportunity this is, relatively speaking. So often death comes suddenly, without any warning or time to prepare.
How many people would give anything for the chance to say a final "goodbye" to a loved one?
Believe me, this is not something I'm considering lightly. It's literally a matter of life and death--I know that. But if there's anything that being raised, loved, nurtured and instructed by this good man has taught me, it's this: life goes on.
And not just in the Lennon-McCarthy "oblahdee-oblahdah" sense, although Dad was a big believer in the Doctrine of Moving On.
It's what saw him through a promising athletic career that was thwarted by the Great Depression, and through two years of separation from his wife and five children during World War II, and through decades of business disappointments, financial struggles and family frustrations. His positive, forward-looking nature wouldn't allow him to dwell on past pains and failures. He was all about the next opportunity, the next big challenge, the next great adventure.
But more than just moving on with mortality, Dad believed that because of great and wondrous events that occurred on the first Easter some 2,000 years ago, life truly does go on, that death is not an end, and that families are forever. These beliefs--deeply held and intimately cherished--brought meaning and purpose to his life, just as they bring faith, hope, confidence and security to his death.
And that's why I won't say a final "goodbye" to Dad when I leave him this weekend. It would be inappropriate because neither he nor I believe that it IS a final "goodbye." Instead, I'll probably just say the same thing I always say when I leave him: "I'll see you later, Dad."
Because I will. I know I will.
Especially at Easter.