We didn’t always say “I love you” to each other, but in his latter years, when we did, with increasing frequency, dad would say, “I love you more.”
This remembrance came to me this week as surprisingly deep wells of grief have opened, hearing about the passing of another in the group of friends who boated together for decades. Seven months since my father passed.
Dad once said to me that in his family, growing up, these words were never spoken. I don’t know where or when he decided to say, “I love you more” but it would make me smile every single time he did.
Even without the words, I knew he loved me. He knew I loved him. He loved me as unconditionally as he knew how and this was not easy for him – a perfectionist who liked order and control.
I learned to love him in the same way – as unconditionally as I knew how. I have written that he was not the easiest person to be around at times. He could be grouchy. He had moments of feeling sorry for himself. He had his own moments of deep grief that I witnessed through listening. Just listening; witnessing. Holding space for him and his process. Not trying to make it better, explain it away, side with anyone. At times he focused more on who wasn’t coming around than who did come around. He yearned for the joy, happiness and fun of the past when everyone was younger and mortality seemed a long ways a way. A past that our family friend was part of.
Dad knew his mind. He knew what he wanted. I came to recognize his humour. How he lit up when he gently flirted with waitresses or other young women he came into contact with, as inappropriate as that may be in this day and age, and even though my mother was his one and only true love. How he used to tell everyone, “She’s not my girlfriend…. She’s my daughter.”
He cherished his independence even while at times he was lonely. In the last year or so of his life, his ability to get around became increasingly impaired. He had leg pains and he couldn’t breathe. He had difficulty getting up from a chair and walking up stairs. I always honoured his independence. I would adjust my pace of walking to his. I would carefully watch him as he struggled to go up a set of stairs or get out of his seat. I would not do for him what he wanted to do for himself, even when it was hard to watch.
Last summer, we were trying to get him qualified for home oxygen, paid for by the province. We went to the hospital for a test but his legs gave out before his oxygen could register at a qualifying level. We were told, when I asked, he could go back for a retest. It was his idea to do the stairs because they taxed him more than just walking. I will never forget the young technician’s ashen face as he emerged through the door of the stairwell with my panting father. If he wasn’t so young, I think having dad on the stairs may have given him a heart attack! It did the trick though. Dad qualified for home oxygen. Unfortunately, it was not the “cure” dad hoped it would be.
I miss him even as I feel his presence with me every day. He is often in my dreams. I “saw” his welcoming committee when he arrived on the other side. I “see” him welcoming the newly transitioned friends as the clans regroup. I feel the emptiness of what was and the fullness of what is. I allow my grief to leak through my eyes as I smile at the memory of, “I love you more.”