Who’s Helping Who? My Last Year with Dad



“We are all just walking each other home”     Ram Doss


Life is a long, continuous movement from one very ordinary and mundane moment to the next. I can either experience it as monotonous and boring, or I can experience it charged and electric with beauty and grandeur and emotion.

It all depends on whether I am connected to the pulse underneath—if I am alert to the miraculous that is available in each unplanned moment and circumstance.

But then there comes the huge hits—those life displacements that crash down upon us like an enormous rogue wave slamming into our little unprepared vessels, capsizing us and leaving us hanging on to whatever is above water for dear life.

Such was my Dad’s life in the summer of 2000 – and such was mine.

Dad had just lost his wife of 50 yrs.(mom) and was suffering from chronic COPD. After over seventy years of active and dedicated family life, and fifty years of marriage, he was alone and facing his own mortality, a terrifying proposition for a man who had built his life around home and family.

At the same time, I was going through my own dark night.

I had lost my job, my family, and my home because of alcoholism, and had just emerged from a long-term recovery house. I was scared, I was lonely, I was depressed.

So, in the early summer of 2000 I found myself on the front step of my Dad’s home with two army duffel bags–one full of books, and one full of clothes.

This was new territory. I had left home many years ago at the age of eighteen, returning only sporadically for a week here and there. I became very busy at working, raising a family and becoming an alcoholic. I grew apart from my mom, my siblings, and especially my dad.

Before moving out to live with Dad, my friend and mentor gave me this one piece of advice (read assignment). — “Go be helpful–That’s your only job”

That year Dad and I were both valiantly trying to hold up a strong front—like good mid-westerners, “nothing to see here, everything is fine”. But when the sun went down in the evening, the darkness of our loneliness would overtake us, and Dad would retreat to his room and I mine, and we would collapse in tears.

Emerging, with moist and puffy eyes, we re-committed to enter the world and try again.

For that year, we held onto each other in our separate but equal pain. We went to movies, and we read Harry Potter books, and we planted flowers and trees, and we went for drives, and we talked about movie stars, and politicians, and my new job.

He cooked, and I would clean. We talked like two adults who were fond of each other. And over time we became something we were never— friends.

He was no longer the Dad of an eighteen-year-old boy trying to prove he could live on his own. On “Father’s Day” I told him I loved him and that he had become one of my best friends, and he wept.

As the months went by, I was getting stronger and feeling hopeful. The sense of self-pity and self -loathing had disappeared. I was now working and paying my way, and re-establishing my communications with my children—while Dad was getting progressively worse.

In Dad’s last hospital episode, which had become regular, I had “smuggled” his toy boston terrier Maxie up to the hospital’s intensive care ward to visit. As I brought Maxie out from under my long coat, Dad beamed—his eyes shimmering as he and Maxie connected.

A week later, Dad passed away, asleep in his favorite chair.

This year of living with my dad replaced my boyhood images of him with an adult reality. Through observing in each other our vulnerability and our humanness, we would discover and appreciate each other anew. I was able to reach for what was real in him, and in reaching, I came to love him anew. In finding Dad, I had found myself.

That day on the front step of Dad’s home in 2000 was one of the lowest points in my life, and yet, it has turned out to be the very point of a new departure. It has become the foundation for every good thing in my life that has followed.

Life is like that. Events that at first seem to be irrecoverable, in God’s hands turn out to be the catalyst of a new and better life.

So, as it turns out, while I was walking Dad to his heavenly home, he was walking me back to mine.

Thanks, Dad







13 Responses

  1. Martha

    April 26, 2017 7:19 pm

    Thank you for sharing this sweet triumphant journey. I was there in your dads last few days. Little did I know where you traveled from and to.

  2. Johnna Dvorak

    April 23, 2017 11:45 pm

    Tears~thank you for sharing this very personal experience in a way that seemed so effortless and eloquent. I could actually feel your love for your dad and his love for you. What a gift~

  3. Deb Treibel

    April 23, 2017 3:03 pm

    Wow! When I first started reading I wasn’t expecting to end up in tears. Thank you for sharing this beautiful journey with your dad. You are such an inspiration to others fighting addiction and using your life to help others. This letter is a blessing to your family. Keep on writing and sharing your story.


I welcome your response and comments