67: Seven Twenty

67: Seven Twenty

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven

Seven Twenty

Sometimes the poorest man leaves his children the richest inheritance.

~Ruth E. Renkel

My dad and I had always had a rocky relationship. To many in our small community, Dad was a hero. From years as a volunteer firefighter, to an EMT who had earned more than one certification for saving a life, to a jail officer who had saved an inmate from hanging, Dad always seemed to be at the right place at the right time. Except with me.

When I was four and playing a coveted game of Candy Land with Dad, the fire whistle would take him away from me. One Thanksgiving, Mom, my grandparents and I spent it without Dad as he left to take an ambulance call because the assigned EMT refused to take the call on a holiday. It’s no wonder that I felt I came in second in Dad’s life.

Dad was a diabetic who refused to take care of himself. As he approached sixty, his eyesight began to fail and it became necessary to amputate toes and parts of his feet. He could no longer drive fire trucks or volunteer his services during the annual fundraising Fourth of July celebrations. He had to take disability and quit his job. This was really hard for a man whose life was committed to helping others.

Old hurts ran deep and I seldom talked to him. When he called and told me he was in a nursing home, I felt sorrow, but not enough to attempt a reconciliation.

Over the next few years, I visited Dad occasionally and had brief conversations. We were wary of each other and careful to sidestep important issues and not bring up any old wounds.

In April of 2006 Dad called one Sunday afternoon and told me he was in the local hospital. He had suffered a heart attack and would be transferred to a larger, better equipped medical facility in the nearest city. The ambulance would not arrive for an hour for the transfer, so I jumped in the car and drove the twenty minutes to be with him.

Maybe it was then, seeing him so vulnerable and sick and alone, that my perception of him began to change. He had told me not to come — not to bother — it would be such a short time before he was transferred. But I could tell by the mist in his eyes he was grateful I had ignored his request.

Dad recovered from the heart attack and returned to the nursing home, but his kidneys failed. Three days a week he had to be transported to the city for dialysis. Once Mom and I took him when the facility’s van was being repaired, and I saw firsthand how difficult the trip and maneuvering in the wheelchair was for him.

He developed an unbearable pain in his back and ended up in the hospital. I went there one beautiful autumn day. Somehow the walls began to come down and Dad told me he was sorry that I felt he placed others ahead of me. I told him I was sorry I hadn’t understood how much his generosity to his community meant to him. Thirty years of resentments melted away and the walls that had built up crumbled. Then and there Dad became my hero and I knew he loved me more than all his “projects.”

The pain and dialysis became too much for him. He decided to stop the dialysis treatments. We both knew this meant two weeks or so for him to live. I hated to lose him, but it was his choice. I told him I loved him and gave him my unconditional support.

He slipped into a coma. I had a feeling he could still hear me, and sat by his side and talked to him about everything and anything. I even sang “Found a Peanut,” over and over. This was a favorite song of his that he would regale me with endlessly when I was a child. I smiled, as I imagined him telling me to knock it off.

That evening at home, I sat at my computer when all of a sudden the pungent aroma of his aftershave, combined with the distinct antiseptic smell of his nursing facility, filled the room. Dad was there. I knew what that meant.

A few minutes later a call from Dad’s nurse confirmed what I knew. Dad had just passed away. He had visited to give me a final goodbye. He had died at 7:20 — the date of my birth — July 20. I can’t think of any better way for a father to reaffirm his love to his daughter.

~Jennifer L. Short

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