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CASIGY Father’s Day Reflections

Father’s Day has always been a complicated day for me. I shared in a recent post how Mother’s Day was not my favorite holiday. But Father’s Day has been complex and difficult in different ways.  A daughter’s relationship with her father can also be difficult. Our relationship with our parents changes through the years, and it changes again when they die. How is this different for CASIGYs™ (Creative, Acutely Aware, Super-Sensitive, Intense, and/or Gifted You-s)? Why, it’s all of these things, with more creativity, more awareness, more sensitivity, and more intensity. This post shares some CASIGY Father’s Day Reflections, reflecting first on some early memories and then focusing on three moments toward the end of his life.

My father, pictured here holding me when I was very young, was a pastor of multiple churches in small towns in Wisconsin. I heard him preach sermons about God, and how to understand and relate to God. I saw him be there for parishioners when they were hurting. I saw him study and work hard preparing his sermons, and I knew better than to interrupt him when he was at his desk in his home office. How did I know better? I knew better because it was the rule. I knew better because if I interrupted him, he would get red in the face, stand up and yell loudly. I have no idea what he said. I just knew that I didn’t want to trigger THAT response again. So I knew better.

He was also an outdoorsman. He love to take long walks in the woods, or to canoe on the many lakes and rivers around us. He would carry binoculars and a “Bird Book” and look for the birds we would hear, hoping to identify them.  I would tag along when I could, almost running to keep up with his fast pace. And I would hope for a chance to talk with him, but more often than not, I would not know what to talk about. Or I would be afraid to break the silence, which sometimes would be so thick you could cut it with a knife. What I did not know then, was that these were times when he was deep in thought, with his mind traveling far along the long Introvert Thought Pathway in his brain, and I somehow sensed this.

Once I was married with children of my own, our relationship changed again. This time, I noticed how his harshness and his sensitivity impacted my children. I noticed how he would intervene with them as if they were HIS children, and would tell him that I was the parent, and he the grandparent, so it was up to me–not him–to set the rules and enforce them.

So when Father’s Day rolled around, all of these things (and more) would show up inside of me in subtle ways. In addition, my birthday is in mid June. So my birthday was sometimes on Father’s Day and my birthday celebration was almost always combined with Father’s Day. As a child and teenager, my selfish immaturity made me reticent to share the occasion and the attention. Now Father’s Day is even more complex because we have so many generations of fathers in the family, and also because my father has been gone for many years.

Three times stand out for me as worthy of deeper, more involved reflection, and as having potential to be of benefit to you in your reflections on your relationship with your father. In hope that this is so, here they are:

Choosing Life

My father fought prostate cancer for over 30 years. He had surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Each one helped. Each one also took a toll. The radiation shrunk the tumors, but burned his bladder, leaving him with frequent bladder infections, pain and reduced capacity.  He had to go to the bathroom every 15 minutes.   This meant he could walk to the mailbox and back with his dog, but he couldn’t go on the long walks or bike rides he loved and that he also needed to keep up his strength.

He couldn’t ride in the car anywhere that wasn’t within 15 minutes of a bathroom, and traveling to see the dentist or to volunteer as a hospital chaplain (his former career) became a major event requiring research and careful planning. Where could he find restrooms?  Were they clean enough to use?  How much additional time would it take?

He would have to leave church two or three times during the service.  He was a retired pastor and chaplain, and leaving the service seemed irreverent to him.  He was torn: should he interrupt the service to leave and come back, or just stay away? All of this was excruciating—for him to experience, and for us to watch.

One doctor offered him hope to return to a more normal life. So, at the age of 80, he opted for surgery that would take tissue from his intestines to rebuild and enlarge his bladder. It would be a long, complex procedure, and held significant risk. We supported his decision, though none of us fully understood what it meant for him.

We expected that he would have some outpatient pre-op testing to do. He did, but there was still more that needed to be done. He was admitted to the hospital the day before the surgery was scheduled for some of the pre-op testing. The night before the surgery, we crowded into his tiny two bed hospital room: my Mom, my brother Glenn, his wife Donna and their grown daughter Kathy, my husband Gary and one of our teenage sons Chris, my mother’s sister Jean and myself.

Everyone seemed jovial except me. I couldn’t get the test results out of my mind. It revealed that my father’s heart was enlarged from apparent childhood rheumatic fever and also that he had had a silent heart attack at some unknown time in the past. The doctors were much less optimistic about the outcome of the surgery after finding these things, but this news didn’t seem to faze Dad.

As I half-listened to everyone’s chatter, I pondered how his shrunken bladder had shrunk his life and made it impossible for him to continue to live inside the restricted 15 minute segments of time. I considered his decision to have the surgery no matter how great the risk. The significance of the risk he was taking silently seeped into me, and got stuck in my throat.

When it came time for us to leave, I hung back and let everyone else, even my mother, leave his room. I choked back the lump in my throat, stepped up close and leaned down to him.  As I hugged him, I blurted, “I hope that when I’m 80 years old, I will have as much courage as you have, to be willing to risk the life you have to go for a better one, like you are doing.” He hugged me back. I kissed him on the cheek, told him I loved him and would be praying for him, and scurried down the hall to catch up with the others.

After the surgery, he hovered between life and death for the eternity of a few days.  I sat quietly with my mother in the cramped two bed almost-ICU room, watching the nurse care for my father and his roommate. I found myself listening to the monitors beeping seeing the lights flashing, and reflecting on what was happening around me.  I then found myself praying for Dad’s recovery ─ or his passing ─ whichever would serve him better. I hoped he would return to us again, to serve in his church, work in his garden, ride his bike, walk his dog, and do all the other things he loved. But if he did not, I knew that he would leave this world triumphant.  He loved life enough to fight the cancer over and over again, and now he wasn’t satisfied with half a life; he wanted a rich, full one, and he had put everything on the line for it.

His courage and risk taking also revealed something else to me.

At each major crossroad that each of us encounters, and in every developmental stage we move through, from infancy through old age, we are truly faced with the same dilemma and the same decision he faced.  In order to improve and expand, life always requires the same thing: we first have to be willing to give up who we are and also what we have.

Not that we have to give it all up, but we need to be willing to risk it all without knowing the outcome, in order to get what is better.  Anything less is a bare existence, and is not really living. My father showed me that it is the risking, not the results, that’s significant.

In the end, Dad returned to us, and his risk-taking won him another eight years of life, but not until he had fought his way back through an arduous recovery process. He did eventually take those long walks with his dog, long rides on his bike, work in his garden, volunteer as a chaplain, stay in church through the whole service, and even teach and preach some more.

In his willingness to risk his life to improve it, he showed me that whenever I am merely existing, when my life capacity seems too small, and I am tempted to shrink to fit inside my life’s restrictions, I may instead choose to gather up my courage, and take the risk that’s needed to enlarge my life, no matter how huge the risk seems.

 He showed me that when I risk, I can know that when love and trust win over fear and doubt, I will be triumphant.  I will have chosen life, and that’s all that matters. 

~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Where Am I?

My father had been in home hospice a few months. I had known that the time would come when he could no longer stay at home, just not how or when. I also had no idea how difficult the decision would be to make, and then to carry out to transfer him from home to inpatient hospice.  When we considered this decision, emotionally, it felt like I would be giving him a death sentence by moving him to a higher level of hospice care.

Here I was–a social worker who had worked for many years in hospitals and in hospice–not coping well when my father was the patient. I knew death was inevitable for him, yet sending him to inpatient hospice felt like I was an accomplice in a crime, like I was hastening or even facilitating his death. Even though the decision was a joint one with my brother and our spouses, and even though intellectually I knew that it made no sense, the weight of this decision fell heavy on my shoulders.

One Sunday in March of 2004, Dad was dramatically weaker than he had been the day before.  My brother Glenn had come for the weekend from his home in Maryland.  My husband Gary and I were taking Glenn to the airport to fly back home. As we drove out E470 toward Denver International Airport, we discussed our dilemma.  Dad had fallen several times recently.  Luckily, he had not injured himself or Mom, but each time it took more effort to lift him up. We were afraid that if he fell again in this weakened state he would injure himself, or maybe fall on Mom and injure her, too. We didn’t want her to fall and end up in the hospital with broken bones while he was dying, but we didn’t trust ourselves to know what we were seeing or what to do.  So as we sped toward DIA, I phoned the weekend on-call hospice nurse to ask her to come help us decide what to do. She met Gary & I back at my parent’s house. She agreed that it was time to take Dad to inpatient hospice. My father seemed to understand and agree, too.  Gary helped him into the wheelchair, into the car, and off we went to Porter Hospice at the Johnson Center.

It was a great relief to have people around us who were able to help both him and us. They knew what was happening; what he needed, and could help us all. They had been on this roller coaster before, and knew its ups and downs, twists and turns. They created a calm and peaceful place, like a caterpillar cocoon.

That first evening as Mom took her jacket out of the closet, preparing to go home for the night, Dad started to get out of bed and asked for his jacket, too. I was the one closest to his bed, so I responded: “No, Dad, you need to stay here.  You can’t come with us. You need more care than Mom can give you at home. Remember last time you fell? You almost fell on her. It took two of us to get you up. We don’t want both of you to get hurt.”  He got back in bed, we told him good night, hugged him one more time, and left.

The second night, he tried to go home with us again and we had the same conversation, all over again. The third evening as we were getting ready to leave, I leaned over to give him a hug, and then another hug, hoping this would keep him from trying to leave with us again. Instead of hugging me back, he asked me, “Where am I?”

I was stunned. Why am I always the one he asks difficult questions? Why ME? And how could he not know where he was?  We had talked with him about coming here.  Oh yeah, the cancer was in his brain; maybe he couldn’t remember.

I took a deep breath. “You’re at Porter . . . “ my voice trailed off. I was unable to complete the sentence. Again, I felt like I was giving him a death sentence just by saying the word “hospice”.

Where am I?” he insisted.

“You’re at Porter . . .” again, I couldn’t say “hospice.”

After a long pause (which he was famous for) he asked, “Porter Hospice?”

I nodded my head and said “Yes.”

Even on his deathbed, he had the courage to say what I could not.       

After another very long pause, he said, “It’s good to know where I am.”  After a still longer pause, he repeated, “It’s good to know where I am.”

He never tried to go home with us again. 

  •  Yes, it’s good to know where we are, even when we are in hospice. You see, it is when we know where we are, that we can stop fighting the process and go with the flow, even when we’re in hospice. 
  • Knowing where we are even when we’re facing death, puts us in touch with reality, that is, in touch with life itself. 
  • Knowing the truth sets us free.  Free from our fears. Free from illusion. Free to do what is needed, even when that is to die.
  • We are then free to let go of what no longer serves us, even when what we are letting go of is life itself. 

~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Dad’s Legacy

Several times during the eleven days that my father was in inpatient hospice, I could not bring myself to keep sitting there, watching and listening to him die. As his life was draining away, it seemed like my own life was being sucked out of me as well.

As I looked out the windows of his hospice room and saw sparrows hopping in the dry grass around the bushes there, the ten large juniper bushes in my own front yard seemed to call to me. They had not been trimmed last fall while we were helping Mom care for Dad at home. My back yard, with its accumulation of debris left over from the winter, also neglected for the same reason, called to me, too.

So for several mornings, I answered their call, while feeling guilty that I was not sitting with Dad in his hospice room. The energy emanating from the plants and the earth seemed to revive me each day, enabling me to return to the hospice and be with Dad some more. My brother Glenn observed that if Dad were able to, he would be working in the yard, too. Maybe I was doing it for him as well as for me.

The day I raked the back yard, I found myself thinking about what I wanted to say at his memorial service. As I reflected while I raked, I was hit with the startling awareness that many accomplishments in my life that I had believed were part of my hard won uniqueness had their roots in him. Then it dawned on me that the wounds in my life that I had blamed on him had not come from him; they had only come through him. Then my heart sank and I gulped as I grasped that these same wounds had gone through me to my kids as well.

I realized that I had told him many times when I didn’t like something that he had done, especially in my teen and young adult years. I had also told and written him many thank-you’s, but this was my last chance.  Half-chance, at that.  He was no longer responding to us in any tangible way, so I wouldn’t know if he heard me when I told him. They say people can, but who really knows for sure? I had to take the chance. I left the yard half-raked, ran to clean myself up, and went to see him.

I somehow knew this was my final good-bye. But all my training and years of experience as a hospital and hospice social worker didn’t tell me how to do it. After helping so many others do this, when I entered it for myself, I was in unknown territory. I felt like I was groping in the dark for something that I wouldn’t know if or when I found it.

He was alone when I got there. No, he didn’t respond in any visible or audible way, but I talked to him anyway, hoping that he could hear and understand me. I told him that he had taught and showed me many things by his example: to listen to, recognize and follow the Still, Small Voice; to be a risk taker, to follow my dreams, my vision and my mission in life, clear to the end. He showed me how to find emotional and spiritual healing and to become a healer of others as well. He taught me to be a gardener-in my yard, and in my soul. He taught me to turn manure into fertilizer; and to use that fertilizer to grow beautiful things, in my garden, and my life.

I also told him that he had taught me to see unseen realities; to see what will be before it is, and to nurture growth in myself and in others. He taught me to take whatever comes in life and make something good from it. He taught me to learn by asking questions, rather than seeking (or giving) quick, easy answers. I told him all these things. Then I shared with him what had just now come to me while I was raking leaves in the yard:  that the wounding experiences I used to think had come from him I now knew had only come through him. I could hardly talk as I told him I would miss him terribly, but that I would be OK, especially now that I understood all of this. After I told Dad all of these things, I sat there not knowing what to do; just sitting there with him. Before long, other family members came, and the day when on.

I couldn’t tell if my sharing these things with Dad had any impact on him or not, but this whole experience had a huge impact on me. It seemed that he had given me a parting gift. I thought I was doing something with, for or to him. Instead, it was like he did something for me. I had wanted and had half-dared to hope for something special and wonderful to happen as he died. Now it had. Now what? What was I to do with it? I am still discovering the answer(s) to that question. This is just a start.

I also hope that by my sharing it with you, you too, might also be encouraged to make your own CASIGY Father’s Day Reflections.

Featured Quote

In order to make a real accomplishment he must sacrifice a number of other potentialities. He must vie up his identification with wholeness and voluntarily accept being a real fragment instead of an unreal whole. To be something in reality, he must give up being everything in potentia.

— Edward Edinger, Edo and Archetype