It wasn’t supposed to end like this. Her mother was supposed to be with him, but he drove her away for years. And this year she finally left. Sad and heartbroken, she still flourished in his absence. Her mother’s joy was no longer shrouded by her father’s anger. Her mother let all of those who loved her, love her. And she let him and his anger go.
Anger, it’s what defined him.
This is a sad end, she thought.
She thinks the anger first crept in after he lost that second election. When the party elders asked him not to run again. They knew he’d defeat the incumbent. They could not lose that rubber stamp. They needed puppets they could control. So they made him an offer, one that meant he would avoid another election for city council. He liked the trade, especially the stature that would come with it. But, she made him refuse. There was no way he would spend months away in Springfield, while she raised the kids. No way, she said. And with that, his aspirations to change the world ended. He was no longer against the machine, the deal he left on the table meant he was part of it.
Sitting here now, at his bedside listening to his raspy breaths, waiting for his next breath to be his last one, she thinks she first saw the anger manifest itself with his best friend. It was why her parents bought that house, lived on that block. They were like brothers. Until one day they weren’t. And no one knew why. She wondered if his friend even knew.
It didn’t matter now. Nothing mattered now. Only death loomed ahead. It’s what he wanted for so long. The words haunted her. So many iterations of the same thing. So many times he talked about just leaving. And now it was here. At the doorstep.
It happened again and again and again over the years. He was like a sharpshooter, setting his eyes on the target, focusing on it, and then striking. His weapon of choice was his words, usually sharp ones, that left his targets so shocked that someone they thought cared or loved them, would purposefully hurt them. And eventually, people just dropped off. Brothers and sisters, unsure of why he discarded them, friends who just didn’t enjoy being around his misery, and his children who fell into divided camps over his treatment of them, but most of all his treatment of their mother.
She remembered when they buried his mother. Her heart ached for him. She knew how much he loved his mother. How much it hurt him when her Grandma forced him to choose his own wife over his mother. It was twisted for sure, and choosing her mother changed everything. His loyalty to his mother never wavered. And then the Alzheimer’s robbed her of her memory. She could not recall her own son’s name. He was nothing to her. It pained her to watch him see his mother in her dying days.
When they buried her Grandmother, he gathered all the children. We knelt in front of the statue nearby his parents graves. He spoke of his father who died almost 20 years earlier. It was then, the first time of many, that he told his children “Never stop loving your mother.” He went on to say they could disown him, abandon him, deny him their love and more, but never ever do that to their mother. His face was filled with tears. His comments came from a very raw and real place.
The children obeyed, as they always did back then. They loved and feared him. But most of all, they loved him. They loved him because he loved his mother, he loved their mother, and he loved them. He loved his neighbors, his friends, his parish, his God, his ward, his city, his country. He was a man with both a presence and a passion. He was moral, he was loyal, he was foreboding. People listened, loved, and laughed with him.
She thought of that time in their lives. When his mother died. Her parents’ friends knew of the animosity and betrayal that happened with his own siblings, that left him strapped to pay for his mother’s funeral and burial. An envelope stuffed with cash from people who loved him showed up just in time. He was heartened by their generosity. It buoyed him for years, until one day when something knocked him back down again, and his presence soured.
She tried. She tried over the years to tell him that his anger was unbecoming. That he was better than it. Every time he used his words, or silence, to beat her down, she struck back. She wrote him letters about how his behavior was contrary to all the things he and her mother taught them. To turn the other cheek, to forgive and forget, to be the bigger person. Yet, he couldn’t move past whatever took hold of him. And eventually, she stopped allowing herself to be subjected to his venom. She was a parent. She had to keep it together. Soon, her contact became formulary. Her words empty. She coached her child to be polite. To not engage. To be like rubber.
Because he was glue. Every negative thought stuck to him. He couldn’t let anything go, and the person subjected to all of it, was her mother, until one day, she no longer threatened to leave because she just did it. Because she needed to, and she wanted to.
When she became aware the day was near, a day she prayed for since her now teenage daughter was in diapers, her uncle said to her, you’ll have to take care of him. She said, like hell, she will. Her uncle went on to say not one of her siblings’ marriages would survive the fracture her father’s care would cause. She did not have a marriage to lose. This is where flying solo gets me, she thought. She wished for a moment she was still married. Then she let it pass.
That was nine months ago.
Nine months since she called him after her mother left.
Nine months since she started to visit every other day, changing her work schedule, and more to be present.
Nine months since she first cried when he decided not to seek out her mother.
Nine months since he said “C’est la vie,” at his wife’s departure. Half-admitting that he was stunned that she had not left sooner.
His stubbornness and inability to forgive boggled her mind. This woman who he adored. She told their love story hundreds of times. He called her his bride up until 20 years ago when the prostate cancer robbed him of his love for her. This woman who loved him, he just let her go.
Maybe he thought it was futile. She didn’t know, but she hated him for it. This father who was so foreboding. Her father whose voice bellowed through the church on Sunday mornings when he was the commentator. All eyes were on him. People loved him. She didn’t know when he stopped loving himself, or life, but she was sure that he did.
This sad end wasn’t right. But it wasn’t her choice. It was his choice. She just had to live through it now. Live with his choices. Live with him as he dies in the bed her parents shared for nearly half a century. Live with and through his death.
And now in his dying days with him, all she could do was pray for grace. She prayed to a God she knew to be a loving God, that in death he will find peace. He will once again open that envelope filled with cash and know, and feel, and revel in the fact that people do love him, and that nothing else is important, and he can let the rest of the hurt and anger go forever.
And then, he can enjoy the end.