Unforgettable by
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Growing up, my mother was the talker, the teacher, the one with opinions and the instiller of values.  My father was the one who spent the day at work doing worldly things, then presiding over the dinner table where my mother directed the conversation. Sometimes I wonder if my mother had some unacknowledged trauma with father figures (particularly a summer spent with her son-of-a-bitch grandfather), but she discouraged my father from close contact with his young daughters, and in many ways he fit in with the stereotype of the distant dad.

As my mother descended into dementia, her letters stopped, and we kept in touch through phone calls, increasingly with my father alone.  By the time my mother died, he had become my confidante and mutual support system.

My own distancing from family in college and beyond, geographically and emotionally, didn’t help.  It was my mother who still wrote the letters.  Averred that my father had more trouble accepting my “lifestyle” than she did.  And yet, the pendulum swung.

My father was the one who planned trips and loved to bring family together (which pained him when his children seemed unenthusiastic).  His career led him to become the ombudsman at work, the supportive listening ear and problem solver.  He volunteered on a hospice board, haunted by the memory of his mother’s untimely and difficult death when he was a child. He brought my mother across continents to visit the children, and to see old friends.  Until the end of his life, he chose birthday and Christmas presents that were remarkably thoughtful and on target.  He became a hugger.

We traveled together a couple of times, once finding ourselves stranded in the middle of a gas strike in France, trying to figure out next steps. Sally and I had our ideas, but he still stewed over different options.  Then he announced that he and my mother had talked it over and decided, “we’re sticking with you.”  Although I laughed at the time, I felt like a respected equal.

As my mother descended into dementia, her letters stopped and I kept in touch with my parents through phone calls, increasingly with my father alone.  When he had lung cancer, we talked through whether treating it was worth it (it was!).  We shared political rants.  He worried about how to make my mother happier, how to find the person he knew was “in there”; he never abandoned her even to the difficult end.

By the time my mother died, he had become my confidante and mutual support system. One day, he had an announcement, that he had, “I guess you could say, a significant other”.  It was an unexpected and delightful coda with a lovely person.  Hurray for them both.

When he was diagnosed with imminently fatal acute myelogenous leukemia a couple of years later, his first response was that he needed to make some phone calls—to those remaining family and friends.  He had already shared much of his life story through a just-finished book, and spent the next couple of months talking with those who gathered round–connecting, reminiscing, and reflecting on a life he considered well-lived.

On his final day, he became delirious, presumably from the predictable sepsis that often ends the lives of those with leukemia.  We—his children and his “significant other”—struggled to comfort him. He had told us in so many ways over the years that he valued the people in his life.  But while I held him and he fought to speak, I will not forget the last words my father told me were, “I love you”.

Profile photo of Khati Hendry Khati Hendry


Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. No dry eyes here Khati, and am so glad I’ve now met you and Sally!

    In this story and others you’re wonderfully and fully drawn your parents for us to see, flaws and all.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    A remarkably tender account of your father, as you became closer and closer, Khati. You deft portrayal (though we’ve read about his final days before), brought tears to my eyes. His acceptance of you for who you are, and as a peer is wonderful. This was a joy to read. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. Marian says:

    I just have to echo what the others have said, Khati. So describe the evolution of your relationship with your father in such a moving way, and I’m glad you have memories, though tearful, that are really meaningful.

  4. It’s wonderful that he felt his life was well-lived. That must be a comfort for you. It is a final reflection I would hope everyone could have. It was moving to read how your father evolved overtime. My father was never demonstrative – he patted me on the head as I left for college. But in his later years he too became a hugger and wept when I had a miscarriage. Your poignant story and my own experiences show that people can change over time, depending on their experiences and interactions with others.

  5. John Shutkin says:

    Just a beautiful tribute to a wonderful man, Khati. And fascinating the way he morphed into a true “father figure” for you over the years.

    As I’ve also learned, it is not just children who grow; sometimes their parents do too. Your father sounds remarkable — right down to the very sad end.

    Thank you for sharing these loving thoughts with all of us.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    What a touching tribute, Khati. Your father truly evolved and was open to new ideas and experiences. But the best thing a father could ever say to his child was that he loved her.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Funny how that seems so simple, but is often so hard, and is so important to family and friends. I grew up thinking those words should be reserved for something spectacularly special, but over the years have come to believe that life is spectacular in its own right, and there is no point in withholding saying I love you. It certainly meant a lot to hear it, and I hope I’m getting better at saying it too.

  7. You’ve written a wonderful description of your father, a description with the clarity that only comes from deep reflection. I loved his ‘capitulation’ to you and your partner in France, and his description of a ‘significant other.’ Nicely written, Khati, with a great pic.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      When he used the term “significant other” I could hear the sheepish air quotes in his voice, and I’m sure he recognized how tables had turned from the days it was only those crazy young ‘uns that used that term. It was all good and what a gift to have that happiness at the end of life.

      • My mother survived my father for a long portion of her life and I watched with great pride and satisfaction as she pulled herself together after my father’s death, went back to school, and — after several false starts — found deep satisfaction in another relationship. Her survival brought great comfort and reassurance to her children.

  8. Suzy says:

    Khati, this is a beautiful tribute to your father! The other commenters have said it all, and I agree with them. Glad he was able to say “I love you” at the end. The picture of the two of you is wonderful, and truly worth a thousand words!

  9. A wonderfully told, touching story Khati. Quite a journey for your dad. As John said, sometimes parents grow, too (or do we just begin to perceive them better?). Your story no doubt is unique in fact but not in sensibility. It calls forth, at least for me, emotional truths from my relationship with my dad. Thank you.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      It is a story that I didn’t expect in those growing-up years, but one I think and hope is fairly common—relationships actually improving over the years. Good to know you found some truth there too.

  10. Susan Bennet says:

    A life well-lived indeed, Khati. As loved ones leave this world, this knowledge comforts those they leave behind. Now I make it a point to describe to relatives, friends how they have helped and affected others (as well as me) along their way–my version of a great round of applause. I’m glad you had such a lovely father.

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