The Final Blessing

During Sweeps week on any given dramatic show, you can count on a main character’s parent showing up to announce, “I’m dying.”

It’s funny, because we never hear about that parent before the episode when the main character is suddenly jubilant that ‘my mom, my best friend,’ is showing up. And you can bet they’re coming either to die or announce a divorce. If it’s a death, then there’s an inordinate amount of time spent on that parent’s final blessing, the last words imparted to their beloved child: a final forgiveness, sage advice, look after your sister, and occasionally (like on Falcon Crest), where to find the secret stash of gold.

I probably watch too much TV, but I must admit that I wondered if my father would have a final blessing for me in his last days. Maybe some sage advice that put our entire relationship in perspective with just a few words. And hey, maybe he hid a pirate chest’s full of jewels and gold somewhere. It could happen.

Still, I thought a ‘dying-parent’s-final-blessing’ was one of those fake TV things. A tear-jerker for ratings. I didn’t realize that it was real and could change your life if you let yourself believe.

Three days before he drew his last breath, his words were sparse and conversations consisted of only a few sentences before he drifted to sleep. I walked into the den where we had set up his hospital bed.

“Who’s there?” he said.

“It’s me, Edmond.”

I took his hand in mind and stood over him. He faced the wall and I held his hand and watched him breathe.

He said, “Hi, honey.”

I got choked up and say, “Hey, Dad.”

Then he said, “It’s been a pleasure.”

He drifted away to sleep.

My heart broke.

A pleasure?

It’s been a pleasure?

I would describe our relationship with many adjectives, some of them flattering and some, well, not. We laughed together quite a bit. We shared books. A few years ago at the end of our phone conversations he started saying, “We love you from down here (Illinois),” and I would reply, “I love you from up here (Minnesota).”

We had beautiful moments, he and I.

But we also owned the matching set of father and son baggage, compounded by my being gay, his not loving that, my leaving the Catholic church, and you know, me being a loud mouth who felt it necessary to call him out on his shit. I’m not proud to admit this, but I’ve raged at him on the phone.

And yet, his final words to me were, “It’s been a pleasure.”

Even now, those words thrill me.

Weighing the disappointments I have been as a son, our conflicts over the years, the times (intentional and accidental) when I have hurt him or mom…and this is how he summed it up? Surely, he was disappointed that his big football-built player son never actually played football, the sport he worshiped. He coached football for many years. He played football for many years. He studied football every weekend. Surely he felt that disappointment?

But if he did, he never showed it. Never once said it to me.

I recall another final blessing, this one on a New Years’ Eve afternoon a year before I moved to Minnesota. I coerced him into helping me wallpaper a room. Since dad was skilled as a carpenter, painter, and all-around Mr. Fix It, I pleaded with him to teach me. Secretly, I had hoped the experience would go much like putting up storm windows when I was a kid, whereby I stood around with a screwdriver, sulking, and he did all the work.

Not so.

He expected me to measure, cut, hang, flatten, and essentially do everything. Despite this being completely unfair, nevertheless, I learned his tricks for lining up the pattern and how to seal the edges just so. I discovered a sincere pleasure in working side by side with this taciturn man until he announced he was leaving midway through the final wall, which included a tricky window.

“I should get home,” he said.

It was only 4:00 p.m.

I argued, “We’re almost done.”

But he was already scrubbing his hands in my bathroom sink, fixated on getting back to mom. After he left, I crumbled into a chair covered in canvas, literally watching glue dry. Inwardly, I cursed his laziness for quitting before he finished, holiday or no. All he and mom had planned was to watch Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year and watch the that damn ball drop in New York. Couldn’t he see how little there was left to do? Didn’t he realize I didn’t want to cut paper around that last window on my own?

Suddenly it was perfectly clear to me that he did know these things.

He wanted me to finish on my own.

I do believe pops attempted to teach his thick-headed son a lesson in self-reliance that day. I marveled at how sneakily he made his exit, how he explained nothing as we hugged goodbye.

With snarky defiance, I decided to prove how misguided his faith in me actually was. Yes, I would finish the job myself, but the disastrous fourth wall would so badly wreck that seamless harmony of the previous three walls that visitors to my home would gasp and attempt to mask their horror. I would show him what could happen by quitting early.

But somehow, I did it: I finished that fourth wall. Worked around the tricky window. Lined up every damn seam.

It looked great.

I felt great.

His final blessing that day was, ‘You can do this without me.’

Today is the last day of May, and truthfully, I feel panic that it ends in roughly 20 minutes. My dad died on May 1st, and in just a few minutes, it will no longer be ‘the month that he died.’ Too soon it will no longer be the season he died and then the year that he died.

I imagine a future in which someone will ask me, “When did your father pass away?”

My automatic response will be, “Gosh, was that nine years ago or eight?”

I hate it.

I’m not interested in mourning non-stop for the rest of my life, but I’m not quite ready to let him go. Once again, he ducked out before I was finished with him. And once again, on his way out the door, he gifted me an amazing blessing.

Well, I have a final blessing too, pops.

I can do this life without you. I don’t want to, but you prepared me well. Thanks to your excellent fathering and generosity of spirit, I can do this.

Dad, truly, it’s been a pleasure.




5 Responses to “The Final Blessing”

  1. Alesia Says:

    This one made me cry. Thanks for sharing such a sweet entry about your Dad. He was a truly lovely man.

  2. Jeffrey Fillion Says:

    Awesome gift. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Tony Says:

    I can’t help but think that as your Dad was having this conversation with you, he was also having it with the Sparkling Spirit as well.

    That Spirit, drifting into the room, and your Dad saying “hi Honey, it’s been a pleasure” – a response to the life he’d been given to live, as the Universe took him back into it’s bosom.

  4. Meredith King Says:

    This is beautiful. I don’t usually share how my father died with anyone. It was fast, sudden, and very heartbreaking. To be able to say goodbye is a gift in itself. I’m sorry for your baggage I lug around my own with my father and my relationship. Like I said I don’t talk about it but I’d share it with you sometime. You’re in my heart, Edmond.

  5. Kevin O'Connor Says:

    I read this when it was first posted. Today, I read it again with much “pleasure”. So well written. A beautiful story.

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