A year ago today, early on a Friday morning, my father died one month after suffering a debilitating stroke. Although his speech was severely impaired, and he had difficulty swallowing and walking without assistance, we had hopes that he would recover. But he contracted pneumonia while in the hospital. This weakened him even more but he continued to struggle to regain some mobility. Even the efforts of the staff of the rehab facility where he spent his last few days were not enough to turn things around. Mercifully, he died peacefully. The attending nurse had gone to his room at around 5AM to give him his meds and wasn’t able to wake him.
I say mercifully, because I believe that Dad would not have wanted to continue in the state he was in. He was fiercely independent and would have fought any efforts that he perceived to take away that independence. I sometimes wonder if, in those last few days, he realized that he would no longer be able to paint, and stopped fighting against the approach of death. In an interview with the local newspaper the year before he died, he had said, “when I quit painting, I’ll quit being here.” A long-time – over 40 years – resident, he was widely known and respected for his dedication and artistic talent.
Although he was 87, he still went to his studio almost every day. With the passing years, the hours spent standing at the easel had shortened and the coffee breaks had gotten longer. It was evident that he missed my mother intensely. He spoke of her often. Keeping busy helped keep him going. There were plans for future paintings, trips and other projects. He talked of closing the gallery and working at home, but hadn’t quite made the break yet. In fact, there was a large commissioned land- and seascape in progress when he suffered the stroke.
After he died, I decided to keep his gallery open for the winter season while I spent the months clearing out the condo, handling other estate business, and working part-time at a local retail store. It was a difficult time but also very gratifying. Sometimes I had to be the one to break the news of his death to a long-time customer or friend. Other times, people would come by to pay their respects and tell their favorite stories of time spent with him, with my mother. Many talked about how much they treasured the prints or paintings that they had bought over the years. “Grief shared is grief diminished” as the saying goes (Rabbi Grollman). I consider it a blessing to have experienced this first hand, especially during those months in Florida.
I’ve been back in Germany now for about three months. Like my father, I’ve found that keeping busy is a good way to keep the sadness at bay. Being too busy, however, just masks the pain, so I also make efforts to write about it, to talk about it, and to let the tears flow when they come. Losing both parents within such a short time – and saying goodbye to the home they loved and shared – has been very hard.
I find comfort in knowing that my emotions will heal. This has been a detour in the road of my life, but the road goes on. God hasn’t abandoned me and his purpose and plan for me are not at an end. There are times when I wish he would turn up the lights so that I could see down the road a little further. But that’s what faith is about and I need to exercise that faith, trust in him, and keep doing the next thing until his direction becomes clear.
Thanks for reading!