Last week my father passed away after having spent over three years battling Stage Four lung cancer.
While I knew that this year would probably be his final year on earth, his passing nonetheless came as a shock. I don’t know the exact date of his death as he died alone in his apartment. (His oncologist became worried when he missed his appointment last Monday and did not reply despite repeated calls.)
While it’s still quite raw and I am in the initial stages of grieving, one thing that I have been hesitant to tell numerous well-wishers and friends who asked how I was feeling is that along with the sadness, there is an enormous sense of relief as well. It’s not just relief that he is no longer in pain and, hopefully, in a better place, but relief that after nearly 38 years I am finally free from a man I could never please.
As I discussed before, my father, like most people, was a complex person. Ironically, we shared a lot in common and had similar personalities. Not only did we look alike but we had many of the same interests in art, books, etc., and possessed similar wry senses of humor. We even had remarkably similar political views as well. However, despite having these things in common, we were never close and often at odds with each other.
My parents divorced right around my fourth birthday and growing up, I rarely saw him. When I was 12, my father decided to re-enter my life—a move which I originally resisted. My thought at the time: Why was he coming back now when I was settled and when I had really needed him in my life during those early years?
Over the years, there were times where we had a cordial relationship and even shared some good times but, inevitably, something would happen and we would go several months without talking to each other.
For instance, my father never “forgave” me for not going to law school despite the fact that I had gotten in and been accepted to various law schools—not once, but at two different times in my life.
Despite being gainfully employed from the age of 23 and never asking or receiving any financial support from him, my father was very vocal that he considered me an underachieving failure guilty of making poor life choices. Even having his grandchildren failed to warm him up or change his view of me. Indeed, in one of the last letters I received from him less than a month ago, he wrote that he was surprised just how “mediocre” I ended up. (There were other things he disapproved of as well, but my lack of what he considered success was the most prevalent one.)
While I tried to take the high road during our most recent, and as it would turn out, final spat, I nonetheless was very hurt by his words.
Indeed, the very last letter I received was so upsetting that I started dreading collecting the mail each day least another letter from him should appear.
It was the same when the phone would ring, and I feared it was him calling me to berate me.
Now, though, I will no longer have to fear either of those things.
Without that fear in my life, much if not all the anger I had towards my father is gone. I now see him as someone who had many admirable traits, even if at times I couldn’t always admire him or his behavior towards me.
For instance, I cannot help but be proud of how he lived and fought with cancer for over three years. Likewise, his nurse shared that during his final office visit—just days before he died—he thanked her and his doctor for their care and expressed that he had no fear of dying.
Apparently, he thought it was “all in the hands of Buddha now” and even refused to take the prescription painkillers he was given saying that he was strong enough to handle the pain. While some may find how he passed—alone with no one around—to be very sad, if not tragic, I tend to believe that is how he wanted to go. Even after our final falling out, I offered him to come and live with me or help him seek out hospice care, but he was clear that neither of those options were right for him. While it may not have been the choice I would have made, I respect his.
I just wish we could have patched things up and at least have been closer at the end.
Still, our relationship was what it was and nothing can change that.
Just like my father’s death has liberated him from physical pain, it has liberated me from some emotional pain. Even now, less than a week after learning of his passing, I feel as if a huge burden has been lifted from my shoulders.
While I am not happy my father died, I still cannot deny that I view it as sort of new beginning for myself and hopefully, it will be one where the good parts of my father live on in my memories.
As my father once put it, death is all too often viewed as an ending when in fact, it is a beginning.
I now understand what he meant.
Thank you, Dad, for making that so clear, and may you rest in peace. I love you.
Author: Kimberly Lo
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Courtesy of Author