You’d think it would be easy to remember your father’s last words, especially if you, like us, where there when he died and loved him as much as my mom, my sister and I do. Turns out, Death is messy, yet swift with its silence and discretion, and takes too much and too little time turning off life. The trauma we weren’t aware we were experiencing took its toll days later, after the funeral, the credit card cancellations, the dreamless first nights, and the endless bureaucratic paperwork, so I didn’t really think about this for a while.
Not long after he passed, I started missing him terribly. After doing a decent job containing it, the idea of never seeing him again threatened my sanity. So I started looking for him everywhere, pathetically trying to make him present in any way I could manage. It was then that I realized I couldn’t quite remember what his last words were, but little afterwards realized that his words had been
“You’re throwing too much water at me”.
A bit of context: after 4 years of battling lymphatic cancer, my dad made the tough decision that it was the end for him. It made sense; there was too much pain and little chances of any kind of improvement according to the doctors. It was January 9th, my mom’s birthday, and we were a little dressed up underneath the masks, disposable gowns and latex gloves. When the specialist in Palliative Medicine started her treatment, she pointed out our uniforms were not really necessary at this point. It did feel wrong, but it made us feel more normal between ourselves. We didn’t move from his side, even when the medicine got so strong that he completely passed out, and would only open his eyes from time to time to wink or raise his eyebrows.
All throughout the night, my mom, my sister and I held his hands, stroked his hair, and sang him songs that reminded us of happy times we had lived together. We did try to keep it cheerful, but tears were inevitable; and my father, in one of his very few moments of lucidity, wakes up with a mix of confusion and slight surprise, and delivers his final words on Earth: “You’re throwing too much water at me”, referring to the tears that had started falling on him.
I became very angry when I realized this had been his final goodbye. It’s not like I had wanted/hoped/expected (all verbs are wrong, let’s go with thought) my dad’s death would be spectacular in a film fashion, but I think deep down everyone understands what I mean. It wasn’t… what I needed. I couldn’t help it, because here I was, damned to live the rest of my life without every hearing his voice again giving me advice, joking, laughing, comforting me, and the very last thing he gives me that I can hold on to is “You’re throwing too much water at me”? Well, Dad, I’m so sorry I annoyed you with my misery.
Am I aware of how ridiculously selfish that is? You bet. And yes, it only made me feel worse.
Also, one thing I didn’t expect from Grief was the overwhelming guilt I would feel over any aspect of my life after his death. You learn to load any detail with a meaning that it may not have had, and it will send you down the rabbit hole to horrifying depths: whether I should have continued wearing black clothes a month later, that I finished the last slice of his pecan pie, that I never really told him with much detail of how thankful I was of each and every single one of the sacrifices he made for my own happiness. This shame only grew when we started thinking of the many ways we could have made his death easier for him: how we could have relieved more of his pain, regardless of the fact that the morphine dosage didn’t need any help, of what he would have liked to hear, the people he wished had been or hadn’t been around.
Forgiving yourself and putting things into perspective is a continuous work in progress; people say all these feelings are normal and often unjustified, but this excruciating guiltiness ties itself around your neck, and every time you try to grasp for breath, it squeezes harder. And anger has a strange way of feeding in your sorrow.
This guilt was what forced me to sit down and make peace with things, because at some point I did believe I was gonna go mad. So no, maybe before he passed I was not too specific about my gratitude towards him. I could only manage to convey my love for him by holding his hand, retelling my favorite memories of him, and pouring water droplets on his dry lips in his final hours. It was my mom who then pointed out to us that we had also shown him this by preparing him foods that would relieve his nausea, go out hours before New Year’s to find anything that would stop his nosebleed, or accompany him to every single one of his doctor’s appointments and chemotherapies.
The only way I managed to let go of most of this suffocating guilt was by rationalizing that, maybe if we had failed a bit in making his death easier for him at the end, we made damn sure he felt loved and cared for during his illness. That had to count for something as well.
And that was the very same thought that revealed to me something not-so-deep about my dad’s last words, but certainly liberating for me.
Weeks before he died, I stayed the night at the hospital with him. We all had a different tradition when we stayed with him: his and mine was to watch as many episodes of The Crown as we could in one night, and in the morning I would go get breakfast and a tasty snack I could sneak in for him without the nurses or doctors finding out. We would talk so much, and we would have more fun than you’d expect. That night, surprise, I got very emotional; what was actually kinda unexpected was that my dad didn’t tease me for it or became uncomfortable. I gave him a hug, and he told me
“Never doubt my love for you”.
I had been so caught up on my own grief and his death that I had not really paid attention to all those years we did have together. It was pointless and unfair to put all the weight of my father’s life in his final moments, when he had gifted me the most extraordinary moments together that I could have ever wished for. The tragedy in my dad’s case was that even though he wanted to live, he knew there was not much of a life ahead; as devastating as this is, we can’t forget we got to live before the party was over.