My father wasn’t himself. At times he seemed resentful, and I reacted defensively. Other times, his gentleness touched my heart so much; it made me ache. I’ve never been able to describe him easily, but there toward the last, his actions confused me.
The Christmas before his death in April, he looked sad, withdrawn—almost vacant. Sitting next to him near the Christmas tree, I tried to get him to laugh. About all that I got was a pinched-smile.
Mom took ill a month before he killed himself. Stubbornly, she refused to go to the doctor. His face crumpled, and in a croaking voice, he asked me what to do. The tears scared me. He was the one that I’d always looked to for confidence.
Three weeks before he died, he asked, “We’re not as close as we used to be, are we?” His question ignited a great anger in me. Sometimes I felt I had given him my whole life—wasn’t that enough? I didn’t say anything—not one word. I’ve wished for that moment back so many times.
His actions and my reactions haunted me. The week after his funeral, I tried to occupy myself with a lot of busy work. While cleaning the inside of my car, my mind was suddenly flooded with a year’s worth of back memories. I collapsed in the back seat crying, “I’m so sorry, Daddy. I didn’t know. I just didn’t know.”
Guilt sat on my shoulder like a feral cat licking blood off its paws. I carried it with me everywhere. Its wild, unsatisfied hunger for self-blame nearly sucked the life out of me.