“I have 4 daughters and 2 sons,” says Dad to the nurse, “I lost my sons.”
Dad has two families. One with my mother, the woman that left him. And another with Jessica’s mother, the woman that got away.
Though Marty, Lisa and Jessica weren’t Dad’s biological children, in some ways he was a better father to them than to us when we were growing up.
“Oh John,” says Jessica of my brother in a warm tone.
“Marty was always nicer to me than John,” I confess during another morning together in Room 1456.
“John was always nicer to me,” Jessica laughs, “Family dynamics.”
“Lisa came to see you last night,” I remind Dad, “She came all the way down from Nanaimo.”
“‘You are the kindest man in the whole world,’” I say, “That’s what she told you.”
“What kind?” says Dad.
Jessica and I reminisce about old days motherless at the farm, the dirt bikes and absence of any and all supervision or rules.
“She’s one of my favourites,” pipes up Dad about Lisa.
“Hey now,” says Jessica.
“She has a sense of mischief,” says Dad, “Just like me.”
Jessica and I remember the time Dad took us kids to Portugal. We were teenage girls with an all access pass to his wallet for drinks at the hotel bar.
“Lots of good times,” he says, “Not so many bad times, though there were a few.”
Jessica and I have never liked each other. Less than a year apart, the competition for Dad’s affection was fierce.
Every loving thing he did for her was proof he didn’t love me.
She got the bigger room at the farm. She got the cooler used car. She got more of his attention.
As teenagers both living with Dad, Jessica made me so angry I remember crouching low to the ground to give her the finger.
“Fuck you,” I said, and I meant it with every cell in my dark adolescent soul.
“With all these beautiful daughters of mine,” says Dad, “I can’t keep things straight.”
These past 6 years since Dad developed dementia, Jessica and I have hit heads over what’s best for Dad. It has resulted in a clear boundary.
Sunday dinners with Dad are hers.
“Time heals all wounds,” says Jessica.
“A long time,” says Dad.
As I get older, I try to remember two things. We all deal with pain differently. We are all doing our best.
“You’re a good bunch,” says Dad, “Bullshit artists like me.”
The day Dad entered in the Palliative Care Unit, something changed between Jessica and me.
We had hit heads only a few days earlier, but when I walked into Room 1456 and saw her sitting beside Dad with eyes that looked like my own, she was no longer my rival.
She is a great ally in our final days with Dad.
Jessica loves my father as her own. She spends every morning in this room with him. And when he is in her presence, I can leave him for a shower, breakfast and whatever else I need to get done because he is in the hands of a daughter’s love.
“How did I get so lucky to have such beautiful daughters?” says Dad as we sit on each side of him.
Later in the day, visitors stand in a circle around Dad as he comes in and out of consciousness. To remind him he is not alone, I name them: Jessica, Pauline, Ellie, Nicol and Virtuous.
“And you too, Katie,” says Jessica. Her hand touches my back.
“Yes,” I laugh, “But I’m one of the crew.”
And then after all these years, I understand. Family dynamics.
“I’m ready to step out,” says Dad to Jessica and me, “But I hope you stay close.”
Different cities, different circles, I doubt Jessica and I will talk or see much of each other after Dad dies.
But we will stay close. This shared experience of loving and losing our father is an intimacy one never forgets.