Flowers for My Father
by Stephanie Clark-Ochoa
Months after he passed, I was still angry with my father. During his unsuccessful fight against colon cancer, he repeatedly hurt my feelings. No matter what I said or did, my father ignored me. Even though I wanted to abandon my bedside vigil, daily I gathered my resolve and marched into his hospital room.
As painful as it was to watch the insidious cancer cells ravage my father’s once muscular body, I accepted the inevitable, he was going to die. As his first born, there was so much I wanted to say to him, but he refused to talk to me. He talked to my stepmother, my brother, my best friend and anyone else who came into the room; but not me.
I couldn’t wrap my head around my father’s actions. We had always been close; I was a daddy’s girl. One day as I stared out the hospital window into the magnificent blue morning, I asked myself, “What could I have done to make him treat me this way?” The blue sky and puffy white clouds held no answers.
Every evening as I plodded down the hospital’s blue-grey hallway toward home, I fought back the tears. I was devastated that I couldn’t talk to my father, so I wrote to him. Each night I poured my heart out to my father, telling him how much I loved and would miss him. I also reminisced about my most treasured memories with him. But, writing didn’t assuage the gut wrenching pain I felt at being ignored by the first man I ever loved.
Over drinks one evening, several months after my father had transitioned, I asked my stepmother what I had done that caused my father to ignore me during his last few months. Looking me in the eye she confessed, “Sweetheart, he pushed you away because it hurt him too much to see you hurting. I know it doesn’t make sense to you, but it was your father’s decision.”
Reeling from my stepmother’s revelation, I headed home. For weeks I looked for the lesson my father shared as he came to terms with his mortality. As my grief diminished, so did my need to define my father’s lesson.
Years later while standing at my mother-in-law’s gravesite, my father’s final life lesson became abundantly clear…give people their flowers while they are here. Or, let the people you love know that you care while they are alive.
At the conclusion of my mother-in-law’s funeral service I realized that there was nothing left unsaid between my father and me. He knew I loved him because I told him every evening when we spoke. I know my mother-in-law knew I loved her, because I made sure to tell her often.
Thanks to my father, I am certain everyone that I care about knows how important they to me. That knowledge makes me feel good! I think my father would acknowledge that I learned his final lesson.