Saying Goodbye to Dad After a Visit Is Never Easy
The morning is crisp and the ground is frozen by the brutal Michigan winter temperatures. I pile my belongings into the back of my Subaru as I prepare to say my goodbyes, again.
In 2020, I spent nearly three months here, the most time I had been at home since I left for Colorado in 2017. It never seems like it’s enough.
As I get ready to leave again, my mom tells me that Dad is awake, but I’ll need to go to him to give him a hug. He isn’t ready to navigate the morning. I nod, understanding.
When I step into my parents’ bedroom, I see my dad, a crumpled figure underneath a tattered blanket. He shakes even while resting.
“Dad, I’m about to take off,” I say. My words are soft as I don’t want to startle him.
“OK, honey. Travel safely,” he responds.
“Text me to let me know where you are throughout the day. And let me know you’ve made it to North Carolina safely,” he adds.
Knowing that he’ll be waiting to hear from me provides me at least some comfort. He’s there for me even when I’m across the country. Shouldn’t I be there for him, too?
While Dad struggles to tackle his own days, he still looks after me. I suppose he’ll never stop being my dad. I wrap my arm around his shaking body, thinking about his delicate frame. When did such a strong man become so frail? The thought rips a hole in my chest.
Parkinson’s disease is like a constant sucker punch to the gut. I try to cherish even the shaky moments I have with my dad, because I know it’ll get worse. It always gets worse.
As if reading my thoughts, Dad says, “Don’t worry about me, Mary Beth. I’m OK.”
“Well, I always worry. But I’m glad that you’re OK,” I respond.
The words drop around my dad, holding him in an embrace. I’ve never heard him comfort my siblings like this, and I wonder how he knows that I need reassurance.
“I’ll come back in the spring,” I say. “I’ve been wanting to climb and hike in the Upper Peninsula anyway.”
I want to give him something to look forward to, so I suggest: “We can go to Port Huron and watch the waves for a day, if you want.”
Dad is mesmerized by the sea the same way that I’m addicted to the mountains. He spent his 20s navigating the Great Lakes on various freighters, and he even journeyed across the Atlantic. I know a day trip to Lake Huron would brighten the sparkle in his eyes.
We usually go the longest without seeing each other from Christmas to summer. This year, though, I want it to be different. If I can make it home three or four times instead of two, maybe my guilt will subside. Now that I work remotely, I don’t have to be away. The change in structure is comforting amid all of the global chaos.
All I’ve ever wanted was freedom. Despite losing my job when the pandemic struck, I quickly found myself in better circumstances. I could push myself to write full-time, which allowed me to explore the planet on my own terms.
It also allowed me to come home more often. I didn’t have to rush to return to an unfulfilling job. I could work from the couch while my dad watched flickering images on a TV screen.
Change, though scary and often difficult, can bring positive elements to light. I cling to this idea while walking out of my parents’ home.
“Those who believe in certainty aren’t awake,” I ponder while starting my car and pulling into traffic.
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