My father is dying. Docs say he has 3 to 6 months to live. Maybe a little less, maybe a little more. But the end is near.
When my mom told me by phone last night, I wasn't particularly surprised. We all knew this day would come, ever since my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1999. Since then, he's gotten progressively worse. He no longer recognizes anyone around him. In fact I was one of the first people he stopped recognizing. He cannot care, bathe or eat for himself.
In many ways, it seems as if my father died years ago. His memory, the person he was, ceased to exist at least three years ago. Which is why the news of impending death has not really shocked or fazed me.
But there is one feeling that has overwhelmed me: guilt. Guilt that I am not home helping my mom. Guilt that my two "baby" sisters and my mom have been burdened with everything, from bathing my dad to making funeral arrangements. I'm 4,000 miles away and there's not much I can do than offer support by phone. It's the Catholic guilt that's tearing me apart. I have nothing but respect and admiration for my sisters and their unending patience for dealing with this ordeal.
I also feel guilty for not being sad. My father and I were never particularly close, despite having common backgrounds (journalism, military, a love for the outdoors, etc). There were many MANY skeletons in his closet that I later uncovered, skeletons that can't easily be brushed under the rug and ignored. And that makes it very difficult to be sad or sympathetic.
My mom says she and my sister went have already picked out my dad's casket. He will be buried at Quantico National Cemetery -- as a U.S. army veteran, my dad is entitled to a free burial plot and full military honors funeral. The funeral home is already collecting information for his obituary.
I've always wondered what I would say in an obituary or eulogy. Would I tell the truth? Or would I keep the peace and give the usual, glowing pep talk?
For now, I'm more preoccupied with figuring out how to pay for a trip back home when the time comes. My mom wants me to come now and see my dad. But we can't really afford to be flying back-and-forth to the States more than once a year. I have horrible thoughts: "Why bother when my dad doesn't even know who I am...It would be a waste of money...What if he dies when I'm in the middle of our upcoming ski trip to the French Alps and I have to cancel our prepaid, non-refundable holiday?...What if I have to pass up a well-paying freelance gig to go to a funeral?" I feel guilty for thinking about money or inconveniences, when I should be thinking of going there to support my mom. It shouldn't even be a question.
I must be the worst son ever.