Guest Posts, Grief

I Am My Father’s Daughter

July 31, 2016

By Chamisa Wheeler

It’s OK, I tell my 37 year old self…

It’s really not.

I have not seen my father in 27 years until 2 days ago.

2 days ago,  I said Hello and a final Goodbye, in person, as my dad is lying in a bed, dying in a nursing home, after a short visit of 25 minutes and it was apparent it was time to leave…I said “I love you Dad”with a kiss on his forehead and walked out of the room.

Excuse my french, but what the fuck do you do with that?

Backtrack to last week:

I got THE phone call last week. The ONE call, I knew would happen at some point, for many years now, knowing it would come, and still not knowing what the hell I would with it when it came.

I had  thoughts before…had visions of what could happen. I saw myself driving with my brothers to go see our dad…see the town he lived in, called home. Hoped it wouldn’t be at his funeral, but in my thoughts, it was possible…Or maybe we wouldn’t go at all.

Had many years to think about this moment and I thought I had prepared myself.

Apparently not. The kick in my stomach, the feeling I could throw up-that was real. I didn’t expect that. I felt sick to my stomach.

“Your dad is now in a nursing home, he’s very sick, I need you and your brothers phone numbers for the funeral home, to list as next of kin, to legally cremate his body in the state of Illinois. He could pass any time, and I can’t care for him anymore in my home. The only reason I’m calling is for your phone numbers.” So, I gave my father’s partner of 25 years, our phone numbers and hung up.

I sat on my bed and cried.

My dad’s partner didn’t call because he  wanted to do anything different than what had been done before. He called because he had to. He didn’t want to notify us, he didn’t want to have a memorial or funeral for  my dad when he passes- and maybe it’s my father’s wishes too.Either way it was to be a silent end…which blows my mind entirely in a different way. I know it will unfold in time, in the way it’s right and meant to be.

My dad is gay, but that’s beside the point. His partner and him led a good life, so it seemed, and he found a place in this world that he could be in, fit in.  He had 3 of us children, tried a life of marriage with our mother, tried to fit in a common societal box, but he never could, in that way.

In those 27 years, I grew up. I was 9 the last time I saw him.In those 27 years, I made a lot of mistakes. I made a lot of choices, had a lot of curve balls, had a lot of amazing moments-all leading up to who I’ve become, at this point in time.

I have  so many memories and stories from my childhood. Some  I’ve been told and some of those memories and stories have now been so jaded that I don’t know what the hell is even true anymore.

Too many stories  that were not my own,  some of  my memories are not accurate. Some are in tact, but it’s a definite void, to the fault of no one, I’ll add…There will never be answers as everyone has their own versions, memories and stories. Maybe one day it will become a novel.

My father was a complex, creative person, he had an adventurous spirit – he wore many hats in his life. I suppose he passed that onto me…

Searching deep to know my own memories. To be able to OWN them, for myself, and find my truth.

Some things are clear cut- the bond I share with my cousins, many happy trips, experiences, times traveling and time spent with my dad that shaped who I would become in my life, the career path I would choose in Arts, Humanity, Dance, Theater- the human being in me I can be proud of.

My father had been an Artist, a brilliant artist. He had this spark, this energy that would light up a room. Charismatic, a deep soulful thinker…an activist for Gay rights, the Environment. He held many jobs, did many amazing things in his creative life. He’s someone people remember for his creative talents, abilities. He did so much good in this world.

It’s in these things, I know I am my father’s daughter.

But I don’t want or take the “Crazy” hat he also wore. It’s that CRAZY hat that kept everything so damn impossible. Mental Illness took it’s toll. it was a bad gift that kept on giving.

See, there’s been this monster under my bed for 27 years.

This invisible, yet very present monster-This monster aka dad -who left my brothers and I,  decided not to try anymore, to not see us, make the trips, spend the money-the monster who said it was too hard to be a dad.

This monster who left a very sad, confused daughter, to figure out a lot of shit on her own…

In truth, the dying man, I just saw, was not a monster. He was just really sick, old, confused, sad too. Too many years went by, once the path started, without us in it, it just got longer and longer, until one day, I’m standing by his bedside, holding his shaking hand, seeing the love in his eyes, struggling-trying to find peace, all of a sudden knowing it shouldn’t have happened this way.

I should have been the bigger person 15 yrs ago, 10 yrs ago, 7 years ago, this last summer. He was only 8 hrs away for 27 years. I should have just gone. It’s not fair. This is not the fair way, the right way.

This is not the way to do this- yet here I am, and it just happened.

I said hello, and goodbye, in 25 minutes, after 27 years. I walked away. I’ll never see him again.

I will be whole because I am strong and I faced this monster. It’s no longer a monster… It’s just my dad, and our life got really complicated, and the roller coaster ride without him became never ending. Until it was almost too late-or maybe that is just the way this had to be. Maybe there was no other way to end this story of ours.

This is the truth: The only way I knew how to have any closure to our story was by going to see him. The right thing to do. That 25 minutes gave me everything I need to know, have verified. It’s simply LOVE. All those moments, that were hard- I let it go. Everything I  thought- it doesn’t matter. What does matter- LOVE- And we saw, felt and lived it- for 25 minutes.

That was not part of my thoughts, visions of what i saw happening before in my head, before this ONE phone call, before this day actually happened.

I took a deep breath and lived in that moment, so it would live in me forever.

DAD- I know you didn’t mean for this to happen. I forgive you dad, and I’m so very sorry I didn’t just come earlier.

That’s what I didn’t say to my dad when I saw him.

I can walk away owning that I am my father’s daughter…I can own that and have it complete me where I was broken from it before.

I would like to say, to anyone reading this, that has a broken relationship, with someone, something, some moment, and you know it’s a monster under your bed- don’t wait as long as I did to find it and talk to it.

Sometimes those monsters just need  to get out from under a bed, walk through a door and a have a kiss on the forehead. Sometimes they are just as sad as you are and don’t know how to fix what’s wrong.

Be the bigger person- it’s OK. Be the bigger person- Forgive. Let go. Don’t take too much time, don’t make my story your own. My “monster ” turned out to be a  human being that made mistakes along the way but wanted us, his children, to know he loved us and is proud of each of us.

Bon Voyage, safe travels Dad…you did good.


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Chamisa Wheeler is a writer who lives in Fayetteville Arkansas with her husband and children. A daughter, sister, mother, step mother, aunt, wife, gourmet chef, chauffeur, laundry folder extraordinaire and fantastic procrastinator, aspiring yogi, lover of all things outdoors-camping, kayaking, hiking, photography and especially when in the mountains-soaking in hot springs. Currently works part time at Whole Foods Market and enjoys the even balance of family, life and work.

Follow Chamisa at– The Tales of the young and old.


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