13 January 2016
A Tribute to My Father
My father passed away last weekend. I found out by email yesterday while enjoying lunch at a café with my Little Hiking Buddy. I have been estranged from much of my extended family for almost 20 years now, so I wouldn’t expect any more or less from my kin in their handling of personal information. Learning of a parent’s death in written form after the fact is comparable to a factual review of a stranger’s death certificate. At least that’s how I expected to feel with a lifetime of bitter memories clutched against my heart. Instead, I momentarily burst into uncontrollable tears drained from the raw emotion a child ultimately grieves with.
Ironically, people mistake my introversion and need for space as cold and callous. I have grieved, I am grieving, I will continue to grieve. I just have no desire to express to the world around me what I hold inside unless there is something to be gained, learned or felt on either side. I won’t be travelling back for my father’s memorial services. No one there will gain, learn or feel what he experienced. If this service was to honor him in life, then I would be at his side like I was when I was first told of his terminal condition. I will, however, revere him on my own terms so that our final shared memories will endure peacefully. I am me because of him. There is no denying that fact. I am an adventurer because of the resolve he handed down to me. As I passively watched him carry on through life with an unwavering pride that strung together the broken pieces of his history, a part of his journey became mine. I am now that proud person filled with my own history of broken pieces, which have only made me stronger and more willing to take on any problem before me.
This man, my father, who had experienced almost every kind of hardship imaginable, including the loss of his homeland, repeatedly survived and overcame seemingly insurmountable challenges. After a lifetime of grueling misfortune, complete with death, war, refuge and disease, my proud father spent these past two years struggling to keep his dignity as his body slowly failed him. I went home to say my goodbyes and pay my respects when he was first placed under hospice care. At the time, I was told he had limited time left in this world. But, anyone who knew my father knows his limited could quite possibly have been another’s everlasting.
For as long as I can remember, my father was always declining in health, be it from a cultural indifference to modern medicine and nutrition or just a stubborn unwillingness to undo any part of himself. Throughout my adult years, I have dropped everything regardless of where I was – even in remote parts of the world – to be by his side upon hearing news of his multiple heart attacks, strokes and bouts of pneumonia. He survived them all, willfully staving off death each time, but resistant to change who he was following. However, when I last returned home to sit beside him, I knew limited was no longer everlasting. Seeing him in that hospital bed, unable to talk or move, made me realize this was my last time saying goodbye and only chance to tell him how much I still loved him. Even then, he didn’t want me there to see him unable to care for himself. My father no longer looked like the proud, strong man who raised me to be the equally proud, strong woman I am today.
I hike to remind myself of my strength in times of uncertainty and adversity. I now hike to honor my father, to remember the fate he bore so I could have this freedom to be the spirited, yet disciplined adventurer I am. I learn more about his life through each step I lay; I realize his perseverance with each heart-wrenching breath I take; and I experience his commitment to a better life with each summit I make. I’m glad we were able to say our final goodbyes and express our heartfelt cries of love and forgiveness when he was still lucid. He died knowing the struggles he endured in hopes for his legacy to have a better life came true. His suffering has finally ended. He can now rest in peace. He can now proudly be with me whenever I strap on my boots in search of new adventures and experiences.