Throughout the years, Dad's two bottles of straight Vodka each day transformed him into someone we hardly recognized. Although normally warm and caring, the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde act of alcoholism slowly drove us children away. Ours was a love-hate relationship for we loved Dad so much but hated who he was when he was drunk.
We all kids lived in different states during Dad's last years of life except for my baby brother who was still living at home. He spent most of his years taking over the care of Dad and home as each of us moved on to pursue a life of our own.
I lived ten hours away when I saw Dad for the very last time. Upon arrival, as I walked in the house I discovered the gas stove on high as all burners were ablaze to heat the house. Dad was asleep upright in a chair. After shaking him for several minutes to awaken him, I learned that Dad had been sleeping in this chair for nearly six months. Since his last drunken fall, he believed that he had broken his back and could not even get up to use the bathroom. This explained the large jar on the floor next to him.
The living conditions were so terrible that we forced Dad into seeing a doctor. It took three male relatives to get him into the car. Dad didn't believe in doctors but I think he feared what they might find after years of alcohol abuse, chain smoking, and near starvation.
I sighed a heavy relief over the phone as my little brother cried when Dad's test results came back normal. However, I refused to believe that Dad's living conditions and sleeping in a chair for half a year was normal.
Dad had been sick for years and spoke of dying for as long as I can remember. For almost twenty years, we struggled to figure out if Dad was really dying or if he had, once again, passed out from excessive drinking.
A couple of months later my brother found Dad passed out again. As always, we thought he was in a drunken coma but this time he had passed out forever. Just like that he was gone. No time for goodbye.
Two years after his death, I was awaken by a dream which seem so real it left me crying for several minutes. I had driven from Tennessee to visit my mom who still lives in a trailer on Dad's land. Dad's house is now vacant so I didn't even bother knocking on the door of the deteriorated home I had lived in.
"She's not home. She's gone shopping." It was Dad's voice. But how could it be? Slowly I looked up and there sat Dad on his front porch as if he'd never left. As I dully walked toward him in disbelief, I could smell his familiar scent of cigarette smoke, alcohol, and Old Spice aftershave. He was wearing his usual plaid shirt we gave him for Christmas. His "Paul Newman eyes" sparkled brilliantly as I drowned in their blue depth.
"Dad, what are you doing here?" I asked in amazement.
"I never got a chance to say goodbye before I left so I came back one last time. Go gather your sisters and brother," he said as his dimples peaked out at me.
"But Laura lives in Georgia and John can never, ever take a day off of work and, besides, who's going to believe me anyway?"
He scolded me as if I was still the little girl growing up in his home, "This is my one and only chance to say goodbye so go call them. Oh, go get your sister Linda too."
My siblings thought I was crazy and I KNEW I had gone over the edge! "I just can't fly home on a whim especially not for such a ridiculous reason," my sister told me. I didn't blame her.
Just to humor me, my brother miraculously took the day off and I went to get my other sister who lived nearby. We gathered around Dad as he told us how much he loved us and said his final goodbye.
Upon awakening, tears soaked my nightgown. It was all so real. With my heart thumping, I quickly called my sister in Georgia and before I could get a word in, she said, "I had a dream about Dad last night and it was so real! He was wearing his plaid shirt and told me that he came to say he was sorry that he missed me during his visit with you guys. He wanted to say goodbye since he didn't get a chance to." Goosebumps simultaneously covered our bodies and although my sister and I were thousands of miles apart, we sat in utmost closeness wrapped in the warmth of knowing that this truly was real.
After speaking to our other siblings, we received the confirmation we needed to know that Dad had come to say one last goodbye.
Lena, I pray that you know God knew your heart and how it was breaking for your dad. God sees all and knows all---He knows every tear you have shed and why. May you know His presence is with you always.