Text excerpted from my memoir, Seeing Clearly, Chapter 12, "Rock Bottom"
One day, not long after Mom died, I came home from work and found my father sitting in his study, lost in thought with a blank expression on his face. He had Mom’s urn in his lap, and he had taken the top off and was letting her cremated remains sift through his fingers. I walked in and sat in the recliner next to him.
He glanced up at me briefly and said, “Can you believe this is all there is?”
“No, I can’t, Dad.” I had no idea what to say.
He closed the urn and sat it down on the table between us and we sat there in silence for a minute or two, each lost in thought.
“I went to Olive Garden for lunch,” he said.
“That sounds nice. I know you like that.”
He seemed so distant. Another minute or so passed before he said softly, “I don’t know if I can do this.”
“Do what, Dad?”
“I barely made it to the end of the street before I had to pull over to the side of the road. I just sat there and cried. I couldn’t drive.”
I couldn’t believe the words I had just heard. I had never known my father to be so emotional, and it was painful to hear.
“Oh Dad, I am so sorry. It’s hard, I know, but you will get through this.”
I will never forget his next ten words.
“What’s the use, Chris? I don’t want to live anymore.”
For a moment I couldn’t breathe. I searched for words, “Dad, you have to,” I pleaded.
He looked up at me and asked softly, “Why?”
It was like watching a giant oak wither and die right before my eyes. For all my life I had seen my father as a symbol of unimaginable strength, something I could only aspire to, and at that moment he seemed so frail and weak. I had no idea how to respond, I just wanted him back the way I had known him for all my life. I hated to see him in such pain, and I hated how it made me feel. It was far easier for me to ignore the sorrow I felt in my own heart when he was stoic and unemotional. In all the years I had known him, that was the most vulnerable and honest expression of his emotions that I had ever experienced, and I just wanted it to end. I desperately searched for an answer and all I could find was, “You have to Dad. For me. For Mike. For your grandkids.” I no longer remember the conversation that followed, but what I do know is that I did everything I could to get the conversation back to safer ground. At the time I am sure I would have said that I was trying to move on to help ease his pain, but the reality was that I hated the emotional territory we were in, and I just wanted to run as far away from it as I could.