Michiana Chronicles: Daffodils

Nov 27, 2019

(FILE) Daffodils at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew are in full flower on March 28, 2010 in London, England.
Credit Oli Scarff/Getty Images

It was an afterthought to take the daffodils. I was already backing out of the driveway when I noticed them in full bloom along the side of our house. I got out of the car and went inside to find scissors to cut them. Then I moistened some paper towels to wrap around their stems and placed all of that in aluminum foil. It was a three-hour drive, and I didn’t want them to wilt.

I knew those daffodils wouldn’t make any difference. But I wanted to do something nice, something that felt right. When I arrived at the hospital, the nurse brought me a vase. I set the bouquet on a table near his bed and looked at him.

He was my dad, and he was dying. I was his youngest child, and I was waiting.

When I received the call to come to the hospital, I went, as did my sister and brother. Mom was already there. We held his hand; we walked in the hallways. We leaned against walls; we talked to each other in the waiting room. We became emotional; we became practical. Did I want to sleep while my sister sat with Dad? Could we ask the church choir to sing at the funeral? Would my aunt and uncle be able to find the hospital once they arrived from Kansas or should someone meet them at my parents’ home?

I looked at the daffodils. I looked at my dad.

I tried to have some extraordinary insight about life—about my life, about my life with Dad. Instead, I heard the sounds of the hospital staff going about their work—placing a food tray on the cart, pumping the blood pressure cuff, asking my dad to “please stand on the scales because we need to take your weight.”

I tried to latch onto a memory as I thought of the way he turned a phrase, how his workshop smelled of sawdust, the way he meticulously cleaned his pipe before lighting it. Instead, I looked out the hospital windows as day turned into night and the lamps of the city lit the evening.

I tried to find my grief as I left his room and walked quietly down the corridor. Instead, I listened as a stranger in the waiting room shared her frustrations and her own story of waiting.

Whether he laughed or yelled, Dad did so with his whole being. There was never a question of how Dad was feeling. You watched, you listened--you knew. He was a complex man, and at 34, I was not yet mature enough to understand why he was as he was. He and I had trouble spots when I was growing up. He wanted his way, and I, of all things, wanted mine.

I was eight years old and wanted attention; he was 37 and focused on his career. I was 12 and wanted control; he was 45 and demanded respect. I was 18 and wanted independence; he was 51 and wanted to be not old enough to have his youngest child ready to leave home.

In the quiet of the darkness, my sister urged me to tell Dad whatever I needed to, whether or not I thought he could hear me. I kept silent. I didn’t know what it was that I needed to say.

My dad died that night. He was never lucid enough to know I had brought him daffodils, that I had wanted to do something for him as he lay in that hospital bed, that I wanted to talk to him while he could still answer my questions.

I didn’t discover any new understanding that final night in the hospital room with my dad. Understanding doesn’t come on demand. It comes when your life is ready for it. As years passed, I grappled with my own desire to give time to my work when my eight-year-old wanted attention. I felt the grip of wanting to have the final say when my 12-year-old questioned my authority. I felt the angst of saying goodbye to my 18-year-old leaving for college when what I really wanted was to be starting over.

Dad died before I experienced those moments in my own life and before I could tell him that maybe I was beginning to understand.

At 34, I had done what I could. I had come to his side to tell him I loved him. I had brought him daffodils.

Music: "Daffodils" by Baham Jun