Untimely Death

My Dad will likely die tonight.

(update: Pop died June 24 at around 7pm)

Born on the heels of the Russian Revolution in May of 1923, or thereabouts. Who knows? with record keeping the way it was, or wasn’t. It makes him 95 or so. A hard long life, maybe even good at times. He was good for me.

I am afraid that I wasn’t good enough for him these last few years. I wish he would have died before he knew of my failure and weakness. It caused him to reframe some of his own life choices and brought him additional grief at the end of an arduous life journey.

I don’t know what it’s like to be an immigrant, a migrant, a day laborer, a foreigner, unfamiliar with the prevailing culture, unable most of the time to articulate clearly. He knew that life, and he kept me from feeling that – not so much by his presence because he wasn’t around all that much – he worked too much, too hard.  Our relationship was always paternal, not close in that “Dad can we talk?” kind of way. But I never doubted his love for me.

Not even on that muggy Montebello summer evening at Grant Rea Park about 50 years ago – a night that I think of more often than other childhood memories. I was playing on the Braves, the best team I ever played on, and the team I most disliked. I struck out, swinging. From beyond the first base bleachers, my immigrant father stood, watching. Short sleeved white shirt with the top button unbuttoned, cheap brown slacks purchased at Montgomery Wards or JC Penney, and the common immigrant shoes – you know the type. My love for good shoes is born out of embarrassment for those immigrant shoes.

I struck out.

He laughed.

Loud enough for me to hear.

Somehow my 9-year-old mind translated that laughter correctly. I knew it was a laughter of love disguised in misunderstanding. He didn’t know how potentially devastating strike outs are to young developing baseball superstars. But I knew my dad loved me, even as he laughed at me at the most wrong time.

I needed my Dad these last two years. But he was unable to help me. So often I wanted to talk to him, or who he was supposed to be, but he wasn’t able. His last few years were cruel – not so much from the standpoint of disease, although he had a lot of pain. It was cruel in its loneliness. As soon as my mom died, my dad died. He couldn’t escape her absence, and it haunted him until even now, the eve of his passing. I had no magic for him. No words of wisdom or godly counsel brought consolation.

He tried. Our conversations went like this”

“Hey Pop, how are you?”

“Not so good…but I’m not complaining…I am thanking God” not so much as a statement of faith, but as an adjustment to “right” the ship. “I am not so good…I am not supposed to complain though, so I better say thank you.” It was painful to hear, to watch.

You know, it was ok that he was not ok.

I wish he had the freedom to not be ok. He had a right to not be ok. God took his wife on the day of their 70th wedding anniversary and left him alone the last 5 years to slowly watch his strength and faculties diminish. He took a strong, independent man and broke him down. And then, finally, “mercifully” killed him.

We used to laugh at my father’s language flops, all of you immigrant children have this in common. We called his “Moisi-isms.” Sometimes  the language flaw made you think, like when he prayed:

“God, I thank you for everything you do to me” (instead of “…do for me”).

He tried to be thankful these last years for what God was doing to him. Taking his wife before him and making him wait for almost five years for his own death. I don’t get it. He was ready. He had suffered enough, had enough trouble in his long life – why did mercy delay? It feels unjust.

Obviously, I have my own adjusting to do.

Though you slay me, Job says, I will praise you.

There it is, the right verse, but I am not there yet.

And that’s ok.

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