My dad died last Saturday. He was 87. He had been in hospice home care for seven months as his heart slowly gave out.
I’ve put aside the article I had been working on for today. It’s an important one, about apologies. I’ll finish it at some point. But since my dad died last week, I haven’t had the energy to do what I usually do. Instead, I’d like to write briefly about Dad.
He was a highly sensitive person: deeply spiritual, moved by the beauty in music and literature, and keenly tuned in to other people. A deep thinker. So much of him is in me: I feel him when I open a door for someone, or wait patiently in a line, or respond with courtesy to someone waiting on me… and most especially when I tuck into my food with gusto.
A year ago, the idea floated into my mind of asking Dad if he’d like me to write an obituary for him. Nothing official—just what I would write myself, if I were given as many words as I needed to say what I’d want to say about his life. After all, I thought, why wait until someone you love has died to reflect on their life and share your thoughts with them?
I’m sure many people would have found my suggestion tactless, or even morbid. Not Dad. His face lit up, and he said, “I’d love that!” HSPs think about death, and my dad was no exception. Dad was a deeply spiritual person, and you can’t dig deep spiritually without coming to terms with death. In fact, he had long since written out a detailed description of the liturgy and music he wanted included in his funeral.
Seeing my dad
I wrote the “obituary,” and Dad and I met on Zoom to read it together. He was already quite frail and had to be helped into his chair by my mom and one of his caregivers. Dad was touched in a shy, humble way. You could say he was touched by what I had written, but more than that, I think, he was touched by the experience of seeing himself as others saw him.
We can’t do that for ourselves. It’s like trying to see your back in the mirror. Yet we crave it: we want and need to be seen by others. Even more, we want our true, authentic self to be seen— not an airbrushed Instagram version. There is no greater gift we can give each other than to truly see each other.
As we read together, Dad made a few changes here and there. Most were minor. However, a few were important. I had written that he had “endured the controlled chaos of family life.” Dad said, “Oh, no, I didn’t endure it. I truly enjoyed it!” He said he’d always gotten such a kick out of all of our shenanigans.
As I changed that line to reflect the truth, I realized I had been worried that having four kids in six years must surely have been an overwhelming experience for my very sensitive dad. What a relief to learn I’d been wrong.
Seeing each other
My dad cared deeply about seeing others. He touched many people that way. When I feel myself staggering under the weight of the grief that I will not see him again in the flesh, I feel comforted knowing that he knows I offered some of that seeing back to him before he died.
In the end, my family decided to use a lovingly pruned and edited version of what I wrote, for the #public obituary for Dad. I’m happy the piece came in handy at a time of need. It’s the encounter itself that means the most to me, though: simply being with Dad, sharing how I saw him. That was, and will remain, a highlight of my life.
Photo © 2023, Elizabeth Agnew. Thanks Lib.
Your blog about your dad touched me deeply and I’m so happy to hear that you shared with him your perception and love for him before he passed.
On February 10th my brautifuldaughter Florencia decided to end her suffering, deep anxiety entangled Witt some memories who were reflected in her body developing in an eating disorder in the last 2 years.
She decided to pass from one dream to another. She was 28 and one of my triplets.
Florencia was such a loving person, Emily! Full of energy, a huge smile, yes very sensitive and with such great care and compassion to others, even during her most difficult moments.
She left us a very loving note to release us from more suffering.
250 people attended her Life Celebration. The room was filled with love… we, as a family, received the fruits of her love poured onto everyone.
We have no regrets because we used to express the love and support for each other and even in written cards. These deep expressions of love are the ones that soothe my heart when I feel the big tsunami of emotions with the mere thought that I won’t see her in flesh again.
Florencia was my hero, my inspiration and I promise myself to transform this pain into love helping others with my art.
Emily I took one session with you. I was at that moment breaking up with a long term partner, who did not work on himself. I finally closed the chapter working on myself.
Emily, I’d like to send you my sincere condolences for the passing of your dear dad and my appreciation for such a wonderful blog that makes a lot of sense to me.
Love & Peace
Lydia, I am so very, very sorry to hear about your daughter. I send you much love and care as you navigate that loss, hearing how determined you are to transform the pain into beauty that will help others. Thank you for taking time to share your experience and for your kind words about my dad.
Thank you so much Emily for your kind words.
I was so touched by the tribute to your dad. How wonderful it is to be able to understand so much about sensitivity, and pass it on to others with such detail.
So sorry for your loss of your Dad & how lucky to have him for so long, My dad died at 45 from a heart attack, way to young.
Deb, thank you so much for taking time to write. I can’t imagine what that must have been like losing your dad suddenly at such a young age. This has been so hard, and we knew it was coming and had lots of time to “plan”…not that planning can possibly prepare one for the loss of a parent, can it.
What a touching email/blog. I’m so sorry for your loss. I loved your tribute to him, what a wonderful father to have. I love his name, it’s very distinguished, as I suspect he was. Much Love, Kate xxxx
Kate, I can feel your love and support and I appreciate it so much. Thank you for writing and I send love:)
I was very touched by your writing about your Dad. I am sorry for your loss.
I have also had the chance to write my Dad’s obituary although I could not read it to him. I wrote it after his sudden passing and I could not attend his funeral living under the pandemic on a different continent. I still had the sense that somehow through those words that somebody else spoke for me my Dad and I were brought together held by family and friends.
At around that time I also had the privilege to work with you. Thank you for your healing presence and for putting words to deep experiences that we share. I feel with you and I am sending you much love.
Kati, that is wonderful you could write the obituary for your Dad and feel it bringing everyone together even from a distance. We are not all separate.
It moves me and comforts me to know what I’ve written is a support to you and to others. At its best, it comes straight from the divine–not from me, but through me…and this was one of those times. Thank you for writing and for your care.
I’m so sorry for the loss of your dad. Thank you for sharing this very thoughtful and sensitive article about him and tribute to him. I love the photo of him and the cat, it touched my heart. I also loved hearing that he really enjoyed his family and that life together. How wonderful that you read the obituary to him, a truly beautiful moment and memory. Sending support and care.
Fiona, thank you, I feel the care coming across the ocean:)
Sorry to hear of your loss. It sounds like your Dad lived a fulfilling life.
I lost my father, to another woman(my parents separated when I was 18) and to alcohol, almost 40 years ago.
He has been living in a long term care residence for over 2 months now, and in the hospital for a month prior to that. He fell at home and broke some bones. He cannot walk at the moment. He will be in long term care now for the rest of his life. (His wife passed away end of January)
He hasn’t been allowed to drink since . My brother has made it very clear to LTC staff to not allow him near the ‘Happy Hour’ lounge. (Where the term happy hour came from I have no idea, when the destruction alcohol can do to a person and a family is far from happy)
Now, I have a father who talks to me and listens to me. He hasn’t really done this in almost 40 years. My emotions are conflicting and my thoughts are scrambled.
I discovered I was HSP 8 years ago at the age of 50. I have often wondered lately if my father is HSP under all that alcohol. I don’t know much about my father. Alcohol distorts who a person is.
I wish you and your family much peace during your grief. It sounds like you have many wonderful memories to draw upon.
I am concerned about when my father passes away. I should probably read your blog…Anticipatory grief. All I can think of is my grief will be empty. What does a person do with empty grief?
Suzanne, thank you for your kind words. Regarding your own father, it sounds confusing and disorienting to have him actually listening after all these years. Perhaps something new might grow from that. Whatever grief you feel when he dies, however, will not be empty: it will be full of a mix of emotions, even if those are “only” the grief that your dad was really not able to be there for you in your life. (and that itself is a big grief.)
Dear Emily, I am so sorry to hear of your father’s passing. It’s my experience too that no matter how prepared we think we are, no matter how inevitable the end, it’s still a shock and we’re caught by surprise at the way grief comes.
Your father sounds like such a wonderful man, and I’m in awe of both your ability to collect your reflections into words and by your brilliant and courageous idea to create an obituary you could share with him. Thank you for sharing this whole story! It is an inspiration.
Wishing you comfort and support as you continue to walk through the transformations that love and grief offer us.