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.