Unconscious or Playing Possum?
Virginia drove two straight days to get to the nursing home where her father was dying. Once she got there, she wouldn’t leave his bedside. She had been quietly sitting there for five days even though she had a hotel paid for across the street. She was exhausted on every level. I suggested she go take a bath, take a nap, or get something to eat. With urgency, she said, “But what if he wakes up and has something to tell me? What if he says something I need to hear?” She hung her head and mumbled, “He hasn’t said a word to me since I got here last week. He is either sleeping or staring off into the distance. I don’t think he is in there.” I asked her what she wanted to hear him say. She just shook her head in tears.
I offered to sit with her father for an hour or two as I had plenty of charting to do. She reluctantly agreed to take care of herself and dragged her feet out the door.
Less than two minutes after Virginia left, her father opened his eyes, turned his head in my direction, and looked right at me. In a hoarse whisper he said, “I have had the luxury of Virginia’s unconditional love for just over seventy years. Not too many father’s can say that.” Surprised I asked, “Have you said these tender words to Virginia?” He turned his head away from me, closed his eyes, and tearfully moaned, “I don’t know how to say I’m sorry for all the terrible ways I fathered her as she grew up.” He then went on to confess of cheating on her mother, of his gambling and alcohol addiction, his violent outbursts, and withholding affection from his children because he didn’t feel he deserved their love in return. He then closed his eyes and remained quiet for the rest of the time I was there.
Virginia returned to her father’s bedside with the same clothes on, wet hair, and a slice of pizza in her hand. It didn’t feel right to share what her father said to me. But knowing that he was fully aware under that possum like exterior, I said to Virginia, “Your father can hear you. Tell him everything. Tell him how you feel and don’t hold back. Tell him why you love him, offer forgiveness if you feel that is right, ask for forgiveness if you have something you would like forgiveness for, thank him if you have something to be thankful for.” Virginia silently nodded.
I gathered my things and slowly left the room. Virginia took a loud deep breath and started telling her father why she loved him. As I closed the door, I saw her father open his eyes, turn his head in her direction, and look right at her.
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