On Friday March 11th, Ralph Edward Miller, my father, passed away—two months shy of his 91st birthday. Six months ago he was doing pretty well, living at home, mentally intact, and still able to get around. He was diabetic for the last 50 years of his life, so it was somewhat miraculous that he still had his eyesight and all his limbs at age 90. Every now and then he would have a blood sugar episode related to his diabetes, and sometimes he would temporarily lose consciousness. Six months ago this happened and he had a bad fall. He had fallen before, but aside from ending up with scrapes and bruises, he was always okay. This fall was different. Afterwards he was unable to walk and had lost control of some of his bodily functions. My mother, who had been taking care of him for 66 years, continued to try o take care of him at home, along with my brother, Rick. Ultimately, it was too much for them and in October they were forced to put my father in a convalescent home. It was a nice enough facility, and he received good care there, including physical therapy, but all of my father’s vitality was gone. I remember seeing him just before he went into the convalescent home. He looked like he had aged 20 years in the three months since I’d seen him.
When I saw my father on Christmas Day he said to me, “Don’t ever let yourself get into this situation, son, when you can’t take care of yourself.” He was a proud man who had always been strong and vital. This situation was a serious affront to his dignity as a human being. My heart went out to him, but I couldn’t think of any words of comfort to offer. He had a deep cough at the time, and told me he had pneumonia, then gave me a knowing look as if to say, “This is what will kill me.”
I figured that my brother Rick would let me know when the end was near so I could make one last visit to offer comfort and support during my father’s time of transition, but I guess it was hard to know when the end would come. I’m sad I didn’t get a chance to see him one last time to tell him I loved him and say goodbye.
From my teenage years into my late twenties I resented my father for what I perceived to be his emotional unavailability—for not loving me in the way I wanted to be loved. When I did the EST training in 1979, we were encouraged to work with one major issue in our lives that was holding us back. I chose my relationship with my father. Over a period of several hours I was able to process a lot of feelings and come to the conclusion that, although my father hadn’t loved me in the way I would have chosen, he loved me in the way he knew how to love me. As a result of this realization, I was able to forgive my father for whatever defects I had attributed to him, and accept the love he offered, no matter how indirect it might be. I went to visit my parents soon after completing the training and was eager to share my insights with my father. When he arrived home from work, I was waiting in the kitchen. Before I had a chance to say anything, he sat down with me at the kitchen table and began to share, very intimately, his experiences of the day in a way that I never remembered him doing before. Somehow, the space of acceptance for him that I had created within myself was manifesting as a new vulnerability and emotional availability in him. It was the kind of talk I had always wanted to have with my father.
I can’t say we were ever as close as I would have liked to be, but I came to appreciate my father as a dependable, hard working, self-disciplined individual with a lot of integrity. Eventually, he came to respect and appreciate my life choices as well. During the last few years of his life, my father seemed to soften beneath his curmudgeonly persona and we shared some nice moments. I’m glad that his transition was not a long and drawn out process, but I will certainly miss him.