The Man Who Wasn’t There

My Father’s Easter Cactus that “died” and I revived.

I originally wrote the below about my mother’s death. My father who was fading at the time has died this month. He was actually gone a long time before the day his death certificate says.

I watched my mother die, her mind as sharp as a scimitar knife straight off a steel yet her body and strength fading until there was nothing left. She prepared everything for her death in her dedicated, controlled manner, planning out her grave, her memorial service, her distribution of worldly possessions and writing her obituary as she made her peace with the world in preparation for moving on.

While my mother carefully died my father was fading quite differently, his pattern bracketing hers yet totally at odds. His body in fine shape, his personality, quirks and mannerisms all there. Yet he is the man upon the stair who isn’t there. I am the stranger whom he’s never met, over and over, visiting him and meeting him each time for the first time from his perspective, each time for the last time from mine. Unlike the poem Antigonish I do not wish that he would go away. Rather I cherish each brief moment when recognition sparks in his eyes. For the last year it was never there. He had slipped beyond the time in which I dwell.

[I met a man who wasn’t there]
Hughes Mearns

As I was going up the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there!
He wasn’t there again today,
Oh how I wish he’d go away!

When I came home last night at three,
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall,
I couldn’t see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door…

Last night I saw upon the stair,
A little man who wasn’t there,
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away…

    –Huges Mearns

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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5 Responses to The Man Who Wasn’t There

  1. Ginny Chandoha says:

    So sorry to learn of the loss of your father, and that of y0ur mother. Very eloquently written, and a beautiful tribute to them both. I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s in 1985, when she was 71 years old. She’d been diagnosed 5 years earlier, and toward the end she did not know who I was. I lost my older brother 7 years ago to the same illness, when he was 72 years old, and no longer recognized his wife or children, but always knew who I was. Last month I turned 72, and as far as I can tell, still have my health, and wits about me.

    I lost my dad in 1990. He’d been lost to me for years. Not due to illness, but the fact that he was a very angry, bitter, and abusive man. After my mother died, I extricated my father from my life.

    You are fortunate to have had wonderful parents, especially a father. As for me, my dad is the man who was never there.

    Thank you for your wonderful tribute to your parents. It touched me deeply, made me sad that they are no longer physically a part of your life, but happy that they will always be a treasured memory, and with you spiritually.

  2. Brian Pell says:

    So sorry to hear that you finally lost your father. I am not sure whether I feel worried that that fate awaits me. 78 and all my physical attributes still working and still “employed” looking after two children. Does the person care when he knows nothing about what just happened, or does it all just float.

  3. So very sorry for your loss especially before his actual death. We’ve gone through this with both our folks to cancer and it’s not an easy loss!! Prayers be with you!!

  4. Sister Maria Philomena says:

    Dear Walter,
    I am sorry for your loss. Please be assured of our prayers. I’m so glad that you continued to visit your father even though he no longer recognized you. Very painful . . . but very valuable. And, we don’t know how much he knew (inside, in his soul) — even though his ability to communicate was restricted by the failing limitations of his body.

  5. Larry Porter says:

    Dear Walter, i share your grief to the extent my experience of each of my parent’s deaths allows. Your words honor and celebrate their lives. Thank you.

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