I caught a glimpse of something the other day that might have gone unnoticed by most people, but my eye lingered for a minute. Two men in quiet conversation, in no hurry and apparently with no agenda.
That’s what struck me at first – it was obviously not a meeting. It wasn’t two guys hammering out a deal or making a plan or crafting a response. It was two grown men, one twenty five years older than the other, talking and laughing about everything under the sun.
They looked like they had all the time in the world. I wanted to walk over and tell them that they didn’t…that there was a clock ticking somewhere and this conversation would end one day. I wanted to tell them that those agenda-free conversations are rare…and that even among my friends now, we usually have something to talk about when we talk.
My eye lingered on the two for a minute. It’s probably human nature to notice what you cannot have, and for a moment I saw what I can’t have. I saw a grown man having a quiet talk with his dad.
Marvin Jacob Bohlender was a small bear of a man. With me in my socks and he in his boots, he was still shorter than me, but thick like a barrel. In this final years – his early sixties, my late twenties – he was still markedly stronger than I was. One of the hardest things about accepting his passing was my almost illogical belief that he was just too tough to die.
We were in northeast Ohio when I got the call. His heart surgery had gone poorly. He was still on the operating table hours after his surgery should have been done. My mom’s voice wavered a bit as she told me “It’s not good.”. I couldn’t translate “It’s not good….” properly and relayed the information to Kelsey in a non-emotional manner. She stared at me.
“This is serious…..” She said.
“I know….” I said quietly, but went about my business.
“We have to go immediately.” She announced. Praise God for a good wife. We were on the next morning flight to North Dakota, where we landed in Bismarck and family members rushed us to the hospital.
You’re never quite ready to see your father on a ventilator, his hands swollen, feet a tint of blue. He lingered for 21 days in ICU, briefly out of ICU, and then back in. We had a few short hours together when he was able to communicate off the ventilator. We both wanted to talk, but we knew that as he did, his blood oxygen level would drop, so we sat quietly together. Soon he was back on the machine and our verbal communication would be no more.
Kelsey and I were standing at the foot of his bed with my mother when the heart monitor let out it’s piercing wail. The room flooded with medical professionals doing the dance they need to do at times like this. They were doing their best to do what I knew I’d already done – gone the last mile with him.
I borrowed a computer from my home town high school to peck out a eulogy, and a few days after, I officiated at my fathers funeral. After the service, as they rolled the coffin into the hearse, I remember exhaling as if I’d been holding my breath for days. I really did go the last mile with him.
It was important to Dad to end life with no regrets towards family members. He talked about that even in full health. I’d lost a sister to a tragic car accident, something for which a parent can find no solace…yet he did find a measure of comfort in that fact. They had no regrets towards one another and in that there was a certain measure of peace.
This week, with the fingers of Fall beginning to brush the tips of the trees, I sat in my truck at watched a man talk with his father, knowing I will not talk to mine again in this life. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little envious. I bear no regrets regarding our relationship, but would pay nearly any price to enjoy for a moment what I watched those two enjoy for quite some time.
My life is radically different than his. He would understand little of what I do, although he would understand why I do it. We wouldn’t talk about that anyway. I’m not sure what we would talk about. I’m not sure it even matters.
He’s been gone for nearly fifteen years and I still miss my dad.
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