How I Reconnected With My Father on His Deathbed

I had to let go of his long-standing emotional distance and unwillingness to understand the woman I had become

Christine Morrison
Moms Don’t Have Time to Write
6 min readOct 25, 2021


Photo by Bret Kavanaugh on Unsplash

Running red lights, I raced to University Hospital hoping to arrive in time to tell my dad the one thing that he needed to know — that I loved him. His prognosis was not good, and according to the doctor, the end could come within seventy-two hours.

At that moment, it did not matter that I felt justified in walking away from our rather impassive relationship after I saw how he allowed his wife to mistreat my sister. It did not matter that for years I felt he had an emotional void and was unwilling to understand the woman I had become, no longer the little girl he once knew. None of that mattered as I swerved into the parking lot and raced to his side.

As I entered the hospital room, I braced myself for the worst. With a newly shaved head and a complete loss of verbal skills, he was screaming inaudible phrases as a team of nurses tried to restrain him. Bucking like an animal, he twisted and pulled to free himself from both the bed and the immobilized life his brain injury had given him.

I sat by his side for hours before he was wheeled into surgery, overwhelmed by my selfish thoughts and the angst that I would never forgive myself if he died on the operating table. How could he go before I had the chance to tell him how I really felt?

Considering our history of poor communication, I didn’t imagine that talking with each other would be any easier once my father survived the operation. Our twenty-nine-year relationship played in my mind as I stood outside of his room waiting for the nurses to change his bedding. The rare heart-to-hearts had always stemmed from a crisis, like the end of my parents’ marriage two decades earlier or the scare years ago when my dad learned of his chemical imbalance.

I never realized that I had stopped trying to talk with him. It was never natural with him like it was with my mother. He received the facts of my life, but not the emotions that surrounded the trials of my entrance into adulthood. I truly believed I held back because he was not a good listener, a complaint I had heard my mother lodge during their divorce.

In the weeks following his surgery, I often visited on the weekends, only to receive a cold stare and a warm, limp hand. His blank gaze was seldom broken, although he frequently mustered the energy to retaliate against the nurses.

As he refused to eat, he began biting the nurses that struggled to pry open his mouth for “enticing” foods like hospital Jell-O. “Hey, Mikey. He likes it!” he once exclaimed in a clear voice as he pushed away yet another dinner. It was like he was mocking the nurses and informing the world that his inability to speak did not make him an invalid.

While I was not certain my dad could understand my words, I believed these visits were my opportunity to tell him about my new life in New York City, the writing class I was enjoying, and the end of the relationship with the man I had hoped would become my husband. I knew that he heard me; I felt he understood what I was saying. I saw him muster a smile when I assured him I would wait for him to gain strength to walk me down the aisle.

When he finally did find the strength to form words, I stared intently at his mouth. “…Priorities, forgetting…me” was all I could decipher. He could mutter only a few words at first, but as I continued to listen to what he could say — often between long pauses — I nodded. He carefully enunciated to express himself, telling me things he had wanted to say years ago but had held back.

It was our encore to express the love and care we’d always had but were too proud and stubborn to reveal.

Like me, he felt it had been easier to relate from a distance. Like me, he wished he had realized the importance of our relationship. Like me, he wanted to forget the misgivings of our past and instead begin to confide in each other.

​Overwhelmed by my emotions, I climbed over the protective bed railing to hug him harder and stronger than I ever had. His fragile arms struggled, and he let out a sigh as he held onto me with his limited strength. I knew somewhere inside his scrambled brain remained the man that brought me into the world, who loved me the best way that he knew how.

As we cried, my dad and I realized we were not shedding tears of pain, but tears of joy knowing that we had gotten a second chance. It was our encore to express the love and care we’d always had but were too proud and stubborn to reveal.

I spent the next day confident that this newfound energy to focus on improving his speech was driven by the fact that he had so much more to tell me. As I heaved my bag onto my shoulder to leave the hospital that evening, his eyes bore into me as he smirked and tugged on his feeding tubes like he was going to make a break for it with me. I knew just how fortunate we were that, despite his brain trauma, we had found our way back to each other.

Then, he was gone. There was a crisis overnight, and he never recovered. And with his death, the dream of continuing our newfound relationship — spending time talking in whatever language necessary — perished as well.

While I have now mourned his passing for twenty-two years, I reflect on how we would have navigated our communication post-recovery. Could we have held on to those moments of clarity? Or would they have been pushed aside like the wheelchair deposited by the hospital parking lot?

I am certain he’s watching over me, incredibly proud of who I am and of the loving family I have created. Having driven me to the local newspaper for an internship, he’s thrilled I ultimately became a writer. But best of all, he is present in my twin boys who not only bear resemblance to him as a child but who also know that KC and The Sunshine Band’s “Celebration” was his favorite song. And they allow me to sing it (and sometimes join in!) at octaves they’d usually squirm over.

When my boys point out a red cardinal swooping through our yard, I feel connected to my dad the most; they are spiritual messengers after all. He may be gone, but our conversation isn’t over.

Christine Morrison is a seasoned freelance writer of all things fashion, beauty, and wellness — often through the lens of aging. A former fashion and beauty executive, she is a frequent contributor to The Quality Edit, and her first book — a fashion memoir — is in development.

This essay is part of our Moms Don’t Have Time to Grieve column.



Christine Morrison
Moms Don’t Have Time to Write

Fashion, Beauty, Wellness, and Fitness writer. Fashion essay collection in development. www.writinginblackandwhite. @writinginblackandwhite