I was 12 years old when I made my father a promise. It was about a month after the sudden death of my 18 year old brother. My dad and I were walking across the back lawn of our home. He was talking to me and mistakenly called me by my brother's name. Instantly he realized it and apologized through his tears. He hugged me and said, "Don't ever leave me." Right then and there I promised him I wouldn't.
A year later, I went away to a seminary boarding school. That promise weighed heavily on my mind. I remember breaking down when I told my counselor what was troubling me. The next day, my parents came. My father apologized to me for what he had asked me to do. He said he didn't mean going away to school or even moving away when I get older. That's when I realized he was talking about dying before him.
Over the years that followed our relationship was rocky, even strained at times. My mother died five years later, when I was just barely 18. We were close. She knew me better than I knew myself and loved me. That was the day I left the seminary. Two months later, my father moved out, abandoning my younger sister and brother and me.
I guess neither my dad nor I could see past our own grief to understand what the other was going through. For me the pain was the worst thing I had ever felt. I remember my dad telling me in a heated argument, "Losing your mate is the worst pain you can ever feel. Even worse than losing a parent." I was too angry and hurt to understand.
Over the next nineteen years, our relationship became like a roller coaster ride. We went through times when we were good but then in the blink of an eye, it would change. There were several things that factored into it but it all stemmed from how my father dealt with grief. When my brother died, within the next few days everything that reminded him of my brother was thrown out. When his father died in our home, it was the same thing. After my mother died, he started to do it again. Only there was too much that reminded him, not only things but us. So he ran. When I understood this, it made sense and made what he did forgivable.
After he divorced his second wife (who was also a factor in keeping my father and me apart) twelve years after marrying her, he finally dealt with losing my mother. That was a major turning point in my father's and my relationship, as well as his relationship with all of my adult siblings. We were finally in a good place.
At a party at the senior center, my dad danced with a woman. Then a couple months later, while staying a my house, he received a letter from her. One look at her photo on her business card and I knew he would marry her. He did. She was all that I hoped for for him. She loved him and was devoted to him. They had eight years before a bomb hit - my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. My step-mom vowed to herself that she would care for him until the end.
On March 29th, I received the phone call I knew one day would come. The night before, while sitting with my step-mom as she watched TV, he started speaking gibberish. She asked him if he was okay. He answered, "No." She asked him if he was in pain. Again he said, "No." She called 911 and they took him to the hospital.
The next morning, he was unable to control his arms and legs. The doctor and my step-mom made plans for him to be relocated to a convalescent center to get physical therapy. However, by the afternoon of the 30th it was discovered he couldn't swallow. My mom apologized for asking me to wait to come down.
Thursday, after making the 6 hour trip to Brookings, Oregon, I walked into his room at the memory care center. I took his hand and told him I was there. He opened his eyes and nodded and held my hand.
On Saturday, April 2nd, at approximately 2:30pm, while by his side with my heart breaking, I fulfilled my promise.
John Michael Huff - memorial video
December 29, 1932 - April 2, 2016