Her dad was the one who learned to listen, whose kindness won out over any forgotten faults. Yvonne Spence remembers her father and a lifetime of learning.
Two years ago today, my father died. I’ve heard that it takes two years to get over the death of someone you love, but I’ve also heard you never do.
What exactly does getting over it mean, anyway? Certainly not that you cease to love the person, or to miss them. Certainly not that you stop thinking about them. It’s true the pain eases, the tears stop pouring whenever you think of them. It’s true life goes on.
In the last years of his life he became not just my father, but a close friend. In the last weeks, that friendship grew deeper.
I’ve written about my father before, about how he touched so many people in the last years of his life. The nurses who sang with him the day before his death, who told my sister they’d grown too fond of him. The man who’d never met him till they shared a hospital room, but who came back to visit. The men who cried at his funeral, who couldn’t speak to us as they left the church. The minister who said, “At funerals like this, I am required to give a sermon. But Willie’s life was the sermon.”
How did that happen? How did a boy who fell behind in school, because his eyesight was too poor to read the blackboard, become someone a minister so revered?
To my mind, it’s simple. My father went from knowing to not knowing. He went from judging to empathising. He went from talking to listening.
When we were young, we sometimes had fun with Dad, but other times he had a short fuse. Once, our family was preparing to go out. My younger sister and I had been working on a jigsaw, so once we’d got our coats on, we carried on fitting pieces into the puzzle while we waited for our parents. Dad came into the living room and yelled at us for not being ready. Before we could reply, he hit us.
Over the years, he grew calmer, more aware. He understood.
One day, when my daughters were little, one of them had been crying, and a few of us adults were in the kitchen afterwards. Dad talked about he could remember feeling distressed that way, how even after you’d stopped feeling upset, sometimes you couldn’t stop crying.
But long before that, even by the time I was a teenager, he sometimes quietly mediated after a fall-out between my mother and I. As my sisters and I grew older, he listened when any of us expressed resentment from childhood days. I don’t ever remember him defending himself. By the time I had children of my own, I discovered that sometimes, no matter how much you love them, there are times when you react in ways you regret – not just later, but the regret occurs even as you react.
In the last weeks of his life, I had many conversations with Dad. I was visiting my parents when he was admitted to hospital, and after I’d returned home we spoke on the phone most days. In one of those conversations, he talked about how he wished he had listened and explained more when we were young. He said, “Children ask, ‘Why?’ And you just say, ‘Because I said so.’” He said he’d noticed I took the time to explain to my children.
Now, I realise that although I did work hard to listen to my children and to understand and empathise, I also learned it from my father. Even if he wasn’t always able to do it when we were young, he showed me how when he listened to us in his later life.
In those last few days of his life, Dad talked with regret about any times he’d been unkind, and hoped he could be forgiven. For me, by then, there was nothing to forgive, and I told him that for anything unkind he’d ever done he’d been kind a thousand times over.
The kindest thing he did was listen.
Featured photo: Stefano Corso/Flickr
Other photos courtesy of the author.
This post was written for the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion’s theme of Listening.
You can find Yvonne’s books on Amazon here.