How I finally forgave my father

For years, I questioned why I had to experience the gruesome, heartbreaking death of my eight-month-old puppy Ezra. It seemed so horribly tragic, meaningless, and preventable.

I was fourteen years old, and for 10 years I had experienced what felt like two separate lives as I visited back and forth between my divorced parents. The strained relationship between my father and me seemed to be on the upswing, and the ride to his house this particular day was starting out to be a pleasant experience. He had welcomed my beloved puppy and me to spend the night with him.

My father secured Ezra in the bed of his truck for the drive to his house. This was necessary because dog hair in the truck cabin would have created a war with his new wife. We rode with the windows down, and I watched in the rearview mirror as Ezra enjoyed the change of the smells and sights around him as we drove.

gendron - forgiving fatherThe experience was abruptly transformed from positive to horrific as we rounded a turn in the road. The leash that secured Ezra safely in the back of the truck snapped. He had been standing with his paws on the side of the truck bed, and the only bit of security holding him was now gone. He was quickly over the side and under the tire. I watched it all in its entirety in the rearview mirror.

My father quickly stopped the truck, scooped up my mangled little puppy, and placed him in the bed of the truck. I insisted that I sit in the back with my sweet boy as we drove away from the scene. Surrounded by blood and tears, I stroked the only clean area I could find on him

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why my father drove straight to his house instead of going to a veterinary clinic. When we arrived home, my father went inside and was on the phone, frantically trying to call a vet or someone to help. I stayed in the truck by my baby’s side. At some point, I yelled to my father and stepmother, “STOP! It’s over; he’s gone!” It wasn’t the loss of breath or heartbeat that alerted me; I was not monitoring any of that. I just knew within me the very moment when Ezra had slipped away.

Now, as an Acupuncture Physician. I work with patients every day to help them live better. I have experienced bringing life into this world as a Doula; providing non-medical educational, emotional, and physical support to women during the childbearing year, but I had never been part of a patient’s journey at the end of their life. The doula training and my experiences in childbirth prepared me for everything I needed to do in my role as a “Death Doula”. The experiences are very similar and my role is simply one of support. Birth and death are sacred life experiences that can be beautiful. The peace I experienced with my patient Marc helped reconcile my traumatic childhood experience.

From the first meeting with my patient Marc, my role was established as the spiritual caregiver. He lay on the table for his first acupuncture treatment shaking; his face gray, his lips scarlet red. Marc was too weak to sit or stand, so he had lain down throughout our initial consult. His brother was caring for him, and he was quick to fill me in on all that had been done for him by other healthcare providers thus far. When I began directing questions to Marc, he could only sigh and say, “I’m so tired.”

I fought through my own nervousness and fear, as I candidly asked him in front of his family if we were fighting cancer or finding peace with death. Regardless of the path, I reassured them I was there to help him. Nobody wanted to have this conversation, but I felt this situation warranted and deserved brutal honesty.

Within a couple of weeks of treatment, Marc had surprisingly turned around. He was walking on his own, and even going to physical therapy to regain the muscular strength he had lost in previous months. By no means were we curing cancer, but the disease was not defining him.

During his treatments, I learned that during his career as a pilot, the experience of teamwork was what had meant the most to him. I’ve heard other pilots refer to the “high” that comes from flying a plane. Yet, this man was expressing to me that it was the trusting relationship between crewmembers that he enjoyed the most. I used the analogy of the flight crew repeatedly in his treatments. I kept reinforcing teamwork. “We are here to fly with you. You lead the way!” It was entirely about supporting his journey through cancer.
Months later, I sat alongside him as he lay in his bed under hospice care. With his hand on my leg and my hand gently stroking his arm, we sat in the company of his brother and his friend. The conversation was casual and insignificant between all of us, and Marc rested quietly.

Suddenly Marc opened his eyes and stared intently at me. He said, “I love you.” A bit sheepishly, I responded, “I love you, too.” He repeated it louder, and I asked, “Are you okay?” He nodded yes. Holding his intense gaze, I told him, “All you have to do is relax.” As a labor and birth doula, these are the same words I commonly use to support women during childbirth. He closed his eyes and relaxed back into his pillow.

The room was transformed. Time was frozen, and we sat in awe of the divine that had shown itself. I had the courage to shake aside my own fear in that moment; to be completely present with him and hold a space of love and peace. It is a moment I will never forget.
As in childbirth, the presence of divine love is undeniable in death.

The next day he passed away and I know the spiritual work helped him let go of the physical world he was once so attached to. As it had been with Ezra, I just knew.

In the days that followed Marc’s passing, I grieved in ways I didn’t know I would. I would burst into tears spontaneously for Marc, Ezra and surprisingly for my father. This experience, years later helped me see how heartbreaking it must have been for my father watching his baby girl experience loss in such a horrific fashion. I am sure he also looks back at all the things that could have been different. Just as I blamed him for all the things he could have done differently. If only he had the gall to stand up to his wife about what he did with HIS truck. If only he had the awareness to drive to a vet rather than home. If only he had known how much I needed him to tell me he was sorry, and simply hold me.
Looking back I remember my father digging the hole where I insisted he bury Ezra. He tried to convince me that further away from the tree roots where Ezra liked to lay in the shade would be the ideal place for burial. I watched him struggle to dig around the massive tree in my mother’s backyard only thinking of putting my baby to rest exactly where he loved to be. Now I can see, how hard that entire experience must have been for him. My father was digging a hole in the backyard where he use to live; the life he had left behind years ago was all around him. In the years since their divorce, my father avoided our house, my mother, and in years to come, his children. The family he had created was all around him as he dug, and he was there as a visitor. My father has broken my heart with his shortcomings as a parent countless times, but I can now see his broken heart too. I know that the only thing that kept him digging was love.

The heartache I experienced years earlier was horrible, but there was a seed of beauty contained within it. I learned how to honor someone in his death. I was given the opportunity to just know when it’s time. There is no room for fear as someone transitions between worlds. Only love can exist in the sacred moments of birth and death.
I am so grateful that Marc’s family welcomed me into their home to share in this experience that taught me so much. Above everything else it taught me how to have compassion for my father.

Previously published on The Good Men Project



Amy Gendron, A.P

View posts by Amy Gendron, A.P
Amy is an Acupuncture Physician in the state of Florida where she works in an integrative medicine practice. She has studied abroad in Yunnan China under some of the nations top doctors. In addition she has extensive training in Mei Zen Cosmetic Acupuncture, Reiki, personal training and as a labor and delivery doula. Her experience as a NCAA Champion in field hockey influences how she approaches her personal and professional life- Go big or go home!
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