In the hospital room, one sitting, one lying, both dying, but one much closer to the brink than the other, they pondered each other’s sins in silence. They waited, father and son, for the other to apologize, each considering themselves the most aggrieved of the two. They listed, silently, the ledger of sins the other had accrued against them. They fumed, silently, and refused to forgive. In each man built sadness, they saw how the other had been reduced by the feud between them. They longed to reach out and hug the other, but the gulf, forged by anger, was simply too wide. Each considered the meaning of loss, the cost of sacrifice.
“Dad…” One began.
“Son…” The other wheezed, a husk of the robust self he had once been.
“I forgive you.” They spoke in unison.
In response, the father laughed so hard it rattled his ribs. He coughed, painfully, phlegmatically. “You… forgive me? You ungrateful son of a-”
“Yes Dad, I forgive you your trespasses. I forgive you for berating me, for beating me verbally. I forgive you for all the times you stepped out against-”
“Your Mother? She loved me, she understood my… excesses.”
“She forgave you for our sake. She thought it better our family stick together. She was the one who sacrificed, not you!”
“I lost her, just as you did Son. We mourned together. We buried her together!”
The son sighed. And felt the tears creeping in his eyes. He would not cry. Not for him. “Yes, you mourned her after she died. But who cared for her while she lived, and who fled? Who lived in New York, hundreds of miles away, while she receded?”
The father sat up. His eyes red, with tears and anger. “I. DIDN’T. KNOW! I didn’t know how serious it had gotten. If I had… if I-” His sentence trailed off in a series of raking coughs, each one sounding like a rib cracking.
The son shook his head, partially out of disbelief, partially to clear the tears from his eyes. “You, you sad, old man. You bitter-“
The father interrupted with a laugh, even from his death bed, that cackle was potent and shattered the quiet with its strength. “Me? The bitter one? After all I’ve forgiven? After how you wasted your life? My riches? Casting aside the privilege I bled to afford you? You… ungrateful… FUCK YOU! After all I sacrificed…”
“You never sacrificed for me, Dad. You never sacrificed at all. Everything you did was for yourself. Your own legacy.”
“How can you say that, after your Mother…”
“You didn’t sacrifice her. You lost her! She was taken. Cancer stripped her from both our grasps. Nothing you’ve given you gave willingly, not for me. It was stripped from you. Nothing you gave me was for me, it was for your own legacy. Your name, your riches… are burdens. Whispers in the dark keening ‘Why can’t you live up to me?’”
The father held his son’s gaze, and despite death knocking at his door, refused to back down. “And why can’t you? Despite every advantage you’ve been given, why do you fail, and continue to fail? You’re my son. You are smarter than what you’ve become.”
“I… I’ve been held back by your doubts.”
“You’ve been held back by yourself. Your own laziness!”
At this, the son didn’t say anything, but considered the litany of his own failures. Despite his anger, he had to admit. His dad was right. He could have done better. He should have, but…
“My laziness does not absolve you Dad. My sins do not paper over yours.”
“And mine do not explain yours. Despite my failings, I gave everything for you.”
For a while, only the clicks and beeps of medical equipment penetrated the silence.
The Dad continues. “You think I never sacrificed for you? That is was all to service my own greatness? I, I could have been more, a celebrity, a politician. I could have left this family behind to further my own legacy. Maybe I wasn’t a great father, but I was one! Maybe I didn’t know how to raise a child, but I tried!”
“And you think I don’t appreciate what you and mom did for me? Then why, when you were abroad, or in New York, did I stay behind, caring for her as she grew sicker and sicker. Why, when my brother flourished, did I recede? Why was I there… holding her hand… when… when…”
The father grabs his hand. “I know what you did. And I thank you. I’m sorry I wasn’t there.”
“And I’m sorry I wasn’t better.”
In the silence that followed, the father’s heartbeat growing weaker and weaker. Though they did not think it, the truth echoed louder than any of their previous words. No accord had been made, but understanding was closer than it had been. In this life, that was all one could ask for. In each other’s faces, they could read the sentiment that they thought towards one another, more truthfully than had been spoken before.
I forgive you. I have no choice.