See You Later

by julie swanson

Ronald Jude Polakowski, 1933-1995

My dad died 17 years ago today. He was a character, a complex character who we loved so much. And he loved us. His family was the most important thing in the world to him; that was obvious. He died of cancer, and he was amazing in his dying. In fact, it was so amazing I wrote a book based on it, my only novel that’s been published to date (see below). His suffering brought out the very best in him and he was an inspiration to us all. I didn’t always respect certain things about my dad, but in his dying, that year or two at the end, I came to respect everything about him. I miss him. We all do.

My dad’s last words to me were typical of his simple way of expressing himself  yet I don’t know if he could’ve said anything better. It was an early morning in late September and I had to leave for the airport to travel home. I knew it might be the last time I saw him. It was  still dark out and he was in the hospital bed they set up in the beautiful sunroom he’d built onto our house when I was in high school. I was hugging him and bawling and not sure what you say to your dad at a time like this–except for clumsy words. I was really struggling and choked out an ‘I love you’ and then a ‘Bye, Dad.’ He said, “Don’t say goodbye. Say, ‘See you later.'” He didn’t say it like he was trying to be funny  but didn’t seem upset either. He said it matter of factly, like a 5-year-old would say, “Don’t be sad that Grandpa’s dead, Momma; he’s in Heaven.” (My 5-year-old daughter would later say that.) It was cute how he said it but I’m not making light of it. It’s just that his faith was so complete it was refreshing. So there at his bedside, giving him a last hug, I laughed through my tears and said, “OK, Dad, see you later.” And that was it. It was perfect. I could let go.  He took the edge off an awful moment and put everything in perspective and ended things on as upbeat a note as you can in that situation.