By My Father's Death Bed

Why did my father wait to tell me he loved me until he was on his deathbed?  I can barely believe it as he was aggressive towards me when I was a child and dismissive of anything I did as an adult.  He mocked my career as a vet telling me only animals would put up with my behaviour. He was also rude about my wife saying: “I suppose that was all you could get.” It was, I always thought, extraordinary behaviour for someone who was profoundly religious.   

I decided to have nothing more to do with him since he was so rude to my wife.  


Ten years later I had a phone call telling me he was very ill and wanted to see me. I thought his request made no sense as he had not attempted to contact me in all that time.  But, despite my negative feelings, I went to see him in hospital.  It was a terrible shock to see him so emaciated and only half conscious.  He recognised me and tried to give me his hand. I held it then sat down on his bed. “Forgive me” he whispered.  “I have always loved you.”  As he spoke I realised it was the first time he had ever said anything so positive to me. Before I could stop myself I replied “I love you too” then added “That’s the first time you’ve ever said that.”  He died the following day and now, several months later,  I still can’t make head nor tail of his behaviour.  Did he I wonder try to make sure he went to heaven rather than hell? 


It’s hard to lose a parent whatever one’s relationship has been like, but individuals who have had a difficult parent often experience mixed feelings of both relief and regret when their parent dies.  Your father’s apology on his death bed is puzzling. Partly because his religion promotes love and kindness and it seems he was anything but that.    

The truth is you will never know was his motivation was.  He might have believed he needed to atone for his nastiness in order to get to heaven. He may have felt increasing remorse as his illness progressed and you were effectively out of his life. He may also have deliberately waited that long to avoid you asking questions about his guilty feelings and why he had behaved so unpleasantly to you. 

On the positive side, your wish to understand his behaviour suggests that you are trying to be dispassionate about how his attitude changed.  This will help you  move on with your life.  Choosing your own explanation for his deathbed apology will also release you from some of the anguish.  By contrast holding on to negative emotions like anger and regret has the opposite effect. Perhaps you could try to think along the lines that although your father was nasty to you, he did finally have the grace to apologise and show he loved you before he died.