When I Hear the Word Father

By Jack Limpert

My father died 77 years ago today. All my working life I had a sentence typed on a small square of paper and tacked up on a bulletin board near my desk:

“Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship, which struggles on in the survivor’s mind toward some resolution, some clear meaning, which it perhaps never finds.”

It’s spoken at the beginning of a play, I Never Sang for My Father. A middle-aged son is returning home to see his father, a difficult man nearing the end of his life, and the son is giving the audience a sense of what’s coming. The sentence captured how I felt about losing my father six days after my 10th birthday.
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The play, by Robert Anderson, was turned into a film a year later. Anderson received one of the film’s three Oscar nominations. The other two were for its stars, Melvyn Douglas, as the dying, domineering father, and Gene Hackman as his son, who utters the line: ‘Death ends a life. But it does not end a relationship.’”
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This is how Anderson ended the play:

The son, Gene, is again alone on the stage, the lights dimming out except for a lingering light.

“When I would visit him, and we would sit and look at each other, his eyes would mist over and his nostrils would pinch with emotion. But I could never learn what the emotion was…anger…or love…or regret. One day, sitting in his wheelchair and staring without comprehension at television, he died alone, without even an orange in his hand.

“Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship, which struggles on in the survivor’s mind toward some resolution, which it never finds.”

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