Me and my dad, May 2009

This past weekend we made the trip to my sisters house in Pocatello, Idaho to spend time with our father in the waning moments of his life. His doctor’s informed us on Thursday that his kidney’s had shut down and there was not much else that could be done for him.

One family after another arrived on that blustery, snowy day until the remaining seven children of Tagomoa and Faleupolu Matua (my brother Kepi passed in 2010), their spouses and children were assembled to pay tribute to, serenade and say final farewells to our beloved patriarch.

Stubborn to the end, dad held on until he had said goodbye to every last member of the family, my brother in-law Ivor Filiaga being the last to bid farewell to the man who taught us much about sacrifice, service and love. As we reminisced about our time with dad and sang songs at his bedside it was hard not to shed tears. It’s hard to let go. No matter how long you prepare for the inevitable, the unavoidable cannot provide comfort when it finally happens.

When we left dad’s side to travel back home I told myself that I would see him again soon. Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But in my heart I know and have faith that I will just as I have held that same belief with my mother who passed in 1993 and my brother Kepi. That faith in the unknown, the unseen is what bolsters my resolve in these trying times and gives me the strength to remember my loved ones as they were when memories are fleeting.

Though dad’s passing deeply distresses my soul I am comforted by the fact that he is no longer in pain. Seeing this once powerful man with a large yet humble presence reduced to nothing was unsettling and depressing. But I will remember him for the wonderful teacher and lowly leader that he was. He taught me many things but the ones that stand out most in my mind are the way that he led by example. Dad always taught us that ‘in order to do a job right, you have to do it yourself,’ and he lived that motto every day of his life until Alzheimer’s completely robbed him of that capacity. And yet, even that horrible disease could not take away his zeal for life.

I am so grateful to my sisters Teuila, Mandy, Annette and Theresa for their selfless sacrifice as caretakers during the last few years of life. I am eternally grateful to the doctors, nursers and medical staff that cared for him and for his own personal nurse Shirleen Valai who showed him genuine love and compassion throughout his illness.

As a kid you often wonder what your dad thinks of you as a person; at least I did. I wonder if I made him proud or if I made him happy, made him smile. But there is one thing I never wondered about and that is whether or not he loved his children. I know that my father loved me and my siblings because he showed us in many ways. Even though he grew up “Old Skool” dad found ways to show how much he loved us and that was his gift. And in the days when Alzheimer’s had left him a shell of the man that he once was, you knew when he had a moment of clarity because he would look you straight in the eye and his tears would flow with love and you could feel it as if it were a blanket being thrown over your heart to heal and warm you from within.

I will miss him dearly. In the coming days we will have many hours to remember him in words and thoughts. To people outside our home he was known as a teacher, a leader, a voice of reason, a servant of God. To me, he will always be ‘Dad’. I love you pop!

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