My father had been in the nursing home for several weeks. My sister Loreen had him transferred to the Blue County Nursing Home in Greenville when she found out he was alone and dying in Florida.
I had mixed feelings about the situation. I had little contact with him over the years. He left us and the area when I was a kid and there were only a few visits here and there. I remember having dinner with him in Jacksonville one time when he came through town but I brought my shipmate Cheats with me to act as a buffer and keep things safe.
My father showed up a few times here and there over the years – when I got married, for example, but he was mostly absent and irrelevant in my life.
I didn't fault Loreen for bring him home to die. Our mother passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in her sleep a few years earlier and that came as a shock to all of us. We hadn't had a chance to say goodbye.
At least now the grandkids had a chance for closure with their grandfather if they so chose even though they barely knew him. As for me, I was struggling to come to terms with my own issues – like forgiveness and compassion instead of anger and resentment. Easier said than done.
But Nikki visited the nursing home nearly every day (as did Loreen) and that forced me to take a look at myself in the mirror and decide what kind of person I wanted to be.
Nikki was all about acceptance. She accepted my father as the failed person he was just as she accepted Jada Widmore into our family and our lives when she just as easily could have been full of bitterness and betrayal when she learned I had fathered a child before Gillian.
That was the reason I started stopping by the nursing home on my way home from work. My father was mostly unconscious by that point, a rail of a man disappeared under a blanket tautly pulled up to his chin, his face pale and wrinkled, his white hair thin and messy. His head was tilted upward and his mouth hung open.
The thing was I really had nothing to say to him. I barely knew him and most of my memories were painful and hurtful ones, of missed birthdays and unwritten letters, of absent vacations and mother-fill-ins. What do you say to a dying father you didn't know.
"Just forgive him," Nikki had advised. "If not to his face then in your heart."
Loreen didn't want our father to die alone so in the final days we began taking turns standing watch – Loreen, Nikki and Gillian, who was just as compassionate and sensitive as her mother. I volunteered for the late shift, often nodding out in the chair by his bed in the middle of the night.
I suppose my father was responsible for making me a life-long Star Trek fan when I thought about it. One of the reasons why I hid out in my room afterschool watching television was because I was embarrassed, ashamed, and lonely.
I didn't want to face my neighborhood friends who had dads. I didn't want to have to explain why my mother was working so much. So I avoided them and, in doing so, I discovered the Star Trek universe alone in my room.
And those episodes became my escape. The City on the Edge of Forever. Amok Time. Space Seed. Devil in the Dark. Mirror Mirror. Let that Be Their Last Battlefield. The Doomsday Machine. Balance of Terror. The Trouble with Tribbles. And 70 more.
And perhaps my father helped me become a better reader having read all the James Blish and Alan Dean Foster adaptations in my free time without a Dad around to take me to the ballgame.
All that seemed so long ago now. Maybe my father helped me be a better father because I knew how it felt to be hurt by a father and I promised myself that I would never knowingly do that to my kids.
I hope I hadn't. Scott was doing well in the Navy, a career Sailor. Joanna was happily married, living in Montreal of all places. Jada came to town whenever she could, working closely with her step-mother to make The Hillsboro Players a strong and vibrant theater group.
And Gillian was as good a mom and wife as her mother had been. My life has been rich and full, meaningful and purposeful despite the pain of those early years, helped through it all by the hope and ideals of Star Trek, my constant companion.
Now I sat by my absent father's dying side thinking about redemption and farewells and, of course, Star Trek. I thought about the Vulcan mind meld, wondering what thoughts of my father I might read if I could put my fingers to his temple and see inside his mind. Would I find regret?
The original series episode "Devil in the Dark" also came to mind, when Spock mind melds with the Horta to communicate the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Didn't that describe my life, with or without my father?
Was there something wrong with me because I was more upset with the deaths of the actors who played Spock, Bones, Scotty and (the alternate) Chekov than I seemed to be watching my own father die?
I thought about all the Star Trek death scenes – Spock in The Wrath of Khan and Kirk in Generations, Data getting blown up, Sisko going to a higher plane, but the one that always stuck in my mind the most was the brief flashback scene in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier when McCoy faces the death of his own father. That one always struck me as the most poignant.
And now there I sat playing out my own death scene with my father, who was no Sarek or any other worthy father figure from the Star Trek Universe, including Worf and Sisko.
His death was uneventful and almost unnoticeable. I had been dozing off and when I awoke at 4 a.m. I realized that the breathing sounds of my father had gone silent and I realized that he had died without me being present.
I was later told that happened often - that the dying, even when completely unconscious, often choose a moment when they are alone to set out across the final frontier where all dead men have gone before.
I stepped out to the nurse's station and reported his passing and then called Loreen to let her know before driving home in the dark of the early morning, slipping into bed next to my sleeping wife having just experienced one of the most anti-climatic death scenes imaginable.
Which doesn't give me a great and powerful emotional ending to this story. I suppose I mourned my father in my own way in the coming days, weeks and months. We had a small, quiet, tranquil service for him and had him cremated, spreading his ashes upon the Blue River on a sunny spring day when everybody (including Jada) could make it home for the ceremony.
I suppose I had been grieving the loss of my father since those lost days of my adolescence when I sat in my bedroom watching Star Trek alone but as I stood on the banks of the Blue River watching his ashes flutter in the air and land in the water, accompanied by my loving wife and four wonderful children I knew that The Voyage Home for me was going to be something for the cosmos.