I have loved and adored my father for 60 years, and it's only now that I can truly love him unconditionally as he did me as a child.
He doesn't know "who" I am, but he knows I am different to the people who surround him...I wear the same perfume, use the same phrases and mannerisms, in the hope it will give him some reassurance and sense of familiarity. But all of this is guesswork, I can't know what his world looks like to him, and I suspect the reassurance is for me.
It is as you say the "long" goodbye and sometimes the grief will ambush me when I am feeling vulnerable...but I am so grateful now that I can say goodbye, he's not been snatched away, he isn't in pain and he isn't concerned with the stress and anxiety of daily life.
Most of what distresses me is my need to explain to him what's happening, to ask if he is okay, to let him know he will never be alone, always be cared for. And I recognise it's my needs not being fulfilled that hurts so much.
He most certainly isn't the man I knew, but with the barriers down, the reserve gone, his essence is something exquisite. And finally I can love him in a way I never dreamt was possible.
But I still want him back!