A Brief Story About the Death of My Dad

Right now, I need to tell you the story of the day I lost my father. I need to convey this to you because I’m moved to do so. When the mood strikes, ya gotta go with it. So I need to tell you the story and I need to bring you back to May 12, 2002, a Mother’s Day out of all holidays.

I remember an overcast sky heavy with the promise of rain and I remember waking up in my parents’ bed that morning. My brother had flown in from Oklahoma and he was still asleep when my mom called–her voice calm, her tone with a hint of urgency. For the last two weeks, family were flying in from all over the country. We were surviving on food brought over by relatives and close friends. I was finishing up my first year of high school just trying to get through Algebra with a passing grade. For the last two weeks, my mom had been staying at the hospital sleeping on the hard, leather chair next to my dad’s bed while simultaneously trying to make sure I was picked up from school and taken care of by some of our closest friends. Once my brother had made it to Chicago, she said, I could finally sleep in my own house and not live out of my backpack. It was such a relief yet utterly bittersweet to have my brother home because it marked the beginning of the end of my dad’s time with us.

When I talked to my mom on the phone, it was instinctual–today would be the day for our goodbyes. I moved fast, quickly dressing in the red oversize sweater my parents gave me for Christmas and then poking my brother to get his ass in gear. I don’t remember who drove to the hospital. Those details escape me. But all around us the gray sky closed in on the hospital as we parked the car and proceeded to my dad’s room. The oxygen mask had been taken off. Tubes and IVs were removed. The little hair my dad had on his head was neat and combed. His unmistakable voice had been reduced to almost a whisper as he spoke in between restless bouts of sleep. My uncles and aunts and cousins all filled the room with my mom naturally next to his bed, her face looking as equally tired as my dad’s. And I stood in the room just processing it as best as a 14-year old could.

Death was hesitant. It chose not to be swift but I don’t think my dad suffered or was in any kind of pain. I think Death was kind to us because it chose to give us time to say what we all needed to say. But by mid-afternoon, I was growing restless just as my dad was. It was like I was pissed off at him for not moving on. I think I even said to my mom that it was time for him to go. Not something a “normal” 14-year old says about her dad. So I did the only thing I could and climbed up next to him, snuggled against his left side and laid my arm across his chest. I didn’t cry. I just held him and whispered, “Dad, it’s OK for you to go. I love you and you were such a good father to me. I’m gonna miss you, but you have to go and move on. It’s time.”

I left the room shortly after but my mom always reminds me that as soon as I left my dad looked over at her with tears in his eyes. He refused to pass away in front of me because even in sickness and death, he wanted to go as a fighter.

I sat on an uncomfortable couch in a waiting room down the hall with the rest of my dad’s family. Outside, the sky was growing black and I think I overhead one of my aunt’s talking about rigatoni or lasagna or pizza or something. With the start of the thunderstorm outside came one of the doctors with the news. I ran down the hall to find my mother curled up against the nurse’s station’s desk area and my brother sobbing into my dad’s neck. And just as the rain really began to fall, the good fight was over.

I can’t tell you what it was like going back to a house with just one parent. We went through the motions you go through when you lose someone you love but in so many ways, I was grateful.

I got to hug my dad and tell him how much I loved him. So many people aren’t afforded the luxury of telling that to someone who passes before they get the chance to say “I love you.” I had 14 amazing years with my dad who taught me self-defense and how to swim by throwing me in my aunt’s pool when I was only 3-years old. I hold on to the sound of his laugh and his child-like perspective on life. I get to watch so much of him manifest itself in my own actions and habits. For these reasons alone, I see the silver lining in losing him.

Love is hard. Love is even harder when you know the idea of losing them is obvious and certain. But with loss comes greater life lessons–acceptance, moving forward, resilience. There are only so many tears we can cry before we look in the mirror and realize our only option is to truly go on whether we like it or not. Be grateful for the moments you have with the ones you love most and be grateful for what they pass as their legacy after they’ve left this world.

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12 thoughts on “A Brief Story About the Death of My Dad

  1. Even though I do visit the graves, they really rest in our hearts and minds so we don’t need to go anywhere to feel their presence. But like lighting candles in church, visiting the graves does provide comfort of sorts in a world that often doesn’t give much in the way of that anywhere else.

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  2. Both my parents are buried in family plots: my mother with my grandmother, grandfather, my aunt and her husband and my uncle (all siblings). It is a family plot for 9 people so there are three more openings. My father is buried with his mother and stepfather (I don’t know where his father, my paternal grandfather, is buried). That only had room for 3 so no vacancy there. But they’re all in the same cemetery–St. Johns–which was popular with immigrant groups of that era. When I visit, I get to pay my respects to them all, but bring flowers for each grave. I leave stones on the tombstones to lt them know I was there. Do you do that? The fact that I’m the only one from my family that actually visits has cemented the idea of cremation in my mind. I feel I’d rather be scattered order a body of water instead. I had this idea for a Viking funeral when I was younger and was going to have a friend push me out to sea (though knowing him it’ll be in the Finger Lakes upstate) with my books and my dog’s ashes with me after setting the boat on fire. He’s still all set to do it but I think it’s a bit too melodramatic now.

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  3. Well I watched About Time again and still get teary eyed at that last scene between the father and son when they go back to the beach. And that’s a very dangerous thing to happen when you are wearing contact lenses. They could slide right down your cheeks. But it is such a wonderful movie. Do you know Sliding Door and Twice Upon A Yesterday? Also about second chances by going back in time. I keep thinking about how fortunate you were to have that last moment with your father. Mine died when I wasn’t much older than you were (at age 16) but he went after being in a coma for 5 days and I never got to tell him I loved him. That still haunts me. You are blessed to have had your moment with him.

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    1. That scene is magic. It chokes me up every time. Do you know the TV show Parenthood? With Craig T. Nelson? In one of the episodes, Ray Romano’s character is sitting with one of the grandchildren because the grandson feels awful about not being able to tell a parent or grandparent that you love them. Ray’s character says, “We know. Even though you guys tell us all the time you hate us, we don’t take any of it to heart.” I’m sure your father knew your feelings and felt your love for him even without you telling him. 🙂

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      1. I hope so. I’ve been telling him, though, these many years and can only hope he hears. Actually one thing I miss being in Turkey is visiting my parents’ graves every month in St. Johns Cemetery. I must go this spring when I come back for a visit. The visits bring a comfort of sorts. Do you visit your father’s grave?

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      2. The visit is very comforting. I’m glad you’ll be back there in the spring which is the season of new life. I actually don’t visit as often as I should, but when I do I get to visit his grave and the graves of my mom’s parents. The three are buried very near to one another. I usually have an overwhelming sense of emotion to visit their graves. It’s like a silent nudge from the beyond to just stop by and say “hi”. For the most part, I know they are around me at all times, especially my grandma. She’s one of my guides and guardian angels. I feel her presence often.

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  4. Also just read this after reading your poem. I’m sorry your father passed. The age you were at is such a pivotal age for growth and maturity. To go through such a challenge at that age is heart breaking. I’m glad the years you had together were good. Too many times people make decisions they regret and aren’t able to make amends. Life is short and we never know when time is up. Like you I have become well aware of that and try to think about my actions and words.

    I’m sure your father would be proud of the woman you have grown up to be.

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    1. My mother always tell me to never save your “Love you” for tomorrow or go to bed angry. I hate to admit when parents are right…hahaha!

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  5. Just read this which seems timely since after having read your other piece about his death and your view of death itself. You were very fortunate to have told him of your love. You are a pretty wise young woman. Now go have a bowl of rigatoni with broccoli and watch a film like Groundhog Day or About Time which are both about second chances at connecting with somone you love. And they both have Bills in them: Bill Murray or Bill Nighy. You can’t go wrong with either one.

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    1. Can we PLEASE talk about About Time?? One of my FAVORITE films. How could anyone NOT enjoy both Bills? Wait, I could probably find some folks who don’t get their style. To each their own! 🙂

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      1. It’s funny but I had that DVD sitting out to watch this weekend along with Tootsie and Standup Guys (a wonderful buddy movie with great performances by Pacino, Walken, and Alan Arkin). But now I think I’ll watch it tonight instead. I love that movie, too. Always chokes me up. I’m a sucker for movies like that. And Nighy character is so great. The premise is wonderful, too.

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