A Son’s Perspective On The Loss Of His Father
I’ve never experienced a feeling quite like I experienced on the night of Friday, December 5th, 2014. I received a phone call from my father’s girlfriend telling me that he had passed away approximately 45 minutes earlier, so I knew what to expect when I entered the hospital room that night, yet I was suddenly overcome with emotion upon seeing him.
Feelings. Feelings are a strange thing to me. I don’t feel them often, so they can sneak up on me unexpectedly, as they did that night. I had seen him in essentially the same condition for about a week and a half, but when I walked into the room that night and saw him, I gasped for breath, put my hand over my mouth, and immediately burst into tears. This is that strange feeling that I mentioned in the first sentence: to simultaneously feel like a grown man and a small vulnerable child in a single instant.
For three weeks, I had been the consummate adult. Before I get into that, though, let me give you a brief background story for context. Approximately 2 years ago, my father and I had fallen out of touch – 100% by his doing. He was in the beginning stages of a divorce with my mother, and I assumed he wanted to distance himself from me because he thought I’d be judging him or thought less of him. To a degree, that was true. However, as I chose to express to him in writing, his problems with my mother were just that: HIS problems. Not mine. I told him I was an adult and a father, and I had my own life to manage. I was perfectly clear when I told him that I didn’t want his problems with my mother to affect our relationship or his relationship with my son.
He never responded.
I wrote him a few more times, with each message being a bit angrier than the last. Ultimately, I ended up calling him a coward, as well as various other names that, in this moment, are pretty irrelevant. The point is, I was pissed off and firing on all cylinders. He was going to feel my wrath. There were f-bombs peppered all throughout that final message, and make no mistake, even though it’s water under the bridge right now, he deserved every last one of those demeaning slurs.
He never responded.
To this day, I still don’t know why he chose to banish me from his life. One day, I may choose to ask. I was never really THAT mad about his treatment toward me, though. Again, I’m an adult and a father with my own life to run. I was more offended at his disinterest in seeing his grandson. I know it was never a “fuck that kid” sort of thing, but that’s how I treated it, and an attack toward Michael would be met with my full wrath – no matter the offending party. So when I found out he was in the hospital, that’s where we were at.
This is the part where I become the consummate adult.
I found out he was in the hospital when my uncle contacted me on Facebook. This was a huge event in and of itself because (and I’m guessing here) I had not seen or heard from my uncle in AT LEAST 20 years. At this moment, it was unknown just how serious my father’s condition was, so I was faced with a decision: Continue to hold my firm grasp on my anger toward him and not visit him, or put on my grown man pants, let the shit go, and visit the man who did an exceptional job of raising me. I chose the latter.
When I arrived at the hospital, he was in pretty bad shape. His speech was heavily slurred and he could barely move. 80% of what he said was unintelligible, and the remaining 20% was when he expressed frustration with his inability to communicate during the other 80%. I didn’t really know what to say, and I could tell he was embarrassed and ashamed. So rather than putting issues on the table and asking all the hard questions, I chose to just reintroduce him to his grandson, tell him about my new fiancee, and update him on our lives in general. This was the routine for the next few days.
Meanwhile, I connected with my uncle on Facebook. If there is ANY good to come out of all this, it’s the fact that we seem to have established a strong relationship in dealing with the loss of my father (his brother). We seem to be very similar people. We have similar writing styles, personalities, triggers, and a seemingly identical view on life as a whole. It’s always cool to find someone who is so much like you when you have a very “unique” personality.
As we connected, he began to plan a trip to Detroit from Wisconsin to visit my father. He arrived on Thanksgiving day, and I still feel a great deal of pain for what HE was met with when he arrived. When I first went to visit my father, there was still a significant amount of “him” in there. By the time my uncle had arrived, my father was barely moving at all and no longer speaking. He was deathly thin, and seemed only moderately aware of what was going on around him.
Back to being the consummate adult. Now, I’m in a unique position. 2 weeks ago, I had no clue where my father was and I didn’t care. Now, due to his divorce from my mother and his inability to make his own decisions, I was now in charge of HIS LIFE. I wouldn’t wish the types of decisions I had to make on anyone, but to a degree, I’m grateful that it was ME who was making them. To be fair, I wasn’t making these decisions alone – though I had the “power” to do so. I took everyone’s opinion into account, and my uncle, my father’s girlfriend, and myself essentially worked as a team to make the decisions that would affect the remainder of my father’s life.
Ultimately, we decided that if he were able to speak, he would express a strong desire to no longer go on living in that condition. Considering how angry he got regarding his inability to effectively communicate when he first got in the hospital, I couldn’t imagine how frustrated he must be (if he was still in there at all) with being unable to communicate entirely. I’ve always said that if my mind stopped working, you can do away with me altogether. I felt with 100% certainty that he felt the same, so that was the decision we made. We committed him to hospice care (essentially taking him off the machines and focusing on his comfort), and he was gone 2 days later.
I’d like to say that I’ve gone through a whirlwind of emotions in the 5 days since, but that wouldn’t be true. I’ve been on “handling business” mode. Just as his medical decisions were my responsibility, so are his post-hospital decisions. I’ve been fielding numerous phone calls per day, telling people who may care about his passing, and working with my “team” to figure out how he want to handle everything from a funeral service to a newspaper death notice. I anticipated the writing of this blog as my way of processing all of this, and as I reach the end of this entry, I don’t feel any different. I feel… empty. I don’t know how I’m “supposed” to feel or what I should do. I’m just going through the emotions at this point.
I don’t even know what to say to people when they say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” Why is that the thing you’re supposed to say? Why is the customary statement one with no proper response? “You going to bring him back?” Can’t say that. “You can’t do shit.” Can’t say that. “You can give me a massage, buy me a new car, pay my rent, and make me dinner.” Can’t say that. You just have to say, “thanks” as the two of you part with the full knowledge that you’ll never ask anything of them. What’s the point of asking then? But I digress…
Anyway, there are some things I do know: I know the things I’m grateful for.
I’m grateful for connecting with my uncle.
I’m grateful for everything my father’s girlfriend did for him. He probably would not have lasted as long as he did without her.
I’m grateful for learning about my father’s internet persona. That was probably the coolest aspect of all this (not that there was much to consider “cool”). It turns out that he was pretty hot shit in the online forums for Detroiters. Several of his online friends came to see him at the hospital – often laying eyes upon him for the first time. They came with great stories, kind words, and genuine emotion. It was an interesting experience to meet these people – a blog topic in and of itself – and I’m grateful for them introducing me to a side of my father that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
I’m grateful for solitude. I’m currently on a bereavement leave from work, and as an introvert, the time alone is very therapeutic for me. This is my first public mention that my father was even in the hospital, let alone having passed away. I’m not one to request attention, and I felt as if I would be requesting people’s pity if I posted something online. I don’t want or need that. I’m not going to post something just to rack up a bunch of likes or “sorry for your loss” comments, and I saw no other reason to make any public posts on social media. I needed that time alone, and I’m grateful for the ability to keep this entire situation under wraps until I was ready to release it.
Most importantly, I’m grateful for closure. I got something that a lot of people don’t get to have when their loved ones pass. Since I essentially had to make the decision that would ultimately lead to his passing, I knew it was coming. After I officially made the decision, walking back into the hospital room to see him was, at that point, the worst moment of my life. I had to walk back in and look at him knowing he was going to die soon and that I was the one who made the call. I sat down with him and, again, was flooded with emotion. He wasn’t awake and hadn’t been responsive for days. I laid my head on his shoulder next to his head and cried. I told him how I wish it hadn’t come to this and asked how he could do this to me. How could he put all this pressure on me and force me to make these decisions with his life? I told him I loved him and that I appreciated the 30 years I did get with him. I told him that he would live on through MY son because I’ve done everything in my power to raise my son the way he raised me, and that my son is already more than a great kid, he’s a great human being. I told my father that he was responsible for that. When I pulled up and looked at him through the tears in my eyes, his eyes were wide open and he had a single tear streaming down his face.
I haven’t told anybody about that. ANYBODY. But I felt in that moment that he understood what was going on, and at the time, I was really shaken by that. In retrospect, I’m grateful. I know that he knew that, no matter what, his son was there for him to the very end and I feel as if I gave him one final reason to be proud of me. I always knew that he was proud of me. He told me. So I’m grateful I was able to close out our relationship on that high note, and I know that he was able to go peacefully knowing that everyone still cared about him. I can only hope to be so lucky myself.