The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

My Father Is Gone

My dad died last night. He was 87 and had been in poor health for several years, especially since November. On Tuesday, he had his last lucid conversation. From Wednesday on through his death on Saturday, he was semi-conscious at best and gasped for air like a drowning man. We decided to put him into hospice on Thursday, which happened on Friday, and I saw him for the last time on Saturday morning, before I boarded a plane and flew home, over the bumpy air above the Appalachians and into another time zone. An hour after I walked in the door, my mother called to say he had just died.

Although I was prepared for it, this is hard. It was much harder watching him struggle for breath, however, and I’m grateful that he doesn’t have to endure that any longer. Even though it was only a matter of days, the fight to breathe went on far too long. Patrick, the family attorney, was one of my best friends in childhood, and he later formed a close bond with my parents. He went up to see Dad Thursday evening. The next morning, we talked on the phone for a while. He said that Dad had recognized him and tried to say a few things but couldn’t. One thing he did say with clarity, however, was “worn out.” Yes, he was worn out. Very worn out. I also wonder if he held on until he could see me on Tuesday, then let go.

People speak of the death rattle. I don’t know what the death rattle sounds like, but I suspect it’s much like what Dad’s breathing was for those four days. He smoked for 40 years, then quit 27 years ago. Quitting bought him the 27 years, but the 40 years of smoking finally caught up with him.

So now I am making arrangements to fly back. Good friends are staying with my mother, who is managing pretty well. Mom has been a one-woman nursing home for the past few months. So she is experiencing a combination of shock and relief. She says it seems surreal to her. She’s going to need help managing details and making the transition, but ultimately she will be fine. She is bright and realistic, a good combination. I often describe her as “the most competent person in the family.” I’m still going to check in with her a lot. She’s a young 75, but she’s also now a widow.

Interesting, creative people are often difficult, as Dad was. He was frequently demanding and even bullying at times. I stood up to him more than anyone else in the family, and yet he favored me. I think by standing up to him, I somehow bought myself the luxury of appreciating the many wonderful things about him: his endless curiosity, his quirky sense of humor, his innocence, his unparalleled love of animals, his generosity, his openness, his optimism, his love of reading, his liberalism, his horror at the suffering of others, his capacity for affection. He drove me crazy, I drove him crazy, and we loved each other like crazy.

As his dementia ate away at our ability to sustain the depth of our relationship, I had to remind myself of who he had been, but I never forgot. I am proud to have been his daughter, and I’m glad that the last thing I said to him before leaving yesterday morning was “thank you.”


May 11, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized |


  1. Elizabeth,

    What a moving tribute to your father, beautifully written and obviously deeply felt. I admire your relationship as you described it here. My thoughts and sympathies are with you and yours, and also acknowledgement of a life well lived. Best to you, Jennifer

    Comment by Jennifer Elcano | May 11, 2008 | Reply

  2. Elizabeth,

    My thoughts are with you and your family. I’m glad that your dad’s suffering is over, but I know how difficult this time is for the family. I hope you can lean on each other as you make your way through the sadness.

    I look forward to seeing you at the end of month, and giving you a huge in person.

    Comment by Monica | May 11, 2008 | Reply

  3. Um… know I meant “hug.”

    Comment by Monica | May 11, 2008 | Reply

  4. Eloquent as always, and in a time of great emotion. I like that in a girl. He had a good life, a fruitful one, and he delivered much more in the way of positive things than otherwise; leaving the world a net positive is all that we can ever strive to do . . . and he did it with plenty to spare. At last he is free of the awful suffering that too often comes at the end. Stay strong for your Mother and brothers, because you are the strongest one of that generation and your Mom will look to you often in this time. Give her my love.

    Comment by zzard | May 11, 2008 | Reply

  5. Thank you for sharing your memories. You are so lucky to have good memories about a parent you have lost and, despite his being somewhat difficult, to have found a way to have loved each other.


    Comment by Carren Kaston | May 11, 2008 | Reply

  6. What a beautiful entry. Thinking of you.

    Comment by Terri | May 11, 2008 | Reply

  7. Elizabeth, I’m so sorry to hear about your father’s death. This is a beautiful post.

    Kristen King, fellow FBBer

    Comment by Kristen King | May 12, 2008 | Reply

  8. Elizabeth,

    Wow — this happened so quickly, I’m stunned. I know when you went home your expectation was to move your dad to a nursing home, not hospice. No wonder your mom finds this all surreal; you must be reeling a little yourself.

    Your post moved me to tears. How beautifully you summed up a relationship that was obviously both complex and very meaningful to you. I’m glad that you had that time with your dad at the end, and that he didn’t struggle any longer than he did.

    Huge hugs, Elizabeth, as you and your family move through this difficult time. I hope you find strength and comfort from each other and from your good memories of your dad, and that you find peace in knowing his struggles are over.

    Comment by Marti | May 12, 2008 | Reply

  9. I hope you are continuing to feel many moments of comfort and warmth among the more difficult ones.

    Sending good thoughts your way,

    Comment by Erica | May 12, 2008 | Reply

  10. Dearest Elizabeth,

    A beautiful tribute to your dad and your relationship. Clearly he will always be with you in your memories. And may those memories always bring a smile to your heart.

    Love and thoughts are with you and your family.


    Comment by Dawn Yardeni | May 12, 2008 | Reply

  11. After getting the post from Nita/FBB and reading a bit of your posting, I can greatly appreciate what you are going through. My mother passed away a little over 3 years ago from an extremely rare cancer and she was dying for the previous 3 years although we didn’t know it. The actual death is very hard and though my father had passed away 10 years before my mother (they were divorced), I still feel lost 3 years after my mother’s death. That’s probably because I have no siblings and both parents are gone. It is a hard thing to go through and time and friends do make it easier to deal with. All the best through this rough time, however, celebrate your father’s life as well!

    Comment by Shelley Wetzel | May 12, 2008 | Reply

  12. Elizabeth, I’m so sorry to hear about the passing of your Father. This is a wonderful tribute to him.

    I’m glad you got to see him before he went. I think that will help your healing in the long run. My thoughts will be with you and your mom. It will be a difficult transition for her and I’m sure she appreciates your help and presence.

    Take care,

    Comment by Beth | May 12, 2008 | Reply

  13. Beth,

    What a lovely tribute to your dad. He often spoke about your complex relationship and yes, he did love you like crazy.

    His friends here in Pinckenyville will truly miss him but we do have tons of fun memories stored away. When I think of him I will always remember his smile and his hugs. He truly was a wonderful man.

    Don’t worry about your mom. We will check on her and Misty frequently.


    Comment by Bunny | May 14, 2008 | Reply

  14. Beth,
    Thank you for the lovely tribute to your Dad and my dear friend. I’ve had the honor to know your father in a deep and meaningful way for many, many years. Having shared a boat for countless hours in the Canadian Wilderness, I came to love and appreciate this unique man. It was during those special times I caught glimpses into his soul. He loved you, your Mom and brothers very much and counted himself fortunate.

    Sharing his wonderful sense of humor, love of nature and keen insight into humanity have made my life richer. He understood the power of the pen (he never advanced past the time honored “hunt & peck”, two fingered, typing method. He was wonderfully talented and creative. He was truly a stand out in the Greatest Generation. We will miss him. Thank you for sharing him with us.

    Comment by Tom | May 14, 2008 | Reply

  15. Elizabeth, am so sorry to hear of your grief but was moved by your tribute to your father. Best to you and your family as you go through this loss. Joanne Glenn, fellow FBBer

    Comment by Joanne Glenn | May 19, 2008 | Reply

  16. Elizabeth, this moved me to tears, may God bless you and your family through this time, Please know you are being thought of,
    LOve and hugs

    Comment by Lizz | May 19, 2008 | Reply

  17. Elizabeth:
    The death of a parent, even when expected, is always hard. Your understanding of your father and the things that you each gave to each other will make him forever alive to you.

    Comment by Patty Tsouras | June 2, 2008 | Reply

  18. Hi E. Thanks for helping your dad know you appreciated him for his own unique qualities and as well as those society expects. That will be his shining badge of honor as he navigates the places we go when we go. He will be most proud of that, for sure.

    Huge hug,

    Comment by Gerald | September 21, 2008 | Reply

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