I don't think you're ever ready for a parent to pass away - no matter what the relationship.
I don't think there is any difference if it happens suddenly or if it's long & drawn out.
My dad died last Tuesday, February 26th, 2013. He was 72 years old. He battled esophageal cancer for 26 months, and in the end, it spread to his liver and took his life. Cancer is ugly and gruesome.
He went through countless surgeries, chemo & radiation treatments, feeding tubes, parts of his stomach & throat removed, many hospital & doctor visits, and endless suffering. The end came fast once he went into hospice, and I was not able to see him in time (he lives 4 hours from me). I found out last Monday he was in hospice care at home (on heavy doses of morphine), and I quickly made plans to drive up to see him on Wednesday morning.
I never got to see him. He was gone by Tuesday night. I wish I knew sooner - I wish I could have done something. I wish I wish I wish. Wouldn't it be great to be able to turn back the clock somehow? I found out after the fact that he was down to 130 pounds and physically in pretty bad shape, so I have to think that it was God's plan to not let me see my big strong Dad in such poor shape. My dad was 6'2 and when he was healthy I think he weighed about 240 lbs.
Now let me give you the back story.
My dad was a great father to me. I have such incredible vivid childhood memories about my father. He was there for every one of my basketball games (heckling the refs, and making the other parents laugh). He brought me and my friends to Great Adventure, baseball & basketball games. He played pick-up basketball games with my friends from the neighborhood. He built me a fishing pole from bamboo, for summer camp one year! He was the 'cool' dad that would pick me up at school with the cool music blasting from his car stereo. I thought ALL dads should be like him. To this day, I do so many things in my life according to how my dad taught me and how he did things. I drove a stick shift car for years because it was what he did. Funny enough, I dated several men in adulthood that were salesmen and my husband is in sales too. My father was in sales all his life. Maybe it's the personality?
My parents separated after I turned 18 (and divorced shortly after that).
I never really understood why he chose to move on with his life and not look back. I don't know how much of it was really my business to know. I saw him when I was 21 and he had just gotten married. After that, I guess it was a combination of his own 'issues' and my unwillingness to accept his new life, but we slowly lost touch and both went on with our lives.... and months turned into years. I used to have regret, hate, sadness, confusion over our lack of talking for years. In the end, it was no one's fault. Sometimes, things just go unexplained for so long, that you lose sight of the real reason it all started in the first place.
Before I knew it, it had been more than 10 years since I had heard from him. Every so often, I would get a random letter from him letting me know how his life was going, but nothing too personal. I missed him terribly and just knew he had to miss me too. I tried for a very long time to get in touch with him by sending letters, cards, pictures, etc. I wished he could have been there for my wedding day in May of 2007 but it was not meant to be. I also sent him a Christmas card with my address, phone # and email address every year.
Then in early 2010, I finally heard from him, out of the blue, when I was pregnant with Julianna. We reconnected instantly like no time had gone by. I just wanted to reconnect with my father at that point in time, and not have any ill will regarding the past. It was forgotten. I had moved on before that anyway. At 38, I was at a good point in my life and a good time to have this happen. When I was 8 months pregnant with Julianna, Brian and I drove up to New Hampshire to visit him and his wife, Lynn. This would be the first time I saw him since I was 21 (17 years later!). He looked a older but he was still my dad. We visited for the day and it was like old times. I felt like no time had gone by and he hit it off right away with Brian too. It was a great day to say the least.
We kept in touch by phone, and then when Julianna was 8 weeks old in July of 2010, we drove up and spent the weekend with my dad and his wife. Again, it was like old times. We watched the Yankees game, talked about life, drove to Brattleboro (VT) and went to some antique shops, walked around, and ate ice cream. He told me stories about my childhood (when I was a baby) that I had never heard before.
But the single most important thing about that weekend was, he got to meet & hold my daughter, his grand daughter, for the first (and what would be his last time). That is something I am 100% grateful for and will never forget as long as I live. We walked around on his property and he proudly showed me each & every birdhouse, fence and garden box he built and talked about all the hard work they put into their beautiful garden.
He told us about the last few years since he and his wife (Lynn) retired and moved up to New Hampshire, and how they came to live where they lived. It was a great weekend. One of the other BIG things I took away from that weekend was, seeing how happy my father was. He was content and loving his life. That made me have some peace with everything that had transpired before then. I never truly understood why he distanced himself, and I don't think I ever will, but I did come to realize that it was nothing I did and this was just the "way" he was. He and his wife were satisfied living their life their way and doing their own thing. That is how I have accepted it.
After that weekend, we spoke some more. In April of 2011, I called a few times to try and make plans to visit again but I never heard back. A few months later, I heard from my aunt (his sister) that my father had fallen ill with esophageal cancer and was in the middle of treatment now and just had surgery. I was shocked but not surprised since he had smoked his entire life. He was expected to recover but he was not in touch with anyone during the time he was sick (this was just the way he was). I called and left a few messages and mailed him pictures of Julianna to cheer him up but never really heard back. (They did not own a computer - much harder to keep in touch that way!)
A few months later, I just knew something was wrong. I had a bad feeling.
Then this past December (2012), I received a letter from my father talking about what he had been going through with his disease over the past 2 years. He said he found out he had cancer shortly after we visited that weekend in July 2010. In his letter, he said he wasn't dying but I just knew in my gut he was. It wasn't a pretty picture. He was very sick and had been through hell. In his letter, he also wrote something that was as close to an apology as I would get from him for not being around for so many years. I know he was hurting and it was not the time (nor is it now) to point any fingers. Besides, what could I really do about it? It's water under the bridge.
After that, I kept putting off calling him. I don't know why, but I guess it was because I knew the inevitable was coming. Maybe I was somewhat like him in the sense that if I ignored it, it would go away. Maybe he wouldn't be sick later on .... just maybe.
Last Monday, I was actually talking to a friend of mine about my father, and about the letter he sent me saying how sick he was. Then, I thought about him all day long for some unknown reason. I don't know what made me think about him so much, but I did. It was like I knew what was coming.
That evening, I got an email from my aunt to call her ASAP about my father. I knew as soon as I saw the title to the email "Your Dad" - that he was dying. I found out he was in hospice and did not have long to live. He was gone by the next day, Tuesday. (Later, I thought back and wondered if he was trying to reach out to me that day. I have heard stories of people deathly sick in hospice who have out of body experiences... ya never know!)
I know some of you are reading this thinking "How could I be at peace and have no bad feelings after all those years of not talking?".
Life is too short to hold resentment and grudges. I only have one father and I feel my time is better spent thinking of the good times. There is no room for hate here. I miss him terribly. Of course I wish things could have been different, but they weren't. I am so sad for everything he went through and all the suffering he had to endure. It makes my heart ache when I think of how much pain he must have been in for so long. I wish I would have known sooner.
I spoke to his wife the day after he passed away, and she filled me in on details from his last weeks/months. She is a good wife and took very good care of him. She made his sick time less painful. In healthy times, she filled his life with happiness. You can't ask for anything better than that for your parent. He passed away after she told him it's OK to go. It's OK to not suffer any longer. And then he did. No more pain & suffering. At peace finally. I hope he knows I wanted to be there.
His family (sisters) never made it up there in time either. It happened too fast.
Since then, I take a lot of deep breathes, and I thank God for my life and think about all the good times with my dad from when I was a kid. I have been thinking about our weekend visit in 2010. All of it holds good memories for me. Good enough for a lifetime.
I miss my dad.
Here is what I think of when I close my eyes.
I think about all of the NY Yankees games we went to when I was a kid; getting there the minute the gates opened; rushing in and going down behind the batting cages to watch batting practice, in the days when they still let everyone down there. (For those of you that do not know, I am a huge Yankee fan). He always managed to get us seats right behind the dugouts or right behind home plate. When I went to Yankee stadium for the first time on my own without him, I was 29 or 30. I had tears in my eyes b/c it reminded me of those good times, like seeing a ghost. Baseball was such a HUGE part of my childhood with him. Baseball is the 'trigger' memory that makes me smile and think of him being young and the big strong man like I recall him being. That is how I want to remember him. Now, he will get to watch each & every baseball game from the best seat in the house. And when the game is not on, he will be tending to his beautiful garden. I pray he will also be watching out for my beautiful baby girl and my baby boy who will be here in May.
I'll see you again one day Dad.
For everyone else...
Hug your kids. Love your family. Live your life how you need to. Life is precious. Go out on a limb sometimes. There is no room for hatred & resentment ever. Don't smoke for your own health or your family's sake.
This was my father holding me - 1971.
This was from July, 2010 - Me, my dad and Julianna.
Dad holding Julianna.