Last week, I received news from home that knocked the wind out of me, and dropped my heart to my stomach; my father, Kaye R. Patrick, 84, was being placed into home hospice.
Doctors ceased to speak about cures, and changed their concern to his comfort.
Estimates about how much time we had left with him were bandied about by numerous professionals.
My father died Tuesday morning. I've been around long enough to know death abides by its own clock.
When my dad's cancer surgery was unsuccessful, the doctors did everything they could to turn the tide. Despite their best efforts, though, the cancer entered his spine. My father ended his war with cancer with an armistice agreement: He was under house-arrest until the day he died.
When a parent dies, it is generally understood to be the natural order of things; people are expected to come into life and exit in a certain order. This does not mean, however, that the grief over the loss is less, or that one should expect to “get over it,” or “bounce right back.”
Too often, this is the prevailing – but unintentionally harsh – sentiment.
“He lived a good life,” is a commonly voiced consolation. “At least it didn't come as a shock; you were prepared,” some say.
It's always a shock. One is never prepared.
The doctors who so diligently tended to my father to give him a few more decent years finally threw in the towel. Their prognosis was given to an 84-year-old man who had just had multiple organs removed and suffered two post-operative strokes.
They read a death sentence to the friendly giant who had taught me everything – how to fish and play the harmonica – how to be a gentleman and always own up to my failures.
They cut a lifeline that anchored me to my own identity.
They made me painfully aware of my father's mortality, a subject I decided to ignore as the years turned his hair, and mine, increasingly gray.
My ability to apologize for the sins of my youth, as well as my lifelong quest to make him proud, has come to an end.
No one is ever prepared to lose their hero, their best friend, and their parent all at once.
Last Christmas, he spent the holidays with me, my two toddler boys, and my brother and his family. He was already sick, though he had told no one. Despite the thinning white hair, smaller frame, and sluggish manner, all I saw was the superhero who never let me down, and always made me feel safe.
The loss of a parent is nearly universal. As I navigate these new and painful waters, I offer these words of advice.
-Know that there is no way to quantify or explain the grief you are experiencing. It will probably never end. It will lessen in time, then return – and this cycle may go on forever. That's okay.
-Grief is an exhausting process, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Surround yourself with people who love you, or those who have experienced a similar loss. It is okay to ask for help.
- If you need help, seek help from a qualified doctor or therapist. There is never anything wrong with getting the help you need.
- Do not be surprised at feelings of abandonment. Try to remember you will always be your parent's child.
When I tuck my own boys, 4-year-old Nathan and 2-year-old Kenneth, in at night, I comfort them by saying I will always love them, and that daddy will never go away.
I tell them this and mean it with all of my heart.
I have to remember in the days ahead that when my own father said the very same words to me, he meant them, too. I simply have to have faith that, although his presence in my life will be different– he will keep his promise, as he always has.
I love you, dad.
Editor's note: William Patrick is in Connecticut, attending his father's funeral.