When a Father Dies on Father’s Day

My father died on Father’s Day 2007. He had been in apparent good health until the night he was admitted to the hospital. That day, he went through his usual routines-swam a mile at the Y, did some errands, sat on the patio with my mother in the late afternoon.

By 11 p.m. he was in the ER, in such critical condition that the staff didn’t think he would survive the night. At 6 a.m. the following morning, he was stable enough to transport to the ICU. Each of the next 10 days brought new challenges as his condition worsened and became increasingly complex.

My brother flew in from 1500 miles away. Confused and in shock, we existed on a roller coaster of hope and despair. Like dominoes, one system after another failed.

Dad became increasingly unresponsive. When my phone rang at 12:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, I knew it would be the ICU. As the designated family spokesperson, I had requested that I be called no matter what time if there was any change. The doctor who called was a man I had come to respect.

We discussed the fact that I hadn’t sensed my father’s presence for a few days, and I agreed to talk to my mother and brother about ceasing aggressive life-sustaining treatment and allowing my father to die. The doctor hesitated after I thanked him for calling, cleared his throat, and said, “It’s Father’s Day. We could keep going until tomorrow if you’d like.”

Keeping vigil in the ICU is an isolating and disorienting experience. I had lost track of time. Father’s Day in my family had always been cause for celebration, a time to gather, laugh, rejoice, and eat. As my sons became fathers, the day took on even greater significance. For the past several years, we had 4 generations present.

My father was the social glue of our family, and he cherished family gatherings. After the phone call ended, I was unable to go back to sleep. I spent the rest of the night in agony, thinking and meditating, and at daybreak I drove over to my parents’ house, where my brother and sister-in-law were staying with our mother.

By then, I believed my father was suffering. I believed that several times he had tried to do what seasoned ICU nurses refer to as “declare himself”; that is, to tell us it was time to let go.

This year there would be no taking my father to a rowdy family brunch with his great-grandchildren. There would be no glasses of champagne raised in the evening with me, no long-distance phone calls from my brother. My father, a vibrant, active man who totally engaged in and loved life until the moment he was intubated in the emergency room, deserved better than to be maintained on machines.

And so I talked to my mother and brother, and that Sunday afternoon we reluctantly came to the painful decision to grant my father peace. His final exhale left his body at 5 p.m. that evening.

Now I am caught in the middle. A daddy’s girl whose father is dead, a mother to 2 sons who are fathers, and a bereaved grandmother whose youngest son’s first daughter died during delivery. My father was also a bereaved father — my sister, who was my son’s godmother, died at the age of 32. My father was a role model to his grandson in many ways, but especially in showing him that it is possible to survive the death of a child.

Father’s Day is bittersweet, and different. I struggle to remain upbeat and happy for my sons, while at the same time mourning and missing my father. I celebrate the fact that I see the person my father was reflected in the fathers my sons have become. I engage in mindful charitable contributions.

My father taught me how to read, he filled our house with books and words, so I make a donation to our local library. Well-meaning friends attempted to comfort me when my father died with statements about how he lived a full, long life. Indeed he did, but no matter how many years, they will never be enough. I will always wish there had been more. I love you, Daddy.

Nina Bennett 2011

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Nina Bennett

More Articles Written by Nina

Nina Bennett has 4 grandchildren, one of whom was unexpectedly born still following a healthy full-term pregnancy. She has worked in reproductive health since 1976, and was a childbirth educator for nearly 10 years. A healthcare professional and frequently requested guest lecturer, Nina presents talks and workshops locally and nationally. She is the Principal Investigator of an IRB-approved research study looking at how grandparents incorporate perinatal loss into their families. Nina is a social activist who gives voice to the often silent grief of grandparents through her writing and speaking. Her articles and poetry have appeared in the anthology Mourning Sickness, The Broadkill Review, Slow Trains Literary Journal, Grief Digest, the News Journal, A.G.A.S.T., Different Kind of Parenting, M.I.S.S.ing Angels, and Living Well Journal, as well as many other publications. Nina is the author of Forgotten Tears A Grandmother’s Journey Through Grief. Proceeds from her book are donated to MISS Foundation, and other agencies supporting families bereaved by the death of a baby. She contributed a chapter to They Were Still Born, a collection of first-person accounts of stillbirth.

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  • Bill says:

    Hi Nina,

    This is a very touching story. I despise your friends for saying that he lived a long full live, as if that makes your loss any more tolerable. It does not. Those of us who have lost loved ones will never have enough time with them, no matter if they were a 2 year old daughter dying or a 98 year old father dying. Love is eternal. Your friend’s comments were ignorant at best and disgraceful at worst.

    My condolences for your loss.

  • Adrienne says:

    Nina,
    My father was killed 37 years ago on Father’s Day. I am still having a difficult time dealing with the loss. No matter what anyone tells you it is not easy losing a parent. I try to deal with Father’s Day by remembering something good about my dad. It gets me throught the tough times.

  • Adrian says:

    I lost my Dad/Hero/best friend… the day after Fathers Day last year June 18th 2012….
    He was 61… Kevin James McGrath… best guy in the world.. had a tough life .divorced from my Mom… but a good life that only a son could understand..
    Irish blood that I was so proud to be part of…
    We were close but would have been closer if I only knew his time was coming..
    Wednesday before Fathers Day I brought him home from Hospital .. (he was in there for about 2 weeks as he had a chronic lung infection that he needed taken care of .. periodically.. he always smoked and just couldn’t give it up even after a big scare operation done about 10 years ago.. besides that though he recovered to a point where he was only about 125 lbs for his last 10 years but still made his day to day life manageable .. and make others smile even though deep down inside was always suffering from depression about why he lost my mom .. and didn’t have a good relationship with my sister etc.. I am 33 .. have 2 kids a fiancee and I have been living so sad this past year since my Dad has gone… ) when he came home from Hospital Wednesday I had his place sparkling clean.. for him and had a new TV for him as a surprise as an early day fathers day gift as I knew I might not see him Fathers Day as I had been down at his place (45 min away) every day before that cleaning up .. feeding his cat etc.. and I wanted to give my Dad his space and also do something with my kids Fathers Day..
    Well Thursday came.. he sent me a voice message (that i recorded on my iPhone so i can always hear it) saying Hi Adrian.. I just wanted to let you know I feel great today.. Im on my scooter going to get a coffee etc.. I love you so much and don’t think I deserve all you do for me .. but thank you Adrian and I love you…
    I thought wow he sounds great..
    Then Friday came.. Nik Wallenda walking over Niagara Falls(my fav place in the world) i Live in Toronto so its close kinda…
    I told my Dad to watch it .. don’t think we talked that day just text and he said I’m fine…
    Then Saturday night came .. called him.. he said Hi .. all tired sounding.. I said you ok Dad he said yes Adrian yes Im just tired and sleeping .. I was like oh ok .. are you sure you ok .. of course just tired so I was like ok Dad while ill let you sleep and call you tomorrow on Fathers Day.. he said ok ..
    Sunday came .. went fishing with my kids.. tried calling .. tried calling.. thought my Dad is tired I’ve been bugging him and I should let him sleep .. he on a lot of meds so figured he tired…
    Sunday before I went to bed tried again nothing .. couldn’t sleep much and when i woke up id call no answer..
    Monday morning came I said to myself I’m sorry Dad but even if it embarrass you I’m going to have to call landlord and get them to check up on him .. cause I had done it once before and he sounded embarrassed that i had done it then
    So they did and found him .. almost dead on the ground.. barely breathing ..naked ..
    Once he at the hospital .. he Died..
    Got a call from my cousin… Said Uncle Kevin died.. I screamed 🙁
    My Dad only really had me .. as a family member .. and I wasn’t there for him even though everyone says i was…
    I went to my Dads the next day after he died .. (took a week off work) to start packing stuff up cause he rented and I needed to be a man and get it over with…
    I walked in his front door that I had his place so clean .. and from his bedroom to his bathroom was something that looked like puke /blood / something all over.. even going to the kitchen but nothing in the living room..
    It was like you could tell where he had been from the traces of puke etc… His bedsheets were soaked and stained .. puke in corners.. and towels on floor in bathroom in a bowl of water..
    Its so unreal… I think about his last day on fathers day and how he must have mixed his meds with morphine patches .. or perks he would get from a neighbour …and all I can come to conclusion is that he must have got so sick.. he was on the floor puking everywhere.. or his bowels he couldn’t hold in.. but why not call me ? I think his mind went also or something ..
    He was the most devoted catholic and at the same time you would think a demon or something entered his body and made him act this way.. I just don’t know… I even video all the puke/blood stains etc .. so i can try and figure out his last day crawling around his place so sick while I was fishing and didn’t even have a clue.. except I thought let my Dad rest.. he is so strong and always is ok…
    This time he wasn’t… I didn’t have a clue while i was opening father day gifts from my kids.. etc…
    So sad..
    So i went to his place with this smell of medicine and puke and scrapped it all off for 5 days with my fingernails and scrub pads.. I thought my dad would be so embarrassed by the mess he made that I was the only one he would want to clean it up.. so I did…. I did it for him with mops and everything while I cried the whole time… I didn’t care.. this was my dad..
    Sure I could have never even went to his place after he died and let maybe a good friend or another not so close family member help out and maybe I should have .. cause I am haunted and curious about what happened exactly..
    Ill never know .. before I had a chance to say anything .. my cousin said to decline Autopsy.. she was close to him and I think she knew he mixed meds with his perks etc but that bugs me cause I wanted to know now..Even though I agree and think thats what happened.. He also only drank ensure for his last 3 days and not much food so a lot of puke was the ensure I think.
    Doctor sends him home from Hospital with 25 bottles of pills.. he is drowsy and 61 .. and tells me Adrian I know what pills to take etc.. so i have to back off and trust him he is a man.. so i did..still think doctors should have known that he needed to stay longer ..but my Dad hated being in the hospital.. and would rather be dead then in an old age home so sometimes I think he died strong and happy to a point.. so maybe this is the way it was meant to be … ??
    Anyways .. I guess I write this to bring memories back and to feel relief a bit .. but I suffer everyday even though I might not show it .. cause I have kids and a fiancee I have to be happy around..
    But a year ago today was the last night I ever talked to my Dad..
    And Tomorrow is Fathers Day the day he crawled around suffering to survive..
    And Monday is the day he died a year ago..
    I am going with my kids to plant a tree on his grave tomorrow …
    Will Fathers Days ever be a good day ? Ill try for my kids…
    Also found my Dads cell phone behind his bed out of reach .. with all my missed calls on it and a text from my sister that barely talked to him that he was very depressed over… saying Happy Fathers Day Dad.. he would have loved that from my sister but never go to read it …. Then I turned phone off and its in my drawer now.. Ill text the number ever so often and say I miss you..Until I got a ring back from the same number .. I was so freaked out I didn’t answer it .. it was only about 4 months after and I thought no one would have his number yet so thats why i texted miss you etc the odd time..
    Still to this day I won’t call the number to even just satisfy myself thinking someone else owns the number and was trying to tell me that.. because Id rather think it was my Dad saying HI…

    I don’t come on here much.. any response can be sent to DAD838@hotmail.com
    Thanks and everyone else Love your Dads… while they are here.. Happy Fathers Day.. and Thank You