Being-with My Dying Dad

For our last three years of father-and-daughter life on this planet, Daddy and I talked daily to be as close as we could be. Our time together was coming to an end. We didn’t know when that would happen; we just knew it was coming sooner than we wished. And then came the news: “There is nothing more we can do.”

Daddy didn’t feel like dying. He felt full of life and longing to live. He had more to do, more to say, more to feel, to taste, to write, to experience. He was angry and sad, disappointed and confused, scared and brave, unaccepting and, finally, accepting.

Facing the end of his life, Daddy courageously asked each of his children for completion and readiness for his release. He was himself a writer of memoirs in his final decade, and in those moments of drawing near to death, he encouraged me to write about and share the story of what we were experiencing together. I assured him that I would “pick up the pen where he left off.”

He passed while I held his hand, talked and sang to him. In those moments between his last breath and my realization that it was, I felt many things—sorrow, relief, surprise, wonder—and also gratitude and peace that his struggle to live and die all at the same time was over. I was so grateful to be present and say to him, “Daddy, you will always be with me, and I with you. My heart and your heart are one. Thank you for your endless love. Thank you for being the very best dad I could ever have.”

Several weeks after he died, I began to feel very intense grief, an unexpected tidal wave of sorrow, anger and feelings of abandonment. Writing, as I painfully accepted and integrated my father’s physical absence from my life, made me feel just a little bit better. I continued to write more and to feel better and eventually produced a short memoir about his End of Life from my perspective. Honoring his suggestion, I published a little book to share with others.

There is great pain inherent in the loss of a loved one. I sure felt it, and sometimes still do! It is also possible to find unexpected humor, deep connection, healing of past wrongs and loving support of all kinds, from within your own mind and heart and from caring acquaintances. When you let others know what you need, you can better take care of you. After a loved one passes, you are the one who needs care!

Many ask me what I learned from this profound experience and how I might advise others. While I hesitate to give any “cookie cutter” advice, I recommend preparing to be-with the dying and the bereaved. Being present and open to this new experience was the greatest gift I could give to myself and to my dad. Writing about my experience and my feelings was so helpful; I encourage you to do that too.

My dad’s passing, as hard as it was to accept, was the best I could imagine. Now, connecting with grieving individuals, bereavement workers, hospice and palliative care centers around the world is something I do day by day, thanks to the Internet. I find new purpose as I integrate my sorrow and channel it in a way that inspires others too. This connection is a life-giving opportunity and a “blessed” experience for me.

I am honored to write about our story and hope that it may touch you, help you integrate your own loss and open to new hope. I welcome your comments.

Live Love!



Julie Nierenberg

More Articles Written by Julie

A writer, editor and author coach, I am inspired by the journey of love and release through my father’s end of life. In 2013 I published a book about our experience. Guided by my father's living example as an author and activist, I write to contribute to how we prepare, individually and collectively, to live and support the final chapter of life. I write to immerse in the moment and to experience the satisfaction that writing can bring. Oklahoma is the home of my roots. I lived in McCloud, Tahlequah, Oklahoma City and Tulsa for many years before a recent move to Toronto, Ontario. As a young adult, I meandered through a variety of career emphases in environmental and biomedical sciences before realizing I was called to be an educator. Following my heart into education of gifted children, I enjoyed nearly twenty years, first as a Whole Language, Spanish and art teacher and then as an administrator. With a growing love of children, I courageously became a parent, twice! The joy and purpose I feel in that role is a guiding light in my daily life. Now my two daughters are firmly on the paths of their own journeys through life; I thrill to watch them as they navigate their chosen courses. In 2006, I grew wings that took me all the way to Toronto, where I joined my life partner and soul mate. There, I reinvented my career to flexibly accommodate travel between the home of my family of origin in Oklahoma and my new home in Canada. I established my own business as a writer, editor, author coach and self-publisher. It has been my great pleasure to work with other writers as a partner in authorship, or as editor and coach, and I look forward to many more such affiliations. With each passing day, more topics and opportunities present themselves and I embrace them with gratitude. During the months, weeks and days leading up to my father's death, I was present as much as possible. I was with him when he transitioned from this earthly life in April of 2012, so very privileged to be at his side. Later, as my sorrow washed over me in waves, I began to write our very personal story, and I connected with his memory, integrating my grief, through that effort. In 2013, I published the story as a short book and included resources to support others facing end-of-life issues. Since the book's publication as "Daddy, this is it. Being-with My Dying Dad," I have reached out to many grief and bereavement support workers, hospice and palliative care chaplains and end-of-life advocates with an introduction to my book. I make many valued connections as I reach out with this purpose. With one such connection, Victoria Brewster, MSW, I am now co-writing another book on Death, Dying and the End of Life. We hope this book will offer a unique and comprehensive perspective, with multiple contributors sharing their end-of-life experiences.


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  • Kaushik says:

    Hi Julie,
    My name is Kaushik. I am from India. My father passed away on March 22nd 2014 due to leukaemia (AML). He was 81. While I felt that my dad is super-human due to his totally active lifestyle (at the age of 75, he used to drive a small motor-bike to pick up my children from the school bus stop). He used to attend every function of almost all our relatives (be it marriage, engagement, sacred thread ceremony etc). I miss him a lot and grieve for him. But while people say I am supposed to give strength to my mother, I am not able to console her too much. They had been married for 44 years. I cannot even imagine her sorrow. But my mother is a very strong woman.
    I feel that talking to people with similar intense emotional experiences will lessen my grief while simultaneously alleviating others’ tears..They say time is the greatest healer of all but I feel mind is the greatest healer. Hence focusing on developing a strong mind is paramount to alleviating one’s grief. Easier said than done !
    Thanks and Live Love (I love your phrase !)

  • Piyush Trivedi says:

    After reading “BEING-WITH MY DYING DAD” I cried and cried and controlled to write these few words. I lost my father 13 days before. It is so painful to write Lost as he is still alive in my heart ,in my soul and in the name which I am caring with him in it. He was men of moral. He had all the qualities of wise men. Very literate and diligent. He was with us up to 81 just to teach us but we couldn’t learn the values the lesson on morality and dedication and commitment.He tried telling so many stories about his past and work but we didn’t had time then. We wanted to hear each of them now but …..Today I am feeling why everything which he use to say I felt wrong then but understanding today when he is not there.
    Special thanks to you for making me realise and carry forward for correcting to all those who are doing similar mistakes what I had done in past.
    I am remembering beautiful quote “It doesn’t matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was.”

    Piyush Kishore Trivedi

  • Wow Julie! I am soooo happy that I ran across your website here. I am enrolled in a writing class and our first assignment is to read a book on the same genre we want to write on, so I am choosing your book, “Daddy, this is it: Being with my dying dad.” My father just passed away from AML on August 24, 2016. I am having one heck of a time with the grief. I’ve almost completed a memoir, but now have decided to take my book in a whole new direction. Any info or advice you could provide to me would be so greatly appreciated!


    Kelly Caufield – Idaho