On your father’s death

I knew my dad was going to die soon. It took fifteen minutes to resuscitate him two days prior. We agreed with the doctor not to be aggressive in treatment after they extubated him.

When he regained consciousness, it was without awareness, his tongue lolling and his eyes rolling into his head. He would barely focus on people when they spoke directly to him. He couldn’t answer even the simplest questions.

His breathing was labored and fast. As they gave him sedatives and pain medication it began to turn wet and I imagined it would soon culminate in either a severe struggle, or series of terrible and unforgettable sounds. Between machines with alarms going off and the sounds of him drowning, it might be unbearable.

My mother, not fully understanding the situation, kept trying to talk to him. I carefully weighed leaving my father to die alone against saving my mom from an experience that might destroy her. I honestly felt that if she had to remember my father’s death rattle she would literally go insane. I know I only barely felt strong enough to believe I could.

To my mind, my father had already died. Forcing her to watch as the nurses swept away the pieces just didn’t seem right. Or worse, some terrifying moment of struggle that made her feel even more powerless would just be torture.

I told her I would take her home to rest. We said our goodbyes and promised to check on him the next day. Both doctors had already explained the prognosis was extremely poor. And my mom tried to push it aside by saying that she didn’t like this doctor or that doctor.

Moments after we got home the phone rang and we were asked to return as my father had passed. I looked out the window and it began to rain. Even after all that contemplation, I still don’t know if I did the right thing. Did I?

The week before, when he finally got the tube out the last time, he finally said, “I love you.” Something I swear he’s only said to me maybe twice before. And I couldn’t understand him through the mask clearly enough to be certain. I asked him to repeat it but he was very weak and didn’t. I feel like I denied him that. And then, I abandoned him.

I don’t know what to feel. But I am hurting.

Did I do the right thing?


Yes, you did the right thing. You needn’t carry any measure of guilt for not bearing witness to the exact moment of your father’s death. He certainly wasn’t conscious at the end, and you had already said your goodbyes. You spared your father a final indignity and you protected your mother from further trauma. You did what you thought was best, and it seems like it was exactly what your father would have wanted you to do.

And no, you didn’t abandon him. You didn’t deny your father any opportunity to express how he felt about you. He had an entire lifetime to express how he felt, and if he wasn’t the kind of man to tell you that he loved you, then that’s on him. That’s his missed opportunity, not yours.

My condolences on your loss, for whatever that’s worth. It’s perfectly okay to not know what to feel right now, and it’s going to hurt for a very long time. It’s supposed to. Don’t rush trying to feel normal again. It’ll happen when it happens.


15 thoughts on “On your father’s death

  1. Mel V. says:

    I’m with Coke here. Death is a process, not a single moment. You were there for the parts that were important and left the room for the parts that were more painful than helpful. I hope my loved ones do the same when it’s my turn to go.

    I’m sorry for your loss. Grieving is complicated and messy, it doesn’t mean you did anything wrong.

  2. wwaxwork says:

    As someone whose last memory of her father is that death rattle & his dead body, you did the right thing. No matter what you did you would be asking yourself if you had done the right thing. There is no perfect thing you could have done that would have made any of this better or easier for any of you. My father literally held on for days because my mother wouldn’t leave his side. I finally convinced her to go get something to eat & he literally passed away minutes later. It’s like with her gone he didn’t have to be strong for her anymore. Honestly it sounds like your father did the same thing. You helped them both.

  3. Chupacabra says:

    I left the hospital before my dad died. I didn’t make it back in time to be with him when he passed. I had left to shower and nap, and I felt awful about it. I felt like I abandoned him.

    But I was able to stay with him the night before. We were able to talk- maybe not as much as I wanted to hear, but Coke is right – that was his choice. I read to him and we listened to music together. His last words to me were “I’ll see you later”

    I’m ok with it now

  4. Moving Forward says:

    I would like to thank you all for kind and heartfelt consideration. Coquette’s, and your sincere words are helping more than you can know.

    Onward to the pain of living,

    • Chris says:

      It’s going to take time, but even in time there are steps. Forgive me using my own example, but perhaps it will help. About 4 years after my father passed away I was working the profession he’d been in. There were so many questions I’d have liked to ask – the kind a father would answer, but a boss won’t. It wasn’t that I’d missed my chance; the chance didn’t intersect with us both being alive at the same time.

      I hope you have great memories of your dad. And perhaps you’ll meet some people you hadn’t known before who will tell you something about them. I’ve had that a few times, and it’s pretty nice.

  5. RocketGrunt says:

    My mom understood that I couldn’t be there during my dad’s last moments, and honestly I think he didn’t want me to see him die either. I went to bed and cried all night while my dad passed.

    People forget to take care of themselves when someone is dying. You took care of your mom like my mom took care of me.

  6. You did the right thing. I have been by the bedside for more deaths than I can count, and you did the right thing. And you didn’t deny him or abandon him. You were there when you could be, and that is what counts. I lost my dad very unexpectedly two months ago, and I have a lot of questions of what I should have or could have differently. The bottom line is it turned out exactly as it was supposed to. Be kind to yourself; this grief thing is so so hard without you beating yourself up. Hang in there and just ride the waves.

  7. Wendy says:

    When it comes to taking care of someone we love in their final days, we all do our best. Of course, we can always think of ways we should have done better. But we all do the best we can.

    It’s cruel to expect more of ourselves than we can give, and you’ve just been hit with one of the cruelest blows life will deal you. You did all you could to the very end, and your father is no longer suffering. You’re the one who’s left behind to deal with everything. Take the time to grieve for yourself and what you’ve lost.

  8. Soobs says:

    I was once told by a hospice nurse that some people won’t pass until loved ones leave. Dear Sugars did a podcast about grief recently and the expert therapist said feeling guilt after someone dies is a way for the grieving to keep the person alive. The times I’ve been in that position I tortured myself for months with all the things I thought I did wrong. It’s worth a listen to those who are struggling.

  9. tecdelver says:

    You did the right thing. I’ve lost both my parents, and I’m a dad with adult children. My dad passed at night, I believe on purpose to avoid a crowd. I would prefer to pass in private, after saying my goodbyes, probably like your father to avoid your last and most vivid memories being the struggle of the body as it shuts down. Be free of guilt. He would want that.

  10. Sarah says:

    My mother passed away whilst Dad and I were elsewhere in the hospice. Having slept the night on a makeshift bed in the ward room, I will never forget the noise of the breathing, the smell, the horrible smell, my father pleading with her to fight on. She was away long before that last endless horrific night. In the morning they fed us breakfast in a small side room. Whilst dad and I were enjoying one of the best, honest, friendliest conversations of our lives to date over toast and tea, mum died. It was for the best. She can’t have known but she saved us from that extra pain we just didn’t need to see.
    You did the right thing.

  11. Moving Forward says:

    I still return to this page like a ghost.
    It restores me. I have so many mistakes in my life that will never settle because my mind plays them like a broken record. But somehow the clarity of the response, and the instinctual comfort of these replies keeps me from morbidly dwelling.
    Thank you.

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