My old man dying.

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    Nov 18, 2011 10:36 PM GMT
    I cannot picture it. They tell me my father can’t walk on his own. He spills when he attempts to bring a cup of water to his mouth. He cannot sign his name.

    He turned 70 today. I called, but we could not speak. I heard heaving, and what I thought resembled the pitch of his voice, but no words came. “No,” said my mom. “He can’t. He got too emotional. But he wanted to try--you’re the first person with whom he has tried to talk today.” My heart paused, but my mouth spoke the words, “Ok, just tell him I called to say happy birthday. And let me know how it goes at the hospital.”

    They were on their way to the ER. I gathered that much from my mom’s rushed conversation. “Still in Alabama? Working construction? Wow, son, what an experience. God bless you. Yes, I’ll let you know how it goes.”

    I called my sister after we hung up. “I don’t know much. Mom has been impossible to talk to today. I called, and she got mad at me because I said I’d say happy birthday to dad on the radio.” My sister hosts a popular talk show on Guatemalan radio. “There is nothing to celebrate today.”

    My father's father died at 94, and he always fed himself--he was a doctor, and kept his clinic open into his 80s. His mother was 90 when she died, and my mom’s mom is 98 and with us still. My mom's dad, whom I never met, died in an accident at 52. The point is that 70 is not old.

    I cannot picture it. I cannot see my father as an old man. Not at 70. He is young. And I am young, dammit. I’m not even 40. I cannot be the son of an old man. And yet a side of his face droops. So they tell me. He needs help going to the bathroom. And my mother, 68 years old, is crumbling under the pressure.

    My father is an old man, and he is dying. And in my 30s, I’m beginning to think of my own mortality. I think of my children, who are yet to arrive. They will not know their grandfather, and when they ask me about him, I won’t be able to tell them much. I lived under his roof for two decades, and yet I do not know him. Nor does he know me.

    I’m gay, you see, and not just that, I’m openly gay. People know that I’m gay. And that’s a problem. I have seen my parents four times in ten years. We talk a couple of times a month. We rarely fight or argue. We are extremely civil. We are a Latin Catholic family with a WASP attitude towards emotions. Strange animals are we.

    It’s easy, keeping things the way they are. Easier than fighting. But aren’t we supposed to be hot-blooded? How come we’ve never been? How come we don’t get even one telenovela moment? If there was ever the time for it, this would be it.

    My father is an old man--I try to see it. And he is dying. He had a stroke three weeks ago, the result of years of neglect--the result of our family’s improbable waspiness. My grandfather was a doctor, and when he died, my father finally rebelled. At 58, he regressed to 16, and finally said “fuck you, dad, I’m my own man.” Alas, his rebellion was misdirected. He rebelled against medicine, and spent the last decade refusing to take medication for his always dangerously high blood pressure. He fancied himself his own doctor, and rejecting everything his father ever stood for, adhered stubbornly to herbs that--while perhaps good supplements--proved to be no substitute for pills.

    I don’t know why, exactly, they had to go to the ER today, but he has been in the hospital more times in the last three weeks than in the last 12 years. And me? I sit at a Starbucks in Tuscaloosa, trying to think of what it will mean to live in a world where there is no generation above me--where I’m next in line, where I don’t have a dad. And I’m trying to understand why I’m not more anxious, trying to understand why I seem to be accepting this. Trying to think what I can do to get to know him, now.
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    Nov 18, 2011 10:47 PM GMT
    "And I’m trying to understand why I’m not more anxious, trying to understand why I seem to be accepting this. Trying to think what I can do to get to know him, now."

    I'll hazard a guess and say you're accepting this because you're a mature and well adjusted man.

    Why not go and pay him a visit? Hold his hand. Ask him questions if you like and ask him to squeeze once for yes and twice for no if he can't talk.

    with great compassion,


    (my Dad died at 68, Bill's at 71 and Mom just had a small stroke and broke her hip 2 days ago at 78. )
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    Nov 18, 2011 11:32 PM GMT
    I'm sorry to hear that your father is not in good health. I can understand your feelings. My father had his first serious health challenge a little over a year ago. Our entire family had to come to terms with, and accept, that Dad was in declining health and that eventually he will die. In our family, we all thought I was going to be the first one to go (living with HIV for 27 years).

    It sucks being powerless over my father's health. We want him to be with us as long as possible, and at the same time none of us want him to suffer.

    Spend as much time with him in person as you can. Even if he cannot speak to you, speak with him. Share the good things going on in your life. Reflect on the good times you have had together. Let him know how he has made a difference in your life and through you, in the lives of others. Look him in the eye. Tell him that you love him.

    Also, consider going to a therapist to talk through what the future may hold so that you will be better prepared for what is inevitable. I've been going to therapists since my early 20's. Last year, when Dad had his health challenge, I was the one who was able to facilitate conversations with my family members to bring us all to a serene and peaceful state of acceptance. I'm the "baby" in the family, yet I was the one to whom all were able to turn for strength and hope.

    May God be with you.

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    Nov 18, 2011 11:35 PM GMT
    If ya need a surrogate Dad's shoulder.. I volunteer.
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    Nov 18, 2011 11:57 PM GMT
    AMoonHawk saidThis is so sad. I'm sorry you have lost your closeness with your parents. May I ask why? Are you a big family? Were you ever close to them as a child, or were you more closer to a sibling that was a somewhat parent surrogat?

    I'm the youngest of five. I was close to my mom, but I had more of a father/son relationship with my grandfather (dad's dad) than I did with my father. I spent more time with him than with my dad, and learned more from him than I did from my dad. I was extremely saddened and emotional when he died, which is part of what makes the detachment I now feel seem so strange. I am trying to understand this.

    @Doug, and @Alan, Thank you. I'm not sure if I will be able to visit, given what I'm doing right now, and I don't know exactly what the outcome will be. There is a chance he will recover, but I think it's slim. I'm still sorting through my feelings--because there are some.
  • commoncoll

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    Nov 19, 2011 3:08 AM GMT
    I'm sorry about your father. This was a rather poignant piece of writing. I'm sorry for your fears and grief.
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    Nov 19, 2011 3:23 AM GMT
    If he's in the U.S., and you can afford the trip, you should go be with him.
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    Nov 19, 2011 3:34 AM GMT
    Hugs for you.
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    Nov 19, 2011 4:16 AM GMT
    wrestlervic saidIf he's in the U.S., and you can afford the trip, you should go be with him.

    He's in Guatemala. Traveling there would be extremely complicated for me logistically. I haven't had a Guatemalan passport in years--since I was granted political asylum in this country due to the persecution I suffered as a journalist back there. In order to travel, I need to use a special "Travel Document" issued by the Department of Homeland Security. I have obtained them in the past. The document costs $445, and is only good for one year. At this point,it would make more sense to just file for naturalization, and get a real passport--I have been eligible since May--but that would change the narrative of my becoming an American citizen at the end of the walk. And it would require me to travel back to NY a few times, first to get fingerprinted, and then for the interview, and then for the swearing-in. The process takes about four months. Realistically, I think I just won't be able to travel to Guatemala in the next several months, which means I'll have to deal with whatever happens from a distance. I don't think his death is imminent, but he is deteriorating quickly, and at this pace, I'd be surprised if he's still with us a year from now.

    Thank you, everyone, for your thoughts.
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    Nov 19, 2011 4:24 AM GMT
    Dying sucks. My mom passed away 3 1/2 years ago and I still have dreams where she is alive and we are living in various places. Then in my dreams I tell myself that she's gone, so how can this be, maybe she didn't pass away after all! It leaves such a big hole in your soul when a loved one, even a pet, passes away. Sometimes you feel like you're standing in space will your mouth hanging open in disbelief that they are gone.

    I hope you get to talk more to your father.
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    Nov 19, 2011 4:29 AM GMT
    Sorry you are going through this. It has got to be tough not being able to get there.
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    Nov 19, 2011 5:05 AM GMT
    Constantino, from what you describe, it sounds you've less to be concerned about stepping up to your own grave any time soon, but more an issue with the longevity in your family whereby you'll have that much longer to haul your losses with you until it is your time to bury your memories and your thoughts about them.

    Just because you liked your grandpa more, doesn't mean you don't love your dad at all. We are neither always close to who we love nor do we sometimes even like who we love. I'm pretty sure I've got at least one who I hate who I love.

    So if your dad will die, you will mourn in the appropriate way for you. It may be more detached, not as traumatic as with someone who you felt closer to, but it will remain a part of you just as permanently as the pain you must have felt when you buried your grandfather. The memory might not be associated as strongly but it will be every bit as persistent, demanding your coming to terms with it.

    Before a family-loved aunt of mine died--a very funny lady who stayed active volunteering as a candystriper even into her 80s--myself and some of my cousins including her grandchildren, at the suggestion of my mother, cornered her at a family party with tape recorder in hand. We grilled her knowing that she was the last of that generation and that so much information would die with her. I think that she was delighted to tell us her stories. Turns out that our greatgrandfather wasn't a horse thief afterall, as we'd been told since we were children. She just didn't like him. lololol.

    So if you have the opportunity while you are on the road, maybe you could write him, and tell him the things about yourself that you want him to know. And since he has so much trouble talking now, maybe you could ask him some questions that he could write back to you or that your mother could help him with, things that only he can tell you while he's still alive.

    Peace man.
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    Nov 19, 2011 5:15 AM GMT

    You said, "I'm still sorting through my feelings--because there are some."

    Oh yes, for me, and for Bill as well. There's an aspect of this that's quite wonderful; I think you love and love well.


    It's a little empowering, I hope, to know someone else thinks you've got the right stuff. icon_wink.gif
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    Nov 19, 2011 5:25 AM GMT
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    Nov 19, 2011 5:27 AM GMT
    I had to cross myself when I read this thread title... that is a prayer

  • kiwi_nomad

    Posts: 316

    Nov 19, 2011 5:51 AM GMT
    Sorry to hear buddy. I lost my father last year at the young age of 68. Sounds like my old man was in a similar state to yours before he slipped away. I was very thankful that we had advanced warning approx 3 months before he died so was able to spend as much time as we could have with him. I would have much preferred that to having died suddenly with no warning etc.

    I thought I would really struggle to cope with the loss afterwards, but I found things just got much better in the coming months.

    I had been wanting to go travelling but had been given the news that his health was declining right before I was ready to go, but now I have finally made the move to go travelling. My father was a big influence in my desire to go travelling, at my age he already had been living half way across the world for some 3-4 years. I guess he would be really proud of me getting started.
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    Nov 19, 2011 5:54 AM GMT
    Send your father letters. Someone else can read them for him. Send them pictures of where you are and what you do. Physical separation between parents and children is difficult as you are experiencing in tough times like these. Even if he can't talk, call him. Tell him about yourself. Parents live through their children. Talk to your mother.

    Sometimes, stroke victims get better and regain some functions with therapy and rehabilitation after some months. Maybe your father can learn to speak and become motor again. Sometimes, speech does not recover well. Perhaps he can learn to write again.

    I hope that you get to see him alive again. I am sorry for your family's troubles. My father died 15 years ago. I still remember him everyday. It is a regret not to spend time with your loved ones. I will pray for your family.
  • tazzari

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    Nov 19, 2011 6:15 AM GMT
    My father and I were not very close, though we had done some great things together. I never came out to him, though I came out to my mother. When he was dying, I wish I had spent more time with him. But I was at his side when he died, and I would not trade that for anything. If you can, go to him, be with him. You will never regret it, and anything you miss for doing so will mean nothing when you're further along, compared to being there.

    I'm 63, my partner is gone, Mom and Dad are long gone. I think I can see how much it would mean to me to have my son, my friends, with me at the end - or even in situations that could be the end.

    Two months ago I thought I was dying, and had a heart operation. The friends that turned up to help, or just to be there - are now so much closer and dearer.

    If you can be there, no matter what happens, be there. This is one of those moments when this is what life is really about.

    God bless.
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    Nov 19, 2011 6:32 AM GMT
    I'm sorry you're going through all this.

    I agree with you about 70 being young.
    My father turned 72 this year. He still has a full-time practice. He goes to the gym and/or walks regularly.
    I'll join my parents in the mountains for Christmas. My father will go snowshoeing with me. He'd go skiing too, but doesn't only because my mom won't ski and he doesn't want to go skiing without her.

    If you want to get to know your father better and don't think you'll be able to see him anytime in the next few months, why don't you ask him to record himself talking about his life. He can share his stories with you and your kids you don't yet have.
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    Nov 19, 2011 6:54 AM GMT
    I'm really sorry that you are going through this. I think it must be tougher for you since you can't physically be there to help take care of your dad. I lost my dad on june 3rd, 2010 and I wasn't able to help look after him since I was 4 hrs away at a school in the southern part of the state. When I finally came home for memorial weekend I learned that he was taken off of the organ transplant list and the medical committee had decided not to put him on it again.

    Pretty much for the next five days, all of my family came to his hospital room and said their goodbyes. I was shocked learning all of this info on my way back up home from school, because I had been looking forward to spending time with him for months and catching up. Even though it has been a little over a year since his passing, I still have dreams about him. All of my dreams he is healthy and we are laughing and spending time together, only for me to wakeup and realize that he is gone.

    If there is away that you can get there, please go and visit him. Or if that is too difficult you could do like one of the other guys said and send him letters and pics. I'm really sorry and it makes me very sad to read on here about guys dealing with either one of their parents being sick. It's a very hard thing to deal with no matter what your age is.

    I will keep you and your family in my prayers.

    In Nomine Patri et Filli et Spiritu Sancto
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    Nov 19, 2011 7:05 AM GMT
    so sorry to hear about ur dad, my dad passed in 2009, it still hurts, i think it always willicon_sad.gif
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    Nov 19, 2011 8:40 AM GMT

    You write well and I think you'll help a lot of guys here who have living parents. I still have both of mine as well, and they are going through some health challenges. I hope you'll have a chance to go see your parents soon. We look forward to seeing you when you get to CA. Thx. for your cool note the other day. Take care and enjoy your parents as much as possible.

    Gregg & Bob

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    Nov 19, 2011 1:58 PM GMT
    Thank you, everyone. Your words mean a lot to me, and most importantly, they have helped my thought process.

    I would like to go to Guatemala for the holidays, but I just won't be able to procure a passport in time. Realistically, I won't be able to make it down there in months.

    I like the idea of sending him letters. I may not be able to have much of a back-and-forth with him, but I can at least let him know that he is loved. Still, I don't know how much of myself I will really be able to share with him in those letters. The main reason we have grown so distant is because he has refused to hear anything related to my personal life.

    The last time they visited me in NY I asked them to meet my then-partner. We had been together seven years at the time, and had lived together for four. They refused to even set foot in my apartment and, at their hotel, my father said "we have done enough pretending all these years that you are normal; you can't ask more of us." So I accepted it, and never asked more of them again. But as I said before, part of me regrets that he will die and we will have never gotten to know each other. And I just don't know how to breach that distance now. I'll try writing him letters... But I still don't know what I'll say in them.
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    Nov 19, 2011 3:00 PM GMT

    Say, is it possible to get a recording of all your interviews etc on your cross country trek and send it to him to watch along with a 'Hey Dad, this is what I've been up to!' type of letter?

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    Nov 19, 2011 3:12 PM GMT
    Im not a family guy,never had a dad (im glade) ,family annooooys me.BUT
    all i can do is to wish you luck and good things to happen to u and your family.