A Long, Hard Walk to Goodbye

This has not been my best week. A week ago, I’d already lost two days of work to what I thought was a cold. It only got worse over the weekend. Last Monday morning, I woke up at 3:30 in the morning and found I was running a fever. I went to urgent care and was diagnosed with the flu, which I hadn’t had since I was a kid. I spent all of last week at home, running a low-grade fever, tired, achey, and congested. My temperature finally started to go down on Friday, but I’m still tired, achey, snuffly, coughy.

Meanwhile, last Thursday, my dad emailed me to let me know he’d slipped in his kitchen while getting himself some juice. He lay there on the floor for 4 or 5 hours, finally getting up to call my brother for help. On Friday night, my brother called to tell me that after calling our dad at home and not receiving an answer, he’d gone over to the apartment and found our dad in bed, unable to get up on his own. My brother helped him up, then called 911 for an ambulance, despite our dad’s insistence that he was fine and didn’t need a doctor. At the hospital, the doctors quickly determined our dad’s situation was critical, due to an infection (possibly pneumonia, possibly a UTI from his catheter). Our dad went septic (that is, the infection spread to his bloodstream), and at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, my brother called me to tell me our father was dead.

He’s dead. It’s still sinking in. I’d mentally prepared myself for this as best I could back in November when my dad went in for some crucial surgery, which was complicated by his COPD. Really, I’d been mentally preparing myself for this for the past 10 years or so, when my dad’s lifetime of smoking finally caught up with him. He’d had problems with breathing and problems with hernias and his intestines for years, and my brother and I had had to rush to the hospital to see him any number of times over the past decade. Still, this happened so quickly and suddenly, it took me by surprise. I’m still trying to make sense of the fact that I’m never going to see my dad again.

It would be nice if this blog post were nothing but “I’m so sad about my dad’s death,” but the fact is, my relationship with my dad was very complicated. I’ve always loved him, but I haven’t always liked him, and for the past year (at least), his more frustrating personality traits, as well as the memories of things he’d done over my lifetime, were really putting a strain on me and I found being around him incredibly difficult most of the time. My father was smart, charming, witty, goofy, sentimental, principled, and caring. He was also very self-centered and narcissistic. He was often overbearing, intrusive, judgmental, needy, manipulative, and self-aggrandizing. I’m still working on getting over all of the negative input he gave me as I was growing up and getting past my anger at him for trying to drive a wedge between my mother and me (and my brother and me).

As terrible as it may sound, I’m feeling a lot of relief right now. I’m relieved that he’s no longer in physical pain and emotional distress. But I’m also relieved that I no longer have to deal with his insults, his guilt trips, his turning every conversation topic into something about him. And I’m relieved that I can talk openly about all of this now, without him getting defensive and verbally abusive.

I’m also sad. As much as he frustrated me and made me angry, he also made me laugh and made me think. A lot of my political and social morals and ethics come from him. A lot of my sense of humor comes from him. A lot of my generosity comes from him. As difficult as I often found him, I’ll still miss him.

You’re gone from this world, Richard Reno Neff, but you’re not yet gone from my life, and I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to you.

And to all of my friends and family both near and far who have been sending me their love and support: thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I know I can make this long, hard walk to goodbye with you all by my side.


23 thoughts on “A Long, Hard Walk to Goodbye

  1. I know I’ve said this before, but I wanted again to express my heartfelt sympathy to you and your family. I lost my step-father 15 years ago suddenly after a long protracted illness (heart disease and kidney disease…genetic problems in his case). Even though I knew it could happen at anytime, it was still shocking. It was a long, hard walk to goodbye and there are still times when I think about him and get sad.

    As for your relationship with your father, I can also relate. Let’s just say my relationship with my real father was/is complicated and leave it at that.

    I guess what I’m saying is, I can relate and I understand.

  2. My deepest condolences Josh. I think your feelings are completely natural and understandable.

    My thoughts are with you.


  3. Josh, I lost my dad after 36 years of cancer and disability last year on March 30 and I empathize with you. Relationships with people who are ill for decades are rarely easy. I appreciate your candor about the duality of this loss. Take care of yourself during this period of grief. With sincere sympathy, Meg

  4. Oh, Josh, I don’t know where I’ve been, but this is the first I’ve seen of this. I am so very sorry! There are no words to make the pain less; I can understand a little; my father left when I was 4, popped in occasionally, about every 4 years, til I was grown, and finally was returned to me because no one was able to care for him when he had dementia, cancer, etc. I had him here for 2 months before he died. I empathize with many of your comments about your dad. If there is anything at all I can do, you have but to say so. I do love you, my dear friend.

  5. Thinking of you, my friend.

  6. Thank you all for your comments and your support.

  7. I had a similar relationship with my dad, to the point where he pushed so hard, that we all went away. I don’t understand that, and have tried to do my best to let my kid be himself. If anyone is going to change the world and how we relate to our kids, I think that is the best way to do it. Condolences my friend, fathers extract a high price from their children, and it didn’t need to be that way.

  8. My dad was self centered and emotionally abusive. He was also quick to help anyone in need, gregarious and fun.

    There’s no need to separate your good and bad, they all make up what built your relationship with your father.

    My dad died after a month long roller coaster ICU stay and 5 months of will it won’t it cancer treatment. I hurt, but I was glad he didn’t anymore. He was an asshole, but he was MY DAD and as such my grief was real.

    I’m so sorry you and your brother have to go through this. Take comfort in your family, lean on them when you need to 🙂

  9. Josh, my father’s relationship with my grandfather was similarly conflicted, and I remember when I was a teenager he said, 10 years after his father had died, that he was finally getting around to grieving because he’d gotten past the complexity of their relationship. His thought at the time was that he was simply glad he COULD grieve for him, whenever it eventually happened.

    In any case, I’m so sorry. xo.

  10. What a shock it must have been to get that call. Wishing you the best as you try to sort out your feelings.

  11. Having a complicated relationship with my own father, I understand your feelings, Josh. Again, my condolences to you and your loved ones.

  12. Okay – having left the typical response to the pretty picture, I’ll tell you now that your reaction to your dad’s death is a much more charitable one than mine to my mother’s. Two-plus years after, I’ve finally quit looking over my shoulder, quit worrying she’s going to walk in and yell at me for any number of things: being who I am, being nice to my father, having fun without her, and without her being the star of the show.

    So, yeah. I feel your relief. Enjoy it – And while I tweeted about loss leaving a hole, I hereby revoke that to the appropriate extent. Here’s to freedom! Here’s to finally having permission to be all that you can be, to doing things YOUR way, to acknowledging the good in your dad and the relationship, when and where it was good, but also in moving past the parts that held you back and made it about him.

    Here’s to being YOU.

  13. Thanks, all. I sincerely appreciate all of your comments.

  14. I send you my love and give you my condolences. be kind to yourself and if you need anyone to speak to please know i will listen and support in whatever way i can >salute<

  15. Thank you, Nami. *salute*

  16. So beautifully written and so deeply honest and brave. You are a very fine man.

  17. Thank you, Joyce. I really appreciate that.

  18. I’m sorry for your loss Josh. Much of what you said resonates with me with regard to my relationship with my father. I anticipate someday I’ll write something like this. Our parents are people, but having grown up viewing them through a child’s eyes it’s hard to make that transition to seeing them as they are – flawed people like everyone else. You’re in my thoughts my friend. Focus on the positive memories. The hurtful ones have no power any longer.

  19. Dear Josh:

    I am saddened to hear about your dad’s death. The picture of you both is how I remember him from the 1950’s when we teenagers were a group that went to Circle Pines Center and met often in Chicago.

    I’m sorry to hear that your relationship with him was so difficult, but I’m not entirely surprised as your description of him fit pretty much as he was then.

    I’ve lived in LA since 1962, still go back to CPC when I can, and am in touch with some of our group from those days.

    I’ll send you an e-mail soon to continue this conversation.

    You have my deepest sympathy and I really appreciated your comments about your dad.

  20. Thank you, John. I really appreciate your comments. Rick was a human being, just like the rest of us, with his good and bad qualities. But it’s always weird to realize your dad is just a regular old human.

  21. Hugs, my friend. Love you lots. I am glad you are writing and working through this. *more hugs*

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