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.