There are things worse than dying. Death, while generally a tragedy, can also be an acceptable end to a life sprinkled with healthy dashes of generosity and humility, sacrifice and accomplishment, humor and satisfaction, love and honor. "Say not in grief 'He is no more', but instead rejoice 'He was!'"
We see this in fiction, as well. When a hero, or generally good person, faces the prospect of death by old age, disease, or self-sacrifice, the tendency is overwhelmingly to accept it, albeit not necessarily immediately. Total resistance to the event is reserved for those without any concern for others, whose only priority is their own continued existence. Death is no pleasant thing, but neither is it unnatural, and some costs are too great to pay to avoid or delay it.
Thanksgiving 2013 was the first one not spent with family; plane tickets from Montana to Virginia are not cheap, and the return flight would have had to be prompt. Waking up that morning was a more unpleasant process than usual, and there was a heartfelt desire not to have to work that day. As it turned out, that desire was satisfied.
Patrick was the bearer of bad tidings via Gchat. First, that Uncle Tom had died; not good news, to be sure, but he was not one of the relatives to whom any of us were close. And then there was the world-rocking development, the one that cracked the foundations of a twenty-five-year life. Our mother had woken up with our father lying dead beside her.
There was no real office time that day. Or the rest of that year. In mid-March, the news of a layoff was welcome relief, because being two thousand miles away from family had gone from a non-factor to a tremendous emotional burden. That fall, even working in DC and living with one immediate relative eventually became too much to endure. The next year was better: Thanksgiving was still a grueling experience, but there was significantly less turmoil even living with a non-relative, while still remaining in the area. Being laid off then went both ways, as on the one hand no more income and no more days spent using skills actually possessed, but on the other hand being back with family and the prospect of interviews for jobs with more satisfaction without arranging for days off from a current job.
This November has been similarly difficult, and the question "Am I ever going to be okay?" has popped up again once or twice. It first occurred probably that winter, but the answer was clear: the premise of the question is malformed. You do not become 'okay' after the death of a parent you loved, if the definition of 'okay' is 'same as before', because that event is life-changing. But there is a difference between crying every day and your eyes sometimes brimming at a discussion of fatherhood.
He has been gone three years now. The five of us have all been affected in different ways. The man who drove to Montana to work at a non-profit is not the same person as the man who now cannot bear to leave the area around the District of Columbia, and works there now at a job offering both more personal fulfillment and more compensation.
He had a large part in raising four children who grew to be adults of strong character, two of whom are now on that same journey. He loved us fiercely, and would be most pleased to have that be his greatest memorial. He loved us such that there was never the slightest question as to his devotion, and tales of those estranged from their parents always caused a degree of bafflement. After all, surely deep down people are assured of love from their parents, even in times of stress, frustration, and anger? The notion that not all parents do that took a long time to sink in to any degree, because the foundation he laid was so firmly opposed to it.
He viewed the attitude that men must be stoic as, in his words, "horseshit." He wept when he saw babies on the news, and at his children's weddings. He embraced his children in public; no simple hand on the shoulder for him. Tears have flowed in this writing, and he would have approved.
He loved books and knowledge, though the former came to be of less enjoyment as his eyesight deteriorated; that was one of the few aspects of his health that was completely normal, as a great many middle-aged men come to need glasses. He had two bachelor's degrees and a nursing license, the latter of which he maintained even after years of retirement. We relied on him for minor medical advice -- and only minor, because he was well aware that it would be irresponsible for him to treat us for anything that required a professional.
He saved a woman's life once. She had recently undergone surgery, and he informed her that she was septic, and needed to return to the hospital immediately. Sepsis can kill in as little as twenty-four hours, and chances of survival decrease steadily the longer medical attention is delayed. If memory serves, which it may well not, she was at his funeral.
He was devoutly Catholic, as we all were raised, but in the last several years of his life only rarely managed to go to Confession or Mass. For the most part, his faith was a personal matter, but then he went out in public so infrequently it was difficult to tell. The house in Vienna had many crucifices and books on theology, all of which made the journey to Broadway.
He persisted in the belief that he was not particularly musical, even as he sang with us at home throughout the year and as he caroled with us at Metro. No warbling cry, nasal shriek, or donkey's bray was heard in those times. He sang badly intentionally at times, but that was in the spirit of silliness.
He had a quirky sense of humor, and in early years could somehow send us gasping to the floor in laughter simply by reading a guidebook. If memory serves, none of us could figure out how it was so funny, it simply was.
He was flawed, as we all are, and this is no hagiography, but it is sufficient in this case merely to mark that without going into detail.
Goodbye, Daddy. We rejoice that your pain is over, and you will always be in our hearts.