How My Father Outlived Death

In case any of you are new to BPFL, or happened to miss it, my father died on October 2nd.

It was an expected event, as I will explain; and although I miss him, I am glad his long suffering is over.

You may be thinking, but she said in her title that he outlived death.

He did.

Let me explain.

I have written before, somewhere or other, of the nights when I would come to visit him, from undergraduate school or medical school or work somewhere out West, and we would sit up long after my mother had said her good-nights in her short thin nightgowns that make me blush.  I have never liked to expose my body parts, not out of religious prudery but from sheer terror of exposure.  But I digress.

Dad and I had a lot to discuss in those days.  He called it “talking philosophy,” but it was really his way of being my teacher, guiding me through the process of critical thinking, of Devil’s Advocacy, hypotheticals–he would have made a good lawyer, except that he had a conscience and that was problematic.

Truth be known, he had always secretly wanted to be a medical doctor, so he lived that part of his life vicariously through me.

Our late-night philosophy-fests always featured a liquor bottle: either Dickel (Tennessee corn likker) or Dewar’s Scotch, depending on our taste and what there was.

One night waxed into three A.M. and we were both high as kites, and he says,

“Promise me something.  I mean, really promise me something.”

“Promise you what, Dad?”

“Promise me, and I mean really promise me, that if I get to where I can’t wipe my own ass, that you will shoot me and put me out of my misery.”

He did not own a gun “because if I had one I might use it,” he would say with a darkly suggestive rise of the left eyebrow.  I was never quite sure whether he would be tempted to use it on my mother or himself, but the situation was moot because he did not have a gun.

I, on the other hand, had a couple of guns at the time, a .22 caliber Ruger assassination pistol, which I still own, and a lovely child’s shotgun.  The latter always made me squirm, to think that a century ago and even more recently, people taught their 10-and-12-year-old children to shoot a highly destructive weapon like a shotgun.

I was caught between a rock and a hard place, Psylla and Charybdis, all of those really tight spots, you know, and I was, of course, obliged to tell him yes even though I fervently meant no.  This was no drunken demand.  He really meant it.  The part about not wanting to live if someone else had to wipe his ass.

We all thought he was doomed to perish in the course of his work as a ceramic artist: so many ways to keel over face first in the spinning clay, or burn up in the heat of the kiln and make an ash of himself.

None of that happened.  Instead he got about ten years of his brain and body being whittled away, subtly at first, then galloping along with each day reaching inexorable claws and ripping out some other vital function.  It wasn’t long before indeed he could not wipe his own ass.

Always the teacher, he accepted this new indignity with much more grace than I would have had.

He was about 88 when this happened.  Things tumbled down from there.  Eating became problematic because his hands had ceased to function, so he had to be fed a lot of the time; or else I had to guide his utensil to his mouth, and he might get half of it in if we were working well together.

As you can see, I never did shoot him.

He did make some inquiries regarding how much of his insulin it would take to kill himself, and also about what would happen if he just stopped taking his insulin.  But in the end he did not really want to die by his own hand, or else he was too afraid.  In any case he managed to live until he died.

He outwitted death by about two miserable, agonizing, humiliating years.  He lived right up until the moment that he died.

And wouldn’t you know it, his last request was for something I absolutely cannot do.  He made me promise, though.  Promise me you’ll….

Well, I think he knows what I can truly promise, and what I can’t.

But as far as he and I are concerned, he cheated certain death by two years, and that’s something.


Leave a comment


  1. I love this post. There is so much passion and love in your writing.

  2. I am so sorry for your loss. Your story is such a lovely way to honour your father.

  3. sorry for your loss Laura! Thx for sharing!

  4. That was a lovely post, Laura. You have been living with his coming death for a long time. He celebrated life and lived it to the end. He sets a good example to follow. Anne

  5. My condolences on your loss. I hope that writing about the darkest corners–especially with such power and grace–helps with the healing.

  6. PsiFiGal

     /  November 23, 2014

    I had been wondering, I was away from WP for a few months and wasn’t able to get caught up, you know how it goes… I had assumed he had passed because you weren’t talking about him anymore. I remember your posts about visiting him in the care center and how brave and loving you were. I am so glad that you two had such a great relationship. I am sorry for your loss, even though you knew it was coming it doesn’t make it any less painful. He sounds a lot like my father, his humor. My dad was a lawyer actually, and he instilled in us a deep passion for justice, being informed and a love of reading among other kernels of knowledge that I am so grateful for now. He once told me “Mary, don’t believe everything you read.” And he worked for an association of regional newspapers as a legal consultant, so that held a lot of meaning to me. I am so glad that he was my father, and he did like his wiskey, Old Bushmills I think it was called, but he had to stop drinking, it was getting so he drank too much and he just up and cold turkey stopped. He was a strong-willed man. Oh gosh, sorry to ramble on about my dad here, I just was reminded of him… Take care Laura. ❤

    • Thank you so much for sharing your precious memories of your father. It sounds like our old men might have got on very well! And mine was very solitary, only had one real friend (besides me!) in his whole life. He did enjoy some Bushmill’s too…He used to say it was the only Irish whiskey worth drinking, but he was opinionated about everything! Well, I’m making the assumption that your father is not living, based upon your use of the past tense. If I’m wrong please excuse me…I do hope they have whiskey in Heaven, and I hope that in the Afterlife no one has to worry about the ill effects of alcohol, either!

      • PsiFiGal

         /  November 23, 2014

        Sorry, I should have said. Yes, he passed about 16 years ago. He also had few friends, was content puttering out in the garage, he liked to build furniture for us, desks and bookshelves. He made the coolest dining table for us, shaped like a boomerang because our dining room was tiny and there were 7 of us kids…. he built benches against the two walls (with storage underneath) and he would sit in the center, the inner side of the boomerang table, hard to describe, but he was able to reach all of us if we acted out, threatening to whack us on the head with a teaspoon, kept us in check 🙂 And I ramble on again, sorry!

        • I love it! He was an engineer. Only a boomerang shape would not only maximize table seating space, but keep you all in teaspoon’s reach! My dad also built unique and functional furniture, all designed to take apart and move at a moment’s notice…We moved a lot. Hmm, maybe our dads are even now tipping a glass of Irish and arguing some fine point of design or law 🙂

          • PsiFiGal

             /  November 23, 2014

            Your dad was a furniture maker too! Isn’t that interesting. I like that idea of them doing that up in heaven or wherever it is we go 🙂 Cheers to them! Now I wish I had some whiskey so to toast them myself!

            • Come on over, I’ve got a full liquor cabinet and no one to share it with, now. It’s raining cats and dogs, just the right kind of evening to drink a little whisky and tell a few lies LOL

  7. My heart goes out to you. I offer you my condolences.

  8. Its a tough situation to be in Laura, I am glad that it has passed for you. Where you want your loved one to die but actually do not want him to die. An ironical and painful paradox.

    You were in my thoughts since last fifteen days. I have discovered a new author and I am happy that I did. ‘Leon Uris’. . I read Exodus, then Mila 18 and now I am reading Q VII. I am getting educated about Jews, their way of life and a lot of their painful history.

    My cousin is in Indian army and he was posted in Golen Heights in 2012. He and his wife have lot of good things to say about Israel. I wish I could have visited them that time. May be some time in future. Amen :-)))

    Love and take care

  9. My dad was starving to death from a fried esophagus caused by radiation in his treatment of lung cancer. He went to the back porch just days or weeks before he would have died and shot himself. I can’t judge him. I just wish he had let me hold his other hand so he would not have been alone. But if I had been holding his hand he would not have been able to pull the trigger. I was visiting TX where he lived, from WA state. I heard the shot and found him. That event will forever be in my memory. Losing a loved one is hard no matter how it happens. I thing the suffering is hard to bear for both parties.

    • Oh, what a terrible situation! I could never blame someone who was suffering to that extent, to claim their death when the suffering became so overwhelming. The fact that he was able to leave while you were there is maybe a blessing for him, but the living have to live with that for the rest of our lives. A distant cousin of mine did that, out in the yard, with my target rifle. You know the sound and the sight; I don’t need to describe them here. I’m so sorry you have to have that memory emblazoned on your brain. I hope that time will soften its edges. Blessings for healing,

  10. I miss him terribly but have moved on and now focus on his life. It happened in 1987. I had not thought of it for a while. Reading your blog brought the memory back. Life has many emotions attached to it. Burying the bad ones only cause grief down the road. When they pop up I just honor them and move on. I blog on my being Bipolar. I almost wrote about my dads death when that sweet young lady executed her plan to commit suicide on Nov. 1, because of a brain tumor.I still may in the future. Thanks for your post above.


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