Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Anniversary of Dad's Death

Clockwise:  Edith holding Margaret Ann, "Bud", Bob and Johnny  Credit:  Tony Scardina

It's hard for me to believe, but it's the 33rd anniversary of my Dad's death.  This means that he has been dead for more than half of my life.  Those of us who lived through it need no reminders -- but it occurred to me that perhaps my nieces and nephews and the grandchildren may wonder some day about the circumstances of his death.

My Dad was diagnosed at the age of 56 with colon cancer.  My mother, was diagnosed with breast cancer within the same three-week period.  It didn't look good for either one of them.  They scheduled Dad for a probable colostomy, only to discover that the cancer had spread to his liver.  They just closed him up.  The prognosis was grim -- they gave Dad about six months.  (He lived for nine).

The sad thing is that none of this had to happen.  Dad had had signs and symptoms for quite a while previous to his "official" diagnosis.  Due to an earlier uncomfortable medical exam, Dad had avoided returning to the doctor -- he was in denial.  Colonoscopies were not as common nor as pain free as they are now.

We all knew Dad was terminal.  When his liver stopped functioning, his stomach filled with fluid.  Gallons of fluid would have to be drained periodically.  Still -- I was shocked that he died the day he died.  I was a young teacher, pregnant with Elizabeth, and teaching at Pleasant Hill Elementary.  Ginny Hannan called the school office to tell me that Dad had been taken to the hospital and that she thought I needed to come to the hospital.  Our school day ended at 2:30 and I asked if I could wait until the end of the school day.  She suggested I leave right away.  Now I was the one in denial.

When I arrived at the hospital Dad was conscious, talking and even joking with the nurses.  We had to "corner" a nurse to try to ascertain whether or not we needed to tell Karen, living in Miami, to come immediately.  She suggested that Karen come NOW.  I guess that's when reality hit.  We told Dad that Karen was on her way.

Fr. Allison came to the hospital and gave Dad communion. Dad asked him if this meant he was "converted." (After attending the Catholic Church for more than 30 years as head of our household, Dad never wanted to "convert." I think this was out of respect for his father). Fr. Allison replied that he didn't think he ever needed to convert. Good response.

My Dad and Grandma Ryan had this constant back and forth about who was going to die first. I still remember Grandma walking down the hallway of the hospital to Dad's room where he had died minutes before. The shock on her face is etched into my memory. Dad won the race. Grandma was 79 and I know she would have gladly traded places.

My Dad was only 57 years old when he died. It was preventable. To honor him each of his children get regular colonoscopies. We'll all eventually die of something, but I'm confident it won't be of colon cancer.

There will always be posts that celebrate the life of my Dad, Mom and siblings -- but on this day, I couldn't help but recall his death. I hope when my time comes, I die as peacefully, surrounded by those who love me -- and there were many.

Dad (from Karen's pictures)


  1. Thank you for this story. Did Karen make it to the hospital in time?

  2. No,but she was on the plane when he died and he seemed satisfied just knowing she was on the way.

  3. Thanks for the story Aunt Kath, I would have loved to meet him!


  4. A beautiful tribute to your dad Kathy. I lost my mom in July 2010, and it still seems senseless to me...I really think that had our parents taken better care of themselves...they would still be here for us to bug them!

    Even though it has been 33 years since your dad passed...I am sorry for your loss.

  5. I love the smile on his face in the picture of him at the bottom - thank you for sharing these final memories of him with us.

  6. If there is such a thing as a good death then his was surely that. The love you feel and that clearly radiated through your family shines through in this, Kathy.

  7. Kath,
    This is great! I don't think a day goes by that I don't think about dad. What a great man he was! Don


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