The Unbearable Pain of Watching Your Father Die
I feel guilty for feeling relieved that I wasn’t there in the end
That night, I couldn’t sleep; the pain in my tooth kept me awake.
It throbbed with every heartbeat. It felt like shards of lightning spiked off in every direction, ricocheting around my skull. No matter the position of my head on the pillow, the intensity was incredible.
Around 3 a.m., I received the first video call. My brother never called, and if he did, it wouldn’t be in the middle of the night. “You need to book a flight,” he said. “Dad’s dying.” He was at the hospital with my dad and said that Mum was too upset to talk. I needed to come straight away.
He left the call with these words: “He won’t last much longer.”
I was heavily dosed on codamine, paracetamol, cough syrup, and codeine, with a few sleeping pills thrown in. I was in excruciating pain. But those five words cut through me, each slamming with more impact than the last — compounding misery.
Two years before, I had gotten a similar call. I was urged to fly home; the family was concerned I wouldn’t have much more time to see Dad. I live in New Zealand, so a flight to the United Kingdom is about the longest and most expensive flight I could make.
My dad was notorious for withstanding vast levels of pain. He could go to the dentist for a tooth removal and not even need anesthesia. He had already beaten cancer; the hospital staff was amazed at his threshold for pain.
I arrived back in England with his grandson in tow and thanked G-d that my dad’s health had perked up. Soon after, he could attend synagogue with his sons — something he couldn’t do the previous three months. He sat there beaming between my brother and me. I couldn’t understand all the fuss. Silently, I cursed having to spend so much money on a vacation I didn’t want or could hardly afford.
As we came to recite the mourner’s prayer, I broke down. Everything finally hit me: The reality of no longer having my dad’s support, knowing we’d never speak again, that this world would no longer be…