The Unbearable Pain of Watching Your Father Die

I feel guilty for feeling relieved that I wasn’t there in the end

Reuben Salsa
Published in
6 min readMar 4, 2021


Me and my dad on our last vacation together back in his hometown in India. Photo courtesy of the author.

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.