A Hospice Story

I Watched My Father Die at Hospice

Submitted by: Norm Coyne - January 19, 2017

I watched my father die at hospice. Truth be told, we were never very close. I am not saying I didn't love him, but I realized after he passed that I never really knew him. That is what eventually made me cry.

Through the years, as I grew into a teen and then a man myself, our interests were distinctly different and I am not sure my father knew how to interact with me. My mom and I left him when I was 16 which made a connection even more difficult. Despite the distance, we always kept in touch. For those of you who knew my dad, he was a heavy drinker, really heavy. Throughout the years, he would have pockets of sobriety where he would build himself up, then bouts where he would lose it all. I moved out on my own when I was 17 and it was never thrilling to see him at his lows when he was simply looking for money or a place to stay.

During one of his sober periods, he settled down and married. He got a job working up north doing what he loved as a heavy equipment operator. He bought a truck. He was happy in his life and seemed to be doing well. Then his wife got cancer, and it completely wrecked him. He gave up on his job, his home, all his possessions. He started living on the street. The hardest thing about trying to help an alcoholic is they have to want to help themselves. I did my best to try and help him but he just kept plunging further and further into his own darkness. He would completely drop of the grid. I would find him passed out beside a dumpster downtown. He came into the car dealership I worked at during that time barely recognizable — face beaten, on crutches; a car had run him over while drunk.

Eventually, he ended up getting to a point where he met another lady and they managed to get an apartment together. They were both drinkers though, and the relationship was less than healthy. I started to get phone calls from her in the middle of the night screaming that he was getting sick and she wanted him out. By this point, his alcoholism had gotten worse, like drinking hairspray bad. Eventually, after a few of these phone calls, I met with his doctor and we found out how bad. He had developed esophageal cancer.

He started treatment at the hospital and I have to say the care he received there was amazing. But still, there were episodes. He fled the hospital one night during treatment and pawned a bunch of his things to buy booze and down the spiral he went. He ended up in the hospital again. During another round of treatment, while we were visiting him with my one year old daughter, a group of his friends showed up at the hospital completely wasted. I can remember seeing red as I yelled at them to leave.

Finally, he was admitted to hospice. After all the chaos, after all the hardship, after all the pain, there was a quiet time. There was a peace we needed to share together before he passed. And that peace was given to us by hospice. Everything was taken care of by their incredible staff. The house itself was deliberately, immaculately calm and comfortable.

I'd like to say that we talked a lot and he shared some wisdom to me before he passed, but that was not the case. That was not our relationship. The love we had wasn't like that. It was about being there, about sharing the silence, about sharing the peace. I set his ashes free in the Yukon River where they were swept away in the current, like they were meant to follow it. As I think back, that is what hospice is to me. Hospice is the peace and calm of a flowing river moving from one place to the next. There is a peace as it passes.