My Father

Many of you know that my father passed away on December 17th, 2013 after a very short, two month non-battle with stage IV cancer.  He did not want to go to battle.  At 80, he accepted his illness and lived his last two months the same way he lived his life.  He was stoic, decisive, and stubborn.  He was independent, courageous, and strong.   He did not want sympathy and he consoled others.  He was a kidder, and he made others feel better by making light of his illness.

Dad had extensive cancer that left him weak, tired, and sick almost every day near the end– and yet, he did not complain.  Not once.  In fact, he did the opposite and reassured everyone that he was alright and NOT in pain.  He was fine, thank you.

My father passed away exactly two weeks after I arrived at his home.  And I feel like he taught me more in those two weeks than maybe my entire life.  It’s as if I saw my father for the first time — and what I saw was a proud and strong man who had independence and toughness beyond measure.
Dad got up and out of bed every day, right up to the end.  The day before he died, he was standing and talking.  I said he didn’t go into battle against his cancer, but it seemed like he was battling for independence and dignity with every breath he took.  He battled for control and repeatedly said he didn’t want to “be a burden.”  For this reason, he wanted to die.  He prayed to die.  Not from pain, but because this end of life business with all the attention and loss of independence did not suit him.

On Monday December 16th, dad sat up in bed and said he wanted to go to a residential hospice facility TODAY.  This had always been an option, N.C. Little Hospice already had his name, and we were prepared to stay or go.  It was up to him.  Dad was transported within a few hours of his decision, and he blew his neighbor a kiss as he left.

The next day at around 11am, the nurses bathed and shaved him and put him in comfy pajamas, and then with his three children at his side, he died one hour later at 12:04pm.

I like to think that getting bathed and shaved in bed and NOT being in control of his life was more than he could take — he had enough, and wasn’t doing THAT again.  I like to think dad was still in charge at the end, and decided NO MORE.

Dad was in the hospice facility for less than 24 hours, and he skipped right over the sometimes lengthy “active dying” stage which was so difficult to watch with my mom — for this I am grateful.

We discovered later that “I love you too” were his last words to his three children.

I am home now with my family for Christmas, which is what dad wanted for all of us.  But we’ll be going back soon to honor and celebrate his life.

I thank you all, my dear family and friends, for your thoughtfulness and support.  I feel you, and I love you back.

Dad loved you too.

~  Joanne

 Gary Dwane Nelson
June 5th, 1933 — December 17th, 2013
age 80
Visitation 10:00 am
Celebration of Life 11:00 am
Tuesday, January 7th, 2014
Living Spirit United Methodist Church
4501 Bloomington Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN  55407

Minneapolis Star Tribune Obituary

10 thoughts on “My Father”

    1. Hi Joanne, That was precious what you wrote about your dad ( Gary ) I have sooo many memories of your dad, growing up as a neighbor and being friends with you and John and Marilyn. From him being a Snap-On tools representative to driving a Schlitz malt liquor truck. Also when he was manager at Conoco gas station on Hiawatha ave. I would come and see him and talk fishing and hunting about the old neighborhood days. I saw him last at Walgreens on Hiawatha and said how are you doing Gary? he replied horseshit. I said I am so sorry to hear about Ruth’s passing. Then he told me about his cancer. I said Gary I am so sad to hear this news you have been a friend to me forever!!!!! I would see him at Mystic Lake occasionally and would ask are you winning, he would reply, does it really matter? I’m enjoying myself. What a man he was. He will be deeply missed by not only me but a lot of people. He was a great human being, god bless you and your entire family you were blessed with a true hero rest in peace Gary you are very much loved and Jesus will take good care of you !!!!!! Richard Daraitis

  1. Joanne, what a year you have traveled through with your parents! Thank you for sharing with us your final days with your dad. You were blessed with wonderful parents, and they obviously taught you the meaning of family love and togetherness. I’m sure it meant the world to him to have his three children at his bedside. What a celebration he and your mother must be having! Blessings and peace to you and your family.

  2. Joanne,
    I will forever be grateful for the moments we got to spend with your father. I consider that time such a wonderful gift and that will be something I will never forget. The lifelong memories I have of your father are immensely happy ones. Yes he was a very proud man. And very stubborn as well. But he was also very caring and very loving. All traits he passed down in his three children. He is only gone in the physical sense. He will always remain in our hearts. Love you and see you soon.

  3. Joanne – So sorry to hear about your father. I never met him, but he must have been a great guy. I found many similarities in his story to my mothers. Although she did fight for a few years, when she fell and broke her arm and had to be cared for, you could tell that was not for her (always found that interesting since she was an RN at a care facility). She passed away 30 days later. The hospice people gave us a hard time about not calling earlier, but we told them mom had been up and going like a ball of fire the day before. I guess they both knew there was a better place for them.

    I will keep you and your family in my prayers. I hope you have a Merry Christmas – you know your parents would have wanted nothing less for you. God Bless.

  4. JoAnne, what a loving tribute to a wonderful father. You have had a tough year. I hope you can enjoy the holidays somewhat and after the service and the final settlements, get your life back. A piece of your heart is missing but you have your family to fill that void.
    You have and are an amazing daughter. Your parents were blessed to have you.


  5. Oh Joanne, I am so sorry about the death of your father last month. You have had a year of learning about life and death. I am impressed about all the positive things you have written about both your mother and father. May the New year bring you renewed strength as you take the time to grieve and move forward.
    Love and prayers,

  6. I’d like to thank you all for your condolences and kind words of support. This is the first time I’ve written anything on my blog since this posting on Dec. 22nd. I won’t diminish the fact that I’ve experienced profound grief these last couple of months. Losing my mom was difficult, but expected. Losing my dad was extra difficult, because it was UNexpected — he died two months and two days from his colon cancer diagnosis. Losing BOTH my parents last year has rocked me to my core. I’ve been sad, mad, angry, bitchy, lethargic, tearful, and just completely grief stricken. BUT . . . my life goes on. And I have so much to be grateful for. I wear my pajamas a lot, but I am okay. : )

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