Sudden or expected? Option C

…No one thought that they’d never see you again,
They knew that they’d see you.
No one thought that you’d die…
-No One Thought You’d Die, poem # 63

My dad? He was a big guy. He had a huge laugh. An even bigger heart. His personality could fill a room.

I can’t pinpoint when I first understood that he was overweight. I remember the comments of my friends – and more commonly, their younger siblings – who didn’t yet know that it was taboo to comment on someone’s size. Tactless “why are you so fat?” questions were asked. Some would mumble under their breath. Others would simply stare.


I abhorred seeing him grimace, if only for a second, in response. I hated seeing that pain and shame.

After years of dieting books, Weight Watchers, fitness plans and the ebb and flow of self-discipline, his savior was to be gastric bypass surgery. But just three days after his surgery, on Thanksgiving day, he was readmitted to the hospital. Then, an additional three days later, the septic shock that had resulted from his surgical complications became too much.

On the morning of Dec. 1, 2002, my dad died.

In the 11 years since that day, I’ve answered variations of the “how did he die?”, “what happened?” and “was it sudden?” questions countless times.

I still feel conflicted in my response to that last question.

Sudden or expected? Well, it’s not quite that black and white. It wasn’t cancer, and he didn’t have an illness. I didn’t have to watch him suffer for years. Conversely, he wasn’t killed in an unexpected, “freak accident” either.

With any procedure, there is – of course – a risk. However, at the time, we were told this risk was minimal (1 in 200 face complications). But what do an 11, 8 and 2 year old really understand about risk anyway? Not much. Moreover, my dad opted to tell very few people about his plans for surgery. His mother and two brothers did not even know.

Then, you throw in the timeline: surgery on Monday; green light to discharge on Wednesday; readmit Thursday; and pass away on Sunday. The window from Thursday through Saturday, I was left in the dark. Well-meaning adults told me the doctors had figured out the problem; dad would be home soon. It was not until a sobering and wholly unexpected phone call from my mother on Saturday afternoon (the first I had heard from her since being dropped at a family friend’s house on Thanksgiving) that the gravity of the situation was relayed to me. “Daddy’s in surgery right now, and he’s probably going to die,” she said. “But even if he makes it through, there’s still a really good chance that he’ll die.”

With that, I was taken to the hospital for the first time where I learned that he had made it through the surgery. Naively, I left the hospital that night with a hopeful certainty that he would be all right. Twelve hours later, just before 8 a.m., I sat next to my mom in the ICU waiting room as she struggled to say the words that would change my life.

So, was it sudden or expected? Option C: A little bit of both. No one thought he’d die.


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