A Look Back in History by Richard L.T. Orth: Bye, Dad


I visited my dad the day before his death and thought that night maybe I should write an obituary or dedication article before he died and before it got too emotional or swayed. More than likely, most never think that its going to be the last time they see someone, certainly not me, and perhaps I depended on the resiliency that Iíve known my Dad and Grandmother to have or perhaps I was dealing with the reality of the situation or ready to grasp the issue of losing a parent. In my mind, I thought I had 3 days minimal, probably a week, and even then I thought I was just being too grim.

But I guess sometimes things tend to happen when one least expects it or our human natureís arrogance that thereís always another day, always another chance, not the last. But as I begin writing this, Iím waiting for the hospice care to finally come and the coroner soon to follow. This is how Iím dealing with my shock and grief, by writing.

I guess the hardest part was seeing him suffer the last couple days, which could have been prevented if the professionals were more, well, professional. I wonít go into details nor too deep into my frustration with the delays and runarounds of the hospice care and organization itself, which I continue to wait for, as my Dadís cold, lifeless body, lie in another room. The root of my frustration and emotional pain stems from the discomfort and pain I witnessed my Dad suffer while he battled the end stages of COPD, but my pain secondary and minimal to the physical pain I witnessed watching him try to fall asleep and leave the pain behind. But now, the suffering has finally stopped for him, and he can now rest peacefully and without pain.

Life didnít always go according to plan for him, and he suffered through some hard times, but he was always well liked by everyone, and I canít ever remember anybody over my lifetime having a problem with him or saying anything bad about him. Even the people, who didnít know him, would comment about him being a gentleman, well dressed, and a nice, warm smile. He wasnít always giving of the compliments, but I knew when he gave them, he meant them. I wonít sound like some t-shirt avowing him the worldís greatest Dad, but he was a good Dad and suited me just fine, and I was proud to be his son!


My mind has become flooded with thoughts and memories, trying to fight back the tears, emotion, and reality of final, and how fast life has past us by so quickly! I am now a passenger on board driving down Flashback Lane, seeing my Dad teach me how to drive on the back roads of Fleetwood and conversing, which we always liked to do, as he was very intellectual and well spoken. I reminisce of my Dad, affectionately known by ďTommy,Ē to others teach me how to fish, teach me how to roller-skate, teach me how to grow up, dress right, be a man! He didnít give me tough love, he was much softer, but I respected him not to cross him.

Best of all, he passed onto me his intellect and his morals: be honest, ďDonít take shortcuts, do it the right way, even if itís hard,Ē etc. etc. He may have been hard on me at times, maybe too critical for my liking when I failed and was failing, but it worked into pushing me! I knew he wanted me to succeed and wanted the best intentions for me and when I did succeed, he beamed, always, and was my biggest fan. He always seemed to be the first I ran to with good news or when I needed solid advice, because he was smart, savvy, and trustworthy!

Maybe sometimes itís the subtle things or things like this one takes or doesnít see or donít think about every day, but items he collected are presented to me, which just make me stop. Iím given a copy of my Master thesis which had long been lost to a faulty disk, but whatís inside that helps alleviate some pain with joy are old newspaper clippings from the Kutztown Patriot of my graduation notices, deanís lists mentions, et al in a little plastic bag tucked away. That was his style, and perhaps his best life lesson to turn an arrogant kid into a humble man!

But now as partial reality has hit in and things have slowed to an abrupt stop, his life, my relationship with him has my full attention and have consume my thoughts as it has come to an abrupt end! Unfortunately, he is dead, and I have lost him, and I realize now that he shared private thoughts and things he only told me, because he trusted me that much his words would stay between us in that room. So all the knowledge of his soon departure was there: the worries, the eminent, and the inevitable; I was just too much of a coward to deal with it, and too afraid to lose my Dad, a pillar of my foundation.

I suppose this is the Devilís work trying to bring regret and negative emotions and inadequacies to the forefront, but I will have regret, and if I could turn back the hands of time over these last couple months, I would, and had devoted my full attention like I am right now in the current. I guess the most painful part is that I donít have that home base to run to for safety or that advice always needed, my Dad!

Still overwhelmed with memories, my younger sister deals with her grief by becoming attached to my Dadís collection of pictures, and rummaging through material items. They say people deal with grief in different ways, but I really wasnít interested in changing anything at his house, just leaving it the way it was, like he was coming back from the hospital or coming home from the doctor, hopeful to see him again and real soon. That hurts and this hurts!

Iím soon drawn to memories again to divert the pain and reality to the Maiden Creek where he loved fishing for smallmouth and to the Schuylkill for that big fish that almost pulled me into the river as a scared kid. Or the day he swallowed a worm (large Canadian night crawler to fisherman) or at least pretended to 20 yards away from me as I stuck out my tongue and thought, yuck. After all these years, I really believed he ate it! And about the time we got stuck in his old station wagon by the river as I peeked out the back window not really comprehending the severity of the situation or him taking a prodigious fall at the roller-skating ring, which rarely, if ever happened, because he was magic on those wheels! Boy, those older women loved him, too!

It wasnít an easy day on the day of his death nor day two here as I put the finishing touches on this article. I guess my point here is, without him, there would be my participation with ďA Look Back in History.Ē I didnít tell my friends I came into contact with that day, and furthermore, blew off a pig roast and class reunion that Saturday in exchange for a night out (alone) at baseball game with my thoughts & memories. I bought a ticket for an empty seat for him, just to say goodbye in my own way. Section 116 row N seat 8, I donít know if Iíll remember that piece of info the rest of my life but I didnít feel alone. I felt at peace for him, and even know I canít stop feeling like this is what he wanted, the pain to go away for good. I tried so hard to block out the reality all day, but at the end of the day on the way home alone from the baseball game, I said to myself frankly and plainly ďI lost my dad?!Ē And the reality hit that Iím not going to ever see him again when I visit ďhome,Ē in Fleetwood, and the tears finally fellÖ

Richard L.T. Orth is assistant director of the American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.