That one time my dad died

by Patrick Wall of The Old College Try

That one time my dad died by Patrick Wall of The Old College TryThe shortest version of this story is I drove 8 hours to watch my dad die and then wrote a song about other things. Also here is a picture of my mom’s dog and I. It seems to make that first sentence sting a little less.

Listen to the album while reading the text.

When I was in my second year of grad school, I lived in Flagstaff Arizona. My parents lived in Bakersfield California, 8 hours away by minivan or your preferred form of automobile. In the middle of October 2014, I received a text message from my mother asking me to call when I could. She frequently does that; sends a cryptic text message that doesn’t explain the urgency that subsequently encourages anxiety. Anyway, I called. My dad was in the hospital again. He had been in the hospital many times over the past 12 years or so due to his frequently being sick. The pattern usually went something like this:

  1. My dad gets a cold or the flu.
  2. He refuses to go to the doctor and medicates with alcohol.
  3. Then my dad gets worse. Turns out alcohol isn’t terribly good medicine.
  4. Whatever he has turns into pneumonia or something else equally bad, and he has to be hospitalized.
  5. Whatever he has almost kills him.
  6. He makes a miraculous rebound and somehow makes it back to his recliner and big screen television to watch episodes of NCIS he has seen 10 times.

This particular time was different, my mom knew it, I knew it. But we’d seen him tell the ol’ grim reaper to come back later before so we both sat with that denial for as long as we could. We sat with it while my dad got worse. We sat with it while my dad’s oxygen levels slowly depleted and the doctors avoided my mom while she was visiting. I sat with it until my mom told me they would keep him on life support long enough for me to drive home to say goodbye.

My relationship with my dad was complicated, and it had been for a number of years. But he was my dad. So I packed a bag, emailed my professors, received consolation emails and permission to take the week off, and drove home on a Friday. I listened to one of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files audiobooks on the drive that my uncle had given me. It usually made the long trip easier, this time being no exception. I stopped for gas at some point, probably in Kingman or in Needles. Kingman is the better of the two places to stop, it’s prettier. The drive overall is pretty if you enjoy big wide open spaces.

I got home in the afternoon and met my mom at our house. I took a minute to drop my stuff off, and we drove to the hospital together. My dad was in the ICU, on some other floor than the first, requiring an elevator ride and then permission from a nurse to come into that particular hospital wing. I went into my dad’s room with my mom, my aunt joined us at some point. The machine he was hooked up to was keeping him breathing in only the most technical of senses. He was unconscious and any conversation we would have with him was going to be one-sided.

We all talked about various things, my aunt said her goodbyes. I was given a moment alone. I said mine too. My mom said her’s at some point.

My aunt left, and my mom and I argued about politics and whether or not believe in higher powers was important. The nurse came in again and removed the tubes allowing my dad to breath. My mom and I watched him continue to try to breathe after that. His body kept trying to breathe until it couldn’t anymore, and that was that. We went home, and my mom and I wanted wine, but my aunt had arrived, and she made tea instead. My girlfriend came over too. We sat around the dining table and talked some more, retracing choices that lead to consequences that lead to a family sitting around a dining table at 1 am.

The rest of the week was a combination of arrangement making and Netflix, a trip to a mortician and a small plot of land in Los Angeles was in there somewhere. The next weekend I drove back to Flagstaff. When I got back, I wrote Monster. It’s not about my dad. It’s more about big wide spaces and how they get filled with good and bad people that you love and love you back.

About 2 years later I revised the second verse and hopefully improved upon the themes I was already trying for. I recorded it with my friend Jordan in her bedroom of her family’s house. We accidentally left the window open on her vocal recording, and you can hear the outside and a dog in the distance.

You can find music and such here

Artist’s Note
Fresno, California
Folk, Goth, Indie Rock, Singer-Songwriter
creative nonfiction

3 thoughts on “That one time my dad died

  1. Patrick/Old College Try. Thanks for this stumbled across post. It rings future bells for me. Your numbered list is akin to one that I would write for my dad: there’d be no alcohol involved (though last time I visited down south I was surprised to be offered a glass of whisky from quite a depleted bottle; it was, he said, medicinal & I couldn’t blame him. The repeated hospitalisations this year seem to be ended with an escape from the bed – much to everyone’s frustration! I may even get him a length of sheets tied together this Xmas… if he makes it.

    Loving the Old College Try: open, paced, thought through & thoughtful. The fi is lo as i like it!. I don’t like to offer up comparisons – they are often way off the mark – but, Conor Oberst?

    Love the dog outside the window. Often these accidentals make a song, don’t you think? Well done for having the tenacity to leave it in: many wouldn’t have!

    Sorry for your loss.

  2. Hey Nick,

    Thank you so much for reading. I’m sorry to hear you and yours are experiencing. Having chronically sick family in that particular way is its own odd purgatory and I send many good thoughts your way.

    Thank you for listening to my music as well, its funny you bring up Mr. Oberst as I’ve gotten compared to him before I even started to listen to him. But I do appreciate it as I have be come quite the fan of Bright Eyes and his solo stuff over the years.

    Best Wishes,


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