The Day a Loved One Dies: If only I had....

Written By Irene Ogrodnik
Image of a family portrait of Irene, her parents, and her two older sisters
Irene, her parents, and her two older sisters pose for a
family portrait

The day my father passed away, my mother came home from the hospital with my uncle and told my sisters and me that our father was gone. While I can’t recall much of what happened next, a vivid memory of my siblings and I breaking down in tears in the corridor of our apartment sticks in my mind. I was in disbelief and dozens of questions flooded my mind: Should I have prayed more? Did God not hear me cry? What did I do wrong? I desperately demanded answers to justify what happened, but I got none.

I was nine years old and while I understood my father was ill, I also naively assumed that daily promises “to become a better person” in exchange for him getting better would mean that my wishes would come true. “I won’t fight my sisters,” I would tell myself. “I’ll help around the house more… I’ll do anything, just make him better and have him stay with us.”

I wasn’t ready or prepared for my father to leave this world, to leave my three sisters and me alone without teaching us how to fix cars, play the guitar or make people laugh with silly jokes. I couldn’t comprehend how he, at the age of 38, could leave behind what I now only truly understand must have been a great burden for my mother—the task of raising four young children alone. I couldn’t help but question why I had made those wishes for him to get well when they didn’t come true. Isn’t that what wishes were for? More importantly, I asked myself, why wasn’t I even given the chance to have my final farewell?

Six years later, my mother was diagnosed with cancer and I found myself making similar promises yet again. The day she died, my elder sisters and I—and a handful of other close family members—were all by her bedside. During her final moments, I was there for my mother even though I wasn’t able to be for my father. Now, 13 years later, reflecting on that moment still manages to bring me pain and yet also peace.

After my mother’s death, I didn’t ask God—or anyone—what I could’ve done differently. Her passing wasn’t easier to cope with than my father’s, it was just easier to accept. I learned to understand there are some things in life we can’t change or control and the ability to say goodbye is all that we can wish for.