Monday Mournings: The Death of a Father

My name is Shedrick Pittman-Hassett. I'm 39 (or at least, I will be by the time this is posted) and originally from Bowie, Texas--a small town in North Texas about halfway between Fort Worth and Wichita Falls. I've actually lived all over the state, spending most of my childhood in the Austin area. I've lived in Denton, Texas for the past fourteen years. I'm a librarian at an area community college and an aspiring writer.

DW: Who was the person that died? 
SP: My father, Larry, passed away in September of 1988. 

DW: How old were you at the time? 
SP: I was fifteen years old at the time. 

DW: How old was your dad? 
SP: He had just turned 37 earlier that month. 

DW: Was it a sudden death or did you know it was going to happen? 
SP: Extremely sudden and unexpected. He had even had a physical relatively recently for insurance purposes and they gave him a clean bill of health--even though he was a smoker (this was 25 years ago). He had an explosive aneurysm of his aorta--essentially, the blood vessel had expanded to the point of rupturing and he had a massive heart attack. Because it was so unexpected, my mother (much to the consternation of some folks in my family) demanded an autopsy. It was determined that my dad most likely had Marfan Syndrome--a degenerative connective tissue disorder. None of us had ever heard of this until his death. As a result, most his side of the family have gotten themselves checked out for the various symptoms of the disorder. I did as well--and had to have a prosthetic aortic valve installed when I was 20 as I was suffering from same issues that killed my dad. If I had not known about Marfan Syndrome and had the surgery, I probably would have met the same end, only younger. 

DW: Had you experienced any other deaths in your personal life before your dad died? 
SP: No, his funeral was the first I had experienced, having died so young. 

DW: Were people supportive of your grief or did they shy away when you were grieving? 
SP: People were pretty supportive, I'd say. I've always been the quiet, "sensitive" type and essentially this inspired more of the same, so my behavior wasn't too radical. My family have never been great talkers so everyone pretty much grieved quietly and, for the most, on their own. But that's generally how we all prefer it--leave us alone and we'll work it out. Don't make a fuss. I was fifteen, so occasionally the drama gene would kick in, much to my current embarrassment. But those instances were fairly few and far between. 

DW: Is there anything you wish you'd done differently with this person? 
SP: I wish I had gotten to know him as a person more. Because I was so young, and in such an awkward stage in my life, I really regret not getting to know him as an equal. And I wonder if he'd be pleased at how I turned out, being as how his last memories of me are as a gawky, slightly sulky teenager. Now that I've gotten older than he was when he died, it's very strange. I've always been told that I was a lot like my dad--both physically and personality-wise, so as I was growing older, I always had him as a benchmark of what I would be like at that age. Now, I'm pretty much on my own. I don't have a good sense of what I'm going to be like as I get older. And, of course, looking at my own rapidly receding hairline, I wish I had not teased him about his hair issues nearly so much! 

DW:  Was he buried or cremated? 
SP: He was buried in a family plot at a rural cemetery near Stoneburg, Texas. He's there with my paternal grandparents. The family was finally able to get him a decent tombstone a few years ago.

DW: Did you learn anything about the grieving process that you'd like to share?
SP: I think the biggest thing is that it's important to remember that everybody grieves in their own way and in their own time. I think when I started to stop grieving, I almost felt guilty about it. Like I was giving up on my father or something. So I would almost force myself to start grieving again or to grieve more. And it was about as false a thing as could be. We feel like there's an acceptable amount of time that you can spend on grief and if you don't, then you're a heartless person--and it's just not true. By the same token, if you take "too long", people get uncomfortable--but that's ultimately their problem, not yours. It takes as long as it takes, no more and no less. 

DW: Were any songs played at the memorial that were important to your dad? 
SP:  Not really. The service was very old school pentecostal (my paternal grandmother was an Assembly of God pastor) so it mostly featured old southern hymns. But my dad was never very religious. He believed in treating people right and being a good guy--and he succeeded pretty well at it. However, I do remember "American Pie" by Don McLean to be one of his favorite songs.

This one goes out to Larry
You can read a post that Shedrick wrote about his dad, here.