My wife's father died relatively quickly. He was stricken. After a few weeks in the hospital, he died. He was ready to die. He had made his wish known that no heroic measures be taken. He wanted to be cremated. My wife loved her father deeply. She was distressed by his last days and despondent after his death. She did not think the doctors made all the right decisions. Given the nature of his illness, death - even readiness, if not desire, for death - was understandable. She was with him, at his bedside, when he finally passed. I was struck by the depth of her suffering from this loss. In the previous years, after she moved her parents to Sprawling Suburb, where we could help look after them, she had grown close to her father. He trained her in financial investment. She helped look after their affairs. They became active and loving grandparents to our children. I don't think she felt betrayed by her father's readiness to die, but she wanted, somehow, in some sense, a struggle for him to stay.
The father of my wife's closest friend died quickly, too, a few years later. Cancer was discovered. There were brief stays in a hospital, then collapse and death. She - my wife's friend - also thought the doctors and the hospital did not do their best for her father. She was distraught from his dying. She was in business with her father. For twenty years, she had been very close to him as a business partner as well as a daughter. Here, too, I do not think she felt betrayed by her father's dying, but she was dissatisfied. I think she wanted more of a struggle from him against the coming death. Like my wife with her father, she wanted him to want not to leave her. I think the manner of her father's dying somehow injured her.
My best friend committed suicide suddenly a few years ago, leaving his daughter and wife. His suicide was unexpected. The suicide hit all of us hard. The women he left behind felt shock, as well as grief. The manner in which he died wounded his relationships with them. They were angry too, about him and the circumstances that constrained him to kill himself. They quarrelled with each other, which he would not have wanted. I think they felt betrayed by the manner of his death, as well as his being dead. His daughter did not have a photograph of the two of them together when she was a child. I am sure she would have asked her father to give her momentos of their relationship, if she had known he was to die soon. She asked me to search my own albums so see if I had of them together. I did not. I have returned several times to my photo albums, remembering erroneously - perhaps in dreams - that I a photo of them. So her father put me, too, in the position of having to fail his daughter, if in this minor way.
Coming so close together, these deaths gave me a glimpse of a connection between daughters and their fathers that I had not seen before. I concluded that the way these men died failed their daughters. It was as if they failed to fulfill some unspoken obligation they had to their daughters. The women were wounded in their own capacity as persons to complete their own lives' journeys. I don't want to engage in amateur psychoanalysis about these episodes, or to speculate about denial and refusal to accept the reality of death. The dying of these fathers took place in the midst of social relationships. Dying was a social act, not a private act. When we die, we are not dying by ourselves or for ourselves. In a sense, we are dying for others. We should die, as much as possible, in a way that fulfills, rather than betrays our relationships with the persons with whom we share commitments in living.
I have read about the dying person's psychological stages of dying - denial, pleading for more time, resignation. I do not believe that caring about how your dying affects your significant relationships is a refusal to accept death. It is a way of living. It is caring about how you live. If we are fortunate enough to have old age, we have the opportunity to prepare for our dying. We can show others that we want to live for them, because doing so tells them they are worth it. It is the final effort to enhance their self-worth, to give them strength to live for themselves.