Writing is sometimes the best therapy and maybe I just needed to finally do it. My dad’s name is Derel Gossett and back in 2010 my dad was having a rough time of it, being diagnosed with cancer but his issues were also a bit compounded with a couple other things.
He had thus far put up a damned good fight, and why not, he’s a Gossett, but I had come to find out in March 2011 that he has lost the fight and it’s merely a matter of short time. He still wins in his battle of will and courage though at the ripe young age still of 74, spitting in the face of pain and suffering, again a mark of being a Gossett.
When he was a police officer I measured that bravery as heroism but its really true life in the end that defines how we are to be remembered. Not just because he is my dad, but I say in the end, in his end, he is the bravest human being I had known.
I’m not going to go into the politics of the hospital that was taking care of him, that gave him surgery but didn’t get all the cancer like they said they did or that couldn’t find where he was having internal bleeding from for more than five days – that day they found a mass in his lung that couldn’t be operated on given his frail condition, so essentially that’s it, game over.
I say to anyone who reads this story that if you haven’t spoken to your parents in some time you need to. Call them just to say hi, if you have disagreements amend your differences, if you cant call them send them a letter, but just do it while they’re here. Don’t let it end without saying what you need to. It is the proper way in life for children to live long enough to be able to bury their parents, and not parents to bury their children, so I feel grateful for that. I wish I had more time with my dad, I wish he had more time with his grand-kids. I’m an idiot for just wishing, nothing can change that now. Please accept my lesson in life and learn from it.
I recall the Friday when I received a text message from my step-mom that my dad has requested that us kids come. I had an “Oh shit” look on my face and wondered how the hell am I going to get to Texas, we are flat broke. I put it on a card anyway. I recall talking to my dad just the night before I flew out. I told him I was coming and he said good and that he loved me, there was force behind that so I knew it took a lot out of him just to say that. My step-mom is one strong lady. They were married thirty years if not a bit more. Imagine her side of this, watching the man she’s loved all this time who used to be like a tree-trunk wither away to skin and bones in mere months.
I arrived in Dallas and took the connecting flight to Wichita Falls where my step-mom picked me and my son up. I took one of my boys with me, Joseph, so that hopefully my dad could see one of the grand-kids before it was too late. It was for the most part. As soon as we were picked up we stowed my gear at my dads house and went to the hospital right away. I love my step-mom, I love my dad, but the person I saw laying in that bed was not someone that I immediately recognized. It took a bit to set in that the man in that bed was my dad.
So when I got there my dad was already glazed over, his eyes were glazed glossy, almost milky like some fog, but I could see his lips move and when I grabbed his hand he squeezed it. That phone call the night before I left, that was it verbally, I’ll never hear his voice again. Inside I lost it, outside I couldn’t fall apart for the sake of my son being there and for my step-mom who has been so strong. He could still respond to questions by squeezing his hands so that was enough for me. My step-mom took us back home and she returned to the hospital, they made a bed for her next to his bed.
After my dad retired from the Bell Garden’s Police Department many years back he and my step-mom moved to Texas, his birth state. He was Texan, we are Texans, Irish Texans who take no shit! My dad worked for the very hospital he now lays in as security for several years up until his illness, and now he lay there as a patient. He was a teacher while also a police officer and continued teaching and speaking for awhile. He went around to the local schools and gave speeches to teens of all ages about what they can do with their lives, even in Texas where he lived. He helped his neighbors.
If he was driving by and saw you outside he’d stop for a spell and chat with you, help you out if you needed it, he also had a P.I. business. Yet for all his love thy neighbor’s, for all the lives he touched, for all he did right in the world and could still do if not given his illness, there he laid, holding our hands on his way out. Something bad happening to someone good when there’s so many bad people in the world. I will not question this, I’ll wait to know the reason when my time comes.
The next day, Wednesday, March 2, I spent quite a bit of time at the hospital, holding his hand, reminiscing, assuring him that everything was okay, that we would all be okay, that he could let go with no regrets. We had been waiting for my sister to arrive and I had finally received a call that she was waiting at the airport. It was less than ten minutes away so we went to go pick her up. We dropped off her stuff at home and went to the hospital, that was at just shy of 4:00 PM.
We spent some time with him and about 4:30 the nurses came in to give him a treatment and said we should probably wait outside. We all complied and essentially got water and stretched. They came out and I was the first to go in. One of the nurses was cleaning his chin saying he just threw up but I noticed at the same time that I took his hand that he wasn’t breathing anymore and then his eyes popped open. I seized the opportunity and grabbed my son and we stood at the foot of his bed. I knew what was happening but I wanted to make sure that me, my son and his wife were the last people he saw on his way out.
I went back to his side because he was still reacting a bit to letting himself go. This was his call and he called it, going out once the kids were together. Glancing over at the clock I noticed it was exactly 5:00 PM, imagine that, checkout time. Even his last breath of life was on a schedule. I whispered to him again and said it’s alright to let go, everyone is covered, there’s no regrets and no more reason to stay. He squeezed my hand and stopped breathing for the final time, he was gone.
Throughout the entire time I was with him, there was so much pain in his face and now I saw nothing but peace. No frowns, no contorted looks, no whispers, just a sleep. I went out to the hall to call the code to the nurses station and they came in pretty quick but it was more to just verify he was gone, and he was. Thirty plus years of marriage just stopped for my step-mom and a whole life of my dad and what could have been stopped for me. I held her and walked her out to the hallway so the nurses could dress him up.
Once they were done we came back in. Without all the pain contorted on my dad’s face, he looked exactly like he was sleeping. It looked as though I could have nudged him and he would have woken up. For the first time since I arrived to see him, I could actually recognize him.
After awhile the nurses came back in to take him downstairs until we can make plans. It was a Wednesday, I had to leave on Sunday, and me and my step-mom had funeral arrangements to make and people to call and my step-brothers were still trying to make it from Austin, TX and Long Beach. We decided the best thing to do was a cremation and a simple service after. My step-mom is very active with her church and what a Godsend all of those people are. They brought us food, comfort and anything else we needed. I also cooked at my dads house and helped play maid, the less problems my step-mom had to deal with the better.
By Thursday evening we had a crematory in place and a day for the church the upcoming Saturday. On Friday the cremation was done and my step-mom picked up his ashes. We did the service the following day and I gave a small speech. My step-mom gave me my dad’s Bible, the same one he carried with him in the Army back in the ‘50’s, some pages actually chronicling his time in the military. I never asked for anything from my dad, it was nice to get something like that.
As it turns out, not all my dads ashes would fit in rather large urn we had so I brought half his ashes back with me. I sort of had fun with him on the way back home, trying to make light of his passing, even sat his box on a play slide in the airport at Dallas, took a picture and sent it back to my step-mom showing him still goofing off. My dad loved a good joke and was a funny guy all the seriousness aside. Im sure he got a chuckle out of each expression from the TSA agents when they would ask me what I had and I told them my dads ashes. Talk about a blind look on their face – Kodak moments for sure.
Death is a wonderment to me, so many questions, we look at it in a painful way but its a blessing really. Freedom. Besides, we will all meet in the end anyway. I like to think that because there is no time where heaven is concerned, no measurement of it in that regard anyway, that we are all already together simply looking back on our lives and when our time comes we are simply catching up with ourselves.
I have experienced death with friends and family more than I would like to recall and I know at my age Im not finished being a witness yet. The process, this transition, is not glorious to see by any means but the final result I tell you is simply peace.
Someone once said that only on Earth do we weep for those who die but the universe could care less. Maybe so, and if so, damn the universe then. I have yet to weep for my dad’s passing. Maybe it’s just the Gossett way, maybe it’s the Irish way. Maybe one day it will just happen. I love my step-mom, love her church and congregation, Pastor Virgil is the man there without a doubt. I look forward to returning to visit her as often as I can.
Oh, my dads favorite song that my step-mom told me is Big Time by Trace Adkins. I cant say I have a favorite memory of my dad since all memories are the best, but I do know he was always excited when I was going through the Police Academy and would call him to ask questions while I was studying. I also did my early years working security. Apple’s don’t fall far from the tree when you’re a Gossett.
Update March 21, 2016
Before I forget to add this, here is a picture of the first detail to man the Bell Gardens Police Department where my dad got his beginning. Credit for this goes to Bill Curd, son of Officer William Curd, who had written the current Chief of Police Robert E. Barnes about his dad having an upcoming 80th birthday and asking if he would send a letter or certificate thanking him for his service. Not only did Chief Barnes dig up the photo of the original detail but did the next best thing and honoured Mr. Curd in a small ceremony, including an honour guard, in front of City Hall next to the police station.
My dad is in the picture as well, red arrow, but sadly passed away a few years ago in 2011. I just wanted to add this picture in honour of his service as well as the entire first detail. My dad was a pretty simple guy so I was at Mr. Curd’s ceremony as a spectator and support, although I was allowed to say something.
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