Trigger Warning: death, dying
First, I want to apologize for not posting last week, I had a rough one. My health has been far from stellar. I spent this past Tuesday night in the hospital getting diagnosed for a UTI that was just that bad. This would be my second time in the hospital for one since May, which just seems ridiculous. I didn’t have much of a hospital track record until now. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so sick, even the last time. I was feverish, in tremendous pain, and unable to get out of bed for a few days. It was just lovely. I know it sounds like standard illness, but I was feeling so violated by infection. It was torturous, and it was a scary experience because I was acting like my father, although I’m sure I couldn’t have been suffering that much. I experienced a level of empathy I hadn’t before.
Anyway, as some people may know, this past Friday marked 6 months since losing my dad. It was a day I’ve been dreading a long time. It’s a point you don’t really want to make it to. I obviously don’t want to die myself, but I wish there was a way I didn’t have to experience it. Being ill was a nice distraction. It feels heavy. If I made it half a year, then a full year is around the corner and then soon 10 years are behind me without my father and he’s just a distant figure. I don’t want the loss to be integrated into my life. I do not want to thrive without my dad, especially knowing how excited he was for these years of my life. I think about my dad everyday and I cry everyday. At this stage in the game, each day is still different. Sometimes, I start to freak out realizing I’m going to turn to my dad’s chair and he’s not going to be sitting there.
I thought I would share something very special with you today. I had an interview project due for my last semester of college. I had interviewed someone I knew who did work I was interested in. As I was transcribing that interview, I couldn’t stop thinking about an interview I did with my Dad while he was dying during my spring break a few weeks before, so I transcribed that one instead. I’m going to share with you an excerpt of that project.
But, in the darkness, there is light. There are times that lift you up beyond understanding. You have not known gratitude until you face losing something you couldn’t stand losing. I wish I could write about all those times, but instead I am writing about just one.
I spent this past Christmas and New Years in the hospital with my dad and I had to return to my last semester at Berklee after spending the remainder of my break helping my dad recover and our family having to discuss hospice for the first time. I started writing down questions to ask my dad that I would have wanted to ask him in the future I probably wouldn’t have with him, even though it upset me. We didn’t know if his new Hail Mary treatment was going to work and I didn’t know how much time I had with my dad.
There were a lot of little miracles that have happened in the past three and a half months all of us in the LaRochelle house will forever be grateful for. What I am most grateful for is when my dad woke up during his last hospital stay on Friday, March 23, 2018.
The pain medication my dad was typically on in the hospital when he would go in for pain management knocked him out, even while awake. He’d say things that didn’t make sense, repeat himself, have no idea where he was or possibly forget you were there the day before and what you talked about. On Thursday the 22nd, when his doctors started administering the antibiotic for the blood infection and pancreatitis they found, we had to rush into Manhattan because they thought his heart would be too weak for the medication and he wouldn’t make it through the day.
I tried to ask him these questions I had written a few months before, even though it was nothing how I’d picture it would be. Cancer makes you improvise and take what you can get. You probably won’t get the moments you pictured, but what’s important it that you get them anyway and you don’t wait. So, I went on and my sister recorded it. He was slipping in and out. He couldn’t answer any question fully and the answer to many was, “I don’t know.” This wasn’t the dad I knew. My dad took every chance to give meaningful answers, and occasionally turn them into lectures to the dismay of my sisters and myself when we just wanted to have a casual conversation with our dad. Now I wish I had that back. I was wishing it in that moment too. I wanted him to go on and on forever, or at least make a sarcastic comment, which was the polar opposite, but still typical. He managed to get out one of those. I didn’t get near what I had wanted, but it was something and I didn’t know if I was going to see him tomorrow.
Friday came and my dad beat the odds yet again, responding well to his antibiotic. I had different doctors explaining to me and my mom everyday that there was no way around hospice at this point. They were blaming his pancreatitis on his treatment, which is a side effect in 1% of patients, which meant it was time to come off, and especially with my dad’s inability to eat, his body would just continue to fail. I had done so much research in the past months. I gave up meat almost a month ago at that point. I was trying to rack up points with Karma in exchange for more miracles as well as encourage my father to participate in his health with holistic healing methods, but it was just too late.
My dad received two bags of blood that day. It was the first time in a week that, even when he wasn’t speaking, his eyes were open. He started to sound like himself bits at a time, but then he would repeat himself or say something that didn’t make sense. Two of my mom’s cousins that we’re close with came to visit and my cousin Justine was going on about a procedure she was getting done and my dad interrupted. My mom thought he needed the nurse again, but he proceeded to make his first fully conscious, witty joke since his admission. We realized he had woken up. He was really awake. He was there. If he were to go home from this hospital visit, he would have remembered this time.
After we laughed for a few minutes, my dad turned to my mom. He said to her, “I think I’ve lost some time.”
We knew he wasn’t completely confused because he knew he was in a hospital, not in California or on a plane. He just didn’t know which hospital he was in or why or when he came in. My mom had to tell him why he wanted to come to the hospital, that he was in the good care of his trusted Memorial Sloan Kettering doctors in New York City, and what had transpired in the past week, including the scariness of the day before.
He didn’t remember anything especially from the day before and my mom asked about the questions I had and if he was up for round two. I was scared because I wanted to believe my dad was going to stay awake forever and I didn’t want to think about him leaving me again, but my cousin turned to me and said, “Allison, you may not have another chance.”
I recorded and my mom asked my questions. This is my interview and last full conversation I would have with my dad, Mark LaRochelle.
An Interview with Mark LaRochelle, My Dad
Q: What are all the places you’d ever wanted to go to?
A: San Diego.
Q: What’s something you’ve always wanted to try?
A: Professional rugby. (smiles)
Q: What was your greatest hardship?
Q: Your disease?
A: No. This problem. This issue with my family. (holds back tears)
Q: What issue with your family?
A: The hardship that I have now. The problem that I’m causing. This is my problem.
Mom: Well it’s all of us, you know you’re not alone.
A: I know and that’s the hardship. It’s not just me alone.
Q: What’s your greatest joy?
A: It’s impossible to have one. If you only have one, you’ve lived a destitute life.
Q: You have a lot of joy?
A: A lot of joy. I do. My three girls to start. I could end right there. My wife… The day I got to meet three football legends at one time.
Q: What’s your favorite book?
A: Favorite book… I don’t know if I have a favorite. I have favorite genres, favorite places.
Q: Favorite author maybe? Do you have a favorite author?
A: I don’t remember, I’m having a hard time remembering.
Q: Ok, we’ll go to the next one… Do you have a favorite movie?
A: Movie? That’s impossible. (My dad is not only responsible for my good taste in music.)
Mom: I said it was the Friday series because you’ll watch that any time, anywhere… It’s always on.
A: (Interrupts) Yea, but so is Office Space.
Q: Favorite comic series or graphic novel?
A: I say… I mean if it has to be a comic, I have to go with a novel.
Q: Graphic novel?
Q: Which is?
A: Something in the world of Deadpool.
Q: What was a your fondest childhood memory?
A: Fondest childhood memory? Probably hitting a home run.
Q: In high school or grammar school?
A: That was in 9th grade.
Q: Cool. What dreams did you fulfill in your life? What dreams came true?
A: Three (my sisters and me). And that’s plenty. And that’s all the world needs.
Q: What is the key to a successful marriage?
Q: What advice would you give to a new parent?
A: To a new parent?
Q: Yea. Say the girls are having babies, what would you say?
A: Don’t overcompensate. Let them be themselves and support their dreams, but only if it makes sense. You can’t support a dream that has no ending existence. That makes sense. It makes a little sense I guess. You gotta be able to get somewhere in life, on some level.
Mom: So, almost like take action on your dreams. Have a dream, but take action on it.
A: Yea. Have some place to go with it.
Q: What do you think is your strongest quality?
Q: Do you have a favorite moment with each of the girls or all of the girls?
A: Probably our times in Disney. Not so much the latest one. It was hard on the feet. (Our most recent trip was back in May. We spent our last day in Orlando in Disney World for the first time in 5 years, and not only was everyone cranky, exhausted and hot during our Disney visit, but when we got back my dad would find out that his treatment that was supposed to last years was starting to stop working and his cancer was progressing.)
Q: But Universal was good, right? (We spent two of our three days in Universal and on our second day, a close friend managed to get our entire family super VIP passes at the last minute, which meant skipping every line, getting to every ride we wanted, and our meals were free. My dad couldn’t have been happier.)
A: Yea, I love Universal more, but…There are individual moments with everybody. You know, being proud of them stepping up, different things.
Q: Can you tell us what each of your tattoos mean and why you got them?
A: Well, I got my fraternity letters because they’re fraternity letters, but I got it for more than that. I got them because they tie me to a bond- to human beings- a group. One that very rarely gets broken and it’s rare. It’s rare to see in this day and age that people help each other out like we do… I have a rugby ball tattoo, mainly because it stands out for how to live my life. You don’t look back. There’s nothing behind you and you just play [and] work hard and hope you get where you need to be…. I have two on my shoulders. They’re mainly for humanity. I have one that’s literally for humanity. I don’t know if I’m working or helping or not, but it’s to help. That’s my goal. And then one was supposed to be for protection from which you fear. I got that one- both of them- not long after I had a heart attack. I didn’t want to leave my new wife alone. (starts to cry)
Mom: And you didn’t, right? We had this great life. You didn’t. You kept on keeping on.
A: So, I think that covers all four.
Q: What do you personally wish for each of the girls?
A: Happiness. My personal wish for Allison is to obtain [anonymous] celebrity. I want her to be happy and healthy, and that is in ll aspects of her life, not just career. So, I’m looking for everything to fit together for you and for life to concede to what you wish when it comes to your… plan. That doesn’t mean there won’t be hardships or problems, but it does mean that, you know, there will be things that will go right for you.
Q: What about Samantha?
A: I wish for hard driven success because I feel like it’s the one thing that she wants. I feel like she’s very interested in academia, more so than physical success. So, I do want her to have that driven type of success because she gets to obtain what she wants, but she’s gotta be in a regional measure.
Q: And what about Melissa?
A: I just want her to be able to live and have success with her creativeness- somewhere be able to make her money, live her life, and enjoy herself and just not have to worry about others and that’s it. Now, if she wants to be involved with others, that’s great, but I do want her to have that creative flow and insistence. That’s it.
Q: What advice would you give to a newly diagnosed cancer patient?
A: (smiles) When it’s hard, enjoy every minute. Enjoy every minute more than you think you should enjoy it. I remember a little over a year ago we were sitting in the office, smiling and chuckling, saying, “Oh, we got this. We can handle it. We were sitting there and a lot of people weren’t. They were upset, they were sad. Well, take a look and look where I turned out. A year later. More miserable and more sad… You can’t tell how every minute that you get is going to be impacted by cancer. You can’t. You may get seven minutes, a hundred, two thousand- who cares. It doesn’t matter what you get. You gotta be ready for whatever you do get and I wasn’t. I don’t think I was ready for all this quite yet, but here we are… And love your family. Love them everyday, ‘cause one day you won’t. You wont be able to.
Mom: You’re always going to be with us.
A: Yea, well, that’s true. You know I love you, I just won’t be here to help. I think that’s everything.
I was incredibly grateful for this time. After that Friday, my dad would practically sleep through the days entirely and would lose his ability to speak. When I said goodbye, to come back to Berklee, he had to fight to open his eyes and attempt communicating with me.
Mark LaRochelle passed away at 7:02 am on March 28th, 2018. He was an incredible father. The man he became and the life he built for himself started from nothing. In all things he pursued, he gave all of himself and overcame tremendous amounts of adversity. I used to think I didn’t want to be anything like my dad, even though I loved him immensely, because he was a cynic with emotional instability, but I would be blessed to care half as much or try half has hard in this lifetime. Even at a job he hated, he gave them his best to do right by his coworkers and his family. He was constantly giving and learning to better help his family and friends. He inspired other parents to further support their children’s dreams, even if they were outlandish. He was a good man and I got to be his daughter.
I miss him very much. I wish I could ask him my practicing questions. I know he would have great answers and love to be asked. Sometimes I think about how he probably would have been one of those really cool grandfathers. He was pretty worried throughout parenthood and could be really hard on his kids, but by the time grandparenthood came around, he would have it all figured out and know exactly what to do. My kids would probably like him more the way my late pop-pop was always my favorite, and I would come off as the uptight person. I really wish I got to live that. (Well, let’s be honest, my future kids will definitely like my mom better than me, so I’m sure I won’t miss out on that feeling.)
That’s all I have for you today. Love your parents. I’ve always been grateful for mine. They are just doing their best. There’s no manual for their job, there’s no pay, and it’s the hardest work. Whatever your family looks like for you, appreciate it for those of us who are missing pieces.