I have wondered for years what I would feel when my father died. I still don’t know, because I can’t feel anything about it right now.
I woke up a few minutes ago to find two messages from a nurse at Regional Medical Center in Anniston, Ala. That’s the hospital to which he was taken a little more than a month ago.
When I called back, the nurse told me he died at about 4:30 this morning.
In the end, it was his lungs that failed him. The nurse couldn’t tell me much more about the medical situation at the end, but she did say he was comfortable and not in pain. There’s no way to put this on a medical chart, I suppose, but the truth is that he had lost the will to live.
One of the last things he ever said to me — a couple of months ago — was, “I will die a bitter man.” Unfortunately for all of us, this was true, but I don’t want to spend much time here on that.
Edward Leroy McElroy was born in Jasper, Ala., the last of four children born to Leland and Luda McElroy. Very early in his life, the family moved to Birmingham and he grew up in various neighborhoods of the city. He graduated from Woodlawn High School and then got his bachelor’s degree from Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Ala.
They both taught school in the beginning, but he soon went to work for Southern Railway as a clerk in the Safety Department. Because he was good at his job, Southern transferred him often as he was promoted.
His job took us from Birmingham to Washington, D.C.; Atlanta; Knoxville, Tenn.; Meridian, Miss.; and Anniston, Ala. After they divorced and he got custody of three children, he quit his job at Southern — he was a division superintendent for his department by then — because he needed to be home with us.
He tried teaching again, but gave it up after a year because he couldn’t make enough to support us. After a rocky period of financial trouble for a few years, we ended up in Jasper again, where he moved us to take care of his aging parents.
He suffered from narcissistic personality disorder, but we didn’t know that at the time. We were simply scared and confused much of the time. He could be a kind and loving father one day — and a raving, angry monster the next. We never knew what to expect.
There’s much more to say — about who he was and what he did and how it affected me — but I’ll save that for another day.
I think he genuinely wanted to be a good man and a good father. His own childhood programming in a dysfunctional home left him badly damaged — and he was never willing to get the psychological help he needed to get past that damage and repair his relationships with the people he hurt.
It feels surreal to say that he’s dead. I keep wanting to call the hospital to make sure I didn’t imagine it happened. He’s been the one constant in my life from the beginning — and that’s gone.
All I know for sure is that he is finally at peace — and now it’s up to the children he left behind to come to terms with the complicated and terrifying experience that we had with him.