Wanting the Enemy to Win

Updated: March 4, 2013


By Kelly Crigger


“When you’re twenty and see a mountain you want to climb it. When you’re thirty you want to own it. By the time you turn forty you want to gaze upon it quietly. At fifty you want to thank it for all it taught you. Yet, as a man changes only one thing remains constant. The mountain.”

-Curmudgeon, Diary of a Midlife Crisis

We all think we’re indestructible but we’re really just fooling ourselves. My dad was sick for a long time. He smoked for 40 years or even more. I don’t have any idea when he started though he did say “we all did it in high school” just before he passed. So maybe as long as 60 years he’d been suckling off the teet of RJ Reynolds. Who knows? And who cares? Doesn’t really matter. All that matters is he’d survived it for a long time. That, diabetes, the Viet Cong, and Agent Orange. None of those adversaries could drag him down for the longest time because he was a fucking badass.

But then they got smart. They got intel from gravity and colluded with time. They teamed up and gang tackled his heart because that was their last option, the scheming cowards. They dragged my pops down into an unrecognizable physical state. The once-proud gymnast and Bronze Medal recipient was no more than skin and bones when I saw him in his last months, making me wish I hadn’t in a way. There are those who say they want to be with their loved one in the final moments no matter what state they’re in, but I’m here to say that’s the folly of the ignorant.

My father was strong and proud for decades. He was as steadfast as Ike who cursed at the unrepentant and scoffed at the unwilling. But in his final year he was a shell of a man. Swollen from the waist down by heart that struggled to beat strong enough to clear out the fluid from his lower half and emaciated from the waist up for the same reason. I gasped when I saw him six months before he died and even started wondering if it was okay to pray for a speedy death instead of a speedy recovery.

The doctors were clear. “He’s never going to get better,” they said. “The damage is done. His heart won’t recover and in turn his lungs and internal organs are doomed. It’s just a matter of time.”

I’m a practical man and know that these things happen to anyone at anytime and to feel like you’re a victim because it happened to you is irrational and silly. I accepted my Dad’s fate and tried hard to deny something that kept pestering at me…a desire to see someone I love die. Illness strips us of the dignity of life and watching a proud man suffer in front of his family was almost unbearable. I wanted it to end for both of us.

I was supposed to do what every good person does-run to the chapel and beg something more powerful than me to stop it. But I didn’t. Instead I wanted him to go and told him it was okay to do so, which made me feel like an unmitigated asshole. We’re not supposed to ask for death or tell someone to quit. We’re not supposed to wish someone to take their last breath, but I did anyway because I knew recovery was an impossibility.

So at what point is it okay to give in and cheer on death? At what point do you go against all you know, stop fighting, and let the cold, icy fingers of the great unknown take you away? At what point is it no longer about the person suffering and more about me because I don’t want to remember him this way?

I want to remember him as the 40-something stud jogging across Pennsylvania so fast that I couldn’t keep up on my Huffy. I wanted to remember him at a family reunion where they celebrated his 50th birthday and sniped behind his back at how God blessed him with a physique that incensed Apollo despite the constant chain smoking. That was my dad. That was who I grew up wanting to be like. Not this shell of a human on a gurney ensconced in tubes, bandages, and a cantaloupe-sized scrotum that I unintentionally witnessed when they rolled him over to change his diaper. This wasn’t my dad. This was someone who needed to leave this life with whatever respect could be afforded him.

I’m not here to champion euthanasia, but I am here to say there is a time and place to want the enemy to win. There’s a moment to hope that nature will end the suffering of a noble person and take them quickly and painlessly. And for those of us who sit by their side, tears filling our eyes, it’s okay to give up on them getting better and just wish they go gently into that good night.

But then the hurting really starts.

Follow Kelly on Twitter –  @KellyCrigger




  1. JMC

    March 5, 2013 at 11:44 am

    I sympathize. My father, too, died of cancer, and I found myself praying that he have a quick death, both for his sake and for ours. For me, the guilt came from the “and for ours” part. It seemed selfish. When the call finally came, my response was, “Thank God, it’s over.” Guilt again. The hospital gave us an opportunity to view him before they put him in the morgue…He had this huge smile on his face, as if the entire cohort of angels came to escort him to Heaven. I can’t speak for the rest of my family, but for me, the grief and guilt turned to rejoicing, and I seriously wished we were Irish so his wake could be a party. It’s the usual comfort we take in the death of a loved one, that he’s now in a better place. And there’s a reason that belief in an afterlife refuses to die, despite so-called “rational” debunking. If there was nothing on the other side, why would people die smiling? Hospice specialists tell us that people at death’s door frequently sit there talking to people the rest of us can’t see. Some say they’re hallucinating. But I say they’re talking to those who have gone before, who have come to escort them home, and that’s why they die smiling.

    The Irish have the right idea.

  2. j.miranda

    March 5, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    This hits close to the heart. I debated the same questions when my grandfather was passing. he was just the shell of the man he once was, and it broke my heart to see him this way. it hurt just as bad to see my rock, my hero, my father, in so much heartache watching his father like this. I too just wanted it to end, wanted him to be at peace. It was the hardest argument with his second wife. she saw it differently. she said as long as he was breathing, he was alive. I disagreed. vehemently. and to this day, still do. i pray that when my time comes, my daughters will let me go in peace, in a dignified manner, as a true infantryman and a beloved father.

  3. JoeC

    March 5, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    Did you ever read something and feel like you wrote it and just don’t remember doing so? I just did. This is nearly word for word how my dad lost his battle with cancer. I don’t know why we even call it a battle because a battle implies that you can win it. You can’t. You can only drag it out, which my dad did for 10 years. The only good thing about it is that when someone asks me to tell them what the hardest thing I’ve ever done was it makes it easy. At 2000 on 3 Sep 2005 I looked my dad in the eye and told him it was OK to quit. Those would be the last words I ever said to him. I wanted to be there with him when he went, but my mother and I had previously agreed that we would take 12 hour shifts until the end and I stuck to the deal I’d made.

    The next morning I was getting ready to leave for my shift at the hospital when mom came home before her shift was over and I knew the battle was lost. Finally. I still can’t shake the guilt of being happy about it in a strange way. My dad had been a 6’1″ 235lb running back on the Army’s football team in France in the mid 50’s, and then played Division 1 ball for one year before returning home to tend to the needs of the family after his father died. It’s funny how people save stories until someone is dead to tell them. I never knew dad played football in college. The University of Tulsa awarded me his letter posthumously after much research and more than a little luck. I don’t think he even knew he had earned it or even cared. Watching him waste away from the imposing figure he had been to nearly nothing over the course of only a few months was traumatic just as you described.

    Over 7 years later there are lots of things about the end of his life that still bother me, but not much else does. The worst days are the ones when I try to remember his voice and can’t.

  4. Patrick

    March 5, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    As a nurse I frequently cheer for death. It’s often the better option.

  5. Larry G

    March 5, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Last year my grandfather was taken. He lived a long life, and was the one person other than my parents that I always felt I could count on and confide in. It was hard going by his house and seeing him barely able to get out of his chair, and not be his normal “D.O.M.” self. However, when I went to the hospital after he had some major complications, and see him laying there, not able to speak, recognize anyone, or really do anything except wince in pain, I knew it was time to say goodbye, and hope he didn’t suffer much longer. He held on long enough for the last of his siblings to get there and say goodbye, then he was gone within minutes.

    Now, my father has been diagnosed with cancer. Thankfully it appears to be in early stages, and is typically able to cure within the proper treatments. I only hope that I have the courage to let go if for some reason it turns for the worse. It takes a lot to ask for help, and takes even more to let go, even when you know you should.

  6. Trish

    March 5, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    I guess I’m one of the lucky ones….my father went quickly, he died of an aorta disection. In a way it was a blessing because like the man in the story above my father was a badass ex-military and then 20 years a police officer…he would not have been happy about slowly slipping away. Better to go out in a flash.

  7. CastleGirl85

    March 5, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    I wish I could say I hadn’t lived through this, but I have – at my husband’s side watching his father die. For the last six years of his life, about 3-4x/year, we would get the late night call, “Its not looking good. The doctors don’t think Dad is going to make it much longer – get here as fast as you can.” So we would throw what we could in suitcases, throw the kids in the car (they were 4 and 8 when he finally died) and drive 1000 miles, usually through the night, just to get to the hospital in time to see the latest “band-aid” treatment for his COPD/Emphysema/Lung Cancer to make him just well enough for Medicaid to decide to send him home from the hospital. Respiratory diseases are a slow, brutal way to die – he literally suffocated slowly over a period of several years. As his family, we watched it, unable to do anything to help… As much as the physical pain/suffering was the emotional – Dad was a strong, stubborn, independent man. This disease slowly stripped all of that away from him. No longer could he go where he wanted, when he wanted. No longer could he be independent. Watching that kill his spirit was every bit as painful as watching the disease kill his body. When we finally got the “big” call, when we got to the hospital after driving all night, it was different… Dad was lucid for about a day, which was a blessing for my husband – he got to say his good byes – but for the next 8 excruciating days it was watching the slow, painful process of his body literally shutting down and dying. And the even more painful process of watching Mom in total denial. Every evening the doctors would say to prepare ourselves, that he was not going to make it through the night, and every morning those same doctors would say they had no idea how he was still alive. To Mom, it was a “sign” that he was getting better. In the end, it was Dad’s last stance of stubborn – he was hell bent that he was going to die at home and by God, he wasn’t going to die until they took him home. He got his wish. When Hospice finally stepped in once Medicare declared his hospital stay was over, we had the choice of a Hospice center or home. We chose home. Once he was back at home, he opened his eyes from an 8 day long coma, looked around, smiled and breathed his last. It was one last glimmer of the stubborn, head-strong amazing man that was my father-in-law, and in that I found comfort.

  8. KJL

    March 5, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    I watched my grandfather die of CHF, I watched him swell up, go to the emergency room where they would manage to get the fluid off him, send him home, and repeat at least a dozen times. Each time worse than the last, and I too thought death had to be better than living like this. His last night, he sat up in his bed and clearly carried on a conversation with someone unseen. Then he said “yes, I’m ready” laid back and took his last breath. I sympathize with your loss and understand your thinking.

  9. z0phi3l

    March 5, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    I went through the same thing with my Grandfather, one of the few Men I looked up to as an example of a “real” Man and for guidance, when I last saw him he was a shell of who he was to me, it hit me so hard I pissed off my family by not seeing him again and avoiding the funeral, I mourned him in my way, following the guidance he would have given me had I asked for it. Top this day I still remember the strong Man that helped guide me and not the shell he became towards the end

  10. Ann

    March 5, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    It’s ok to want them to be out of pain. I too was like that with my Grandpa. He had multiple heart attacks, lost both of his legs to blood clots from said heart attacks. He had diabetes an pancreintitus. In the end, I missed the Papaw that I remembered, not the Papaw that was sick all the time and couldn’t eat or enjoy life. He was a Godly man and he was in a better place.

  11. Bruce in Alaska

    March 5, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    Liked your Dads Story, a lot… Thing you need to remember is “You can count the folks, who have got off this Rock, without dying, on One Hand, if you believe the Bible, and not including the City of Enoch” So we ALL will Die, that is NOT the Issue. The issue is HOW we Lived. What we DID. How we Raised our Children. What Values we gave them, that get passed on down thru the Generations. What Family traditions DO WE instill in, and pass down, to our posterity. That is the measure of a Family, and along with Personal Integrity, is the measure of a Man, and his life. Did he keep his Oaths? Was his Word, his Bond? Did he pass that same Personal Integrity, Oath, and Word Keeping, to the NEXT Generation. These are the things that were Passed down to ME, from my progenitors, going back 5 Generations. I was taught to be a Prep’er just like my Parents GrandParents on both sides, back 5 Generations, long before anyone called us Prep’ers, or even defined the term. I have passed those Family Values, along with my Wifes family values to ALL our children and love the chance to see them, doing the SAME, for our Grandchildren…. Just Say’en…. This is the measure of MEN, and Women….

  12. Peter D

    March 5, 2013 at 6:30 pm

    I have said, and told many people. Sometimes death is a release, and much better then the alternative. When I was much younger, my grandfather passed away, at first, I was selfish, wishing that he could have stayed. But finding out that several heart attacks and strokes had happened, and that death was a blessing. While I am still sorry that he had to leave before I was able to talk to him much (I was in the 3rd grade) and learn so much from him, I am grateful for the time that I did have with him.

  13. ET1(SS) Princess

    March 5, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    My grandmother died last Wednesday night after a 10 year losing fight with cancer. She suffered for months. Everyone cried, including my wife. I didn’t. I had made my peace with her already. My family is having a hard time understanding that, even my wife. I don’t think they understand the very fabric of what we are all conveying. Just makes it more difficult and socially awkward for me in the end.

    Thanks Grandma for making your death awkward.

    P.S. You were the toughest old bird I’ve ever met.

  14. Dbie

    March 5, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    Beautifully said, Kelly.
    There is no shame in wishing for a peaceful and quick passing. My mother-in-law died almost exactly a year ago after suffering a heart attack and a stroke. She had a DNR, so we put her in hospice and just waited for her to die. Those days were horrible. To see her deteriorate so quickly and to watch my husband watch his mother die like that?? horrible. But it did teach me that there is no shame in wishing for the pain to end for our loved one, even if that end is death. Peace. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  15. FbL

    March 5, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    Thank you so much for this.

    My mother and her sister went through something similar with their father (Alzheimer’s). I always thought they exhibited great nobility when he got to the point that he knew nothing and no one, and the doctor prescribed a second round of antibiotics that had little chance of curing his pneumonia but would definitely make him miserable. They told the doctor no, and the docs and nurses made him as comfortable as possible as he slipped into peace after a long and mostly-happy life. Sometimes wishing to say goodbye because it would mean an end to suffering is a very loving thing…

    I don’t believe in active euthanasia, but I do think that sometimes we try too hard. There’s nothing wrong in encouraging someone to let go, and wishing for them to suffer less.

  16. Nate

    March 5, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    My grandpa passed away Sunday morning, and what you said is exactly how I have felt, especially the guilt. My Grandpa was a proud Marine who fought on Okinawa in WWII, then inspired hundreds in his career as a teacher. He survived a horrific car accident in the 70s when the doctors said he would’t live through the night, then that he wouldn’t walk again when he did. By the time I came around, he was in his 70s, still jogging several miles every morning, serving his community, and doing his own yardwork because no other mfer could do it right. I knew him as a strong, stubborn, and dignified man who could do anything. Over the last decade, I watched him slowly waste away from polyneuropathy and macular degeneration. Then man who loved to run, work, and drive became blind and confined to his chair. I kept thinking to myself, “I never want to go like that”. When he died on Sunday, I felt relieved because his suffering finally ended. I hate the pain that my Mom is going through, and I miss him very much. But a part of me feels that he has finally found rest. The mix of grief and relief mostly leaves me feeling numb.

  17. sarge712

    March 5, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    I appreciate you writing this. My dad was the same kind of two fisted man, Marine and great dad. He is in nearly the same kind of shape as you described about your dad and it won’t get better. Your article helped me not feel so bad for wishing my Dad a speedy trip to Valhalla or whatever stud paradise he ends up in. He was, is and forever will be one of my heroes.

  18. leftoftheboom

    March 5, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    On Angel’s wings I await thee
    As the last breath of life is gone
    I feel His Light before me
    The warmth becons me onward.

    Fear not the ending of my mortal lace
    Grieve not this life’s loss
    I go to live now with my Father
    Safe and home in his embrace

    Love is letting go
    The struggle is not the measure
    The measure of the man is in his children’s love
    And the life they lived together

    Rejoyce with me now
    Sing your voices high
    I am with my Father now
    In hallowed Heavens Light

  19. Rich

    March 5, 2013 at 11:50 pm

    I watched my 39 year old brother in law, (more of a brother really) wither and pass 14 years ago. Lost so much during the process. Can’t imagine it happening to my Dad.

    Godspeed brother.

  20. Tim

    March 6, 2013 at 4:21 am

    Having lost both of my parents to long illnesses, I understand and agree, my mother especially was suffering towards the end, she just wanted it to end.

  21. Katherine Heard

    March 6, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    Your story resonated with me for many of the reasons already mentioned in the above comments. My father, a Marine, was full of integrity, a somewhat twisted sense of humor and lived life with no fear. I wished only to preserve his dignity in those final weeks. Although 2 years have passed, I find the hurt is not better, just different. Shortly after his death, I came across a statement that said the only thing a man can have on this earth and take with him when he goes is a good name. Without knowing your father, I somehow believe this would apply to him as well. Your reference to Apollo brought a smile; mine was known as “Atlas.”
    Thank you for eloquently expressing a process that is so difficult to explain. May you be blessed with cherished memories.

  22. Katherine Heard

    March 6, 2013 at 10:04 pm

    Your story resonated with me for many of the same reasons mentioned in the above comments. My father, a Marine, was full of integrity, a somewhat twisted sense of humor and lived life with no fear. I only wished to preserve his dignity during those final weeks. Although 2 years have passed, I find the hurt is not better, just different. Shortly after his death, I saw a statement that said the only thing a man can have on this earth and take with him when he goes is a good name. Without knowing your father, I somehow believe this would apply to him as well. Your reference to Apollo brought a smile; mine was known as Atlas.
    Thank you for eloquently expressing a process that is so very difficult to explain. May you be blessed with cherished memories.

    • Katherine Heard

      March 6, 2013 at 10:24 pm

      Sorry…didn’t intend for it to post twice; couldn’t find a delete option

  23. Monica

    March 12, 2013 at 8:30 am

    Heartbreakingly beautiful, Kelly. Thank you for sharing…

  24. DB

    March 12, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    Been there done that… with a wife. Rode that puppy till the end and only then did I see what all had really gone through.

  25. James

    March 18, 2013 at 11:47 pm

    Thanks for sharing. My father died a couple of years ago, after a massive anterior myocardial infarction, which was probably the third or forth one in a period of six months. All the previous attacks he just shrugged of as arthritis in his shoulder. It was nowhere near the same as what your father went through, but to see a war veteran, a 25 year man, a man who at 65 could still throw a railway tie on his shoulder and carry it around finally succumb to time after nearly 90 years still hurt. Fortunately most of my fathers last few days he was unconscious, ’cause I don’t think any of use including him could have stood being that vulnerable.

    I still miss him as much as ever.

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