I’m Back

I got to be with my dad from midnight on Wednesday until Sunday morning.

I expect to be writing more about this at some indefinite-future time, but for now the details are this:

Thanks to everybody’s donations, I got to be there with him for 3 days and a little bit more, and I was with him when he died. He knew I was there, responded to my voice, and seemed to be comforted by my touching and talking.

I told him what a good man he was, and what a hole there would be in the world when he left:

I love you, Old Man. You’re not alone. I’m right here with you.

I was so lucky to meet you, to have you in my life. There just aren’t words for what you mean to me. You’ll be in my head every day for the rest of my life, and I’ll do my best to be somebody you’d be proud of.

The world has been a better place for having you in it. I guarantee you every person who ever went on a wilderness trip with you remembers it to this day, and it’s one of their best memories, and the reason for that is just you. There are so many people who love you, who respect you for the man you are, who envy you the life you’ve led.

All the work is done, and you did a fantastic job. The horses are back in the corral, the mules are fed, the gear’s all put away. If you want to rest now, it’s okay. I’ll be right here with you for the whole trip.

I was with him on Sunday morning, running a cool wet cloth over his forehead and talking to him quietly, when his eyes opened. I went down to the nursing station to ask a question, and when I came back I sat and put my hand on his warm forehead.

At 9:45 a.m., his labored breathing changed, became suddenly softer and slower. He sighed through five more breaths, and then stopped. I could see the pulse still beating in his throat, but after a minute that too stopped. The nurse came in and I choked out “I think he just died.”

Daniel Franklin Farris: Sunburnt mountain man, mule packer, High Sierra wilderness guide, horseman and hunter, teacher and coach, backcountry cook, unmatched teller of campfire tales, protector and defender, friend to dogs and horses, sometime cowboy poet, legendary bare-knuckled bar fighter, irrepressible lover of women.

Crusty angles and edges, but soft-hearted, patient and giving, ever-welcoming, he was also my Dad.

There will never be another like him.




Anybody who wants to check the details of the story, my Dad’s name was Dan Farris. He was in Room 11 of Northern Inyo Hospital, Bishop California. His attending physician was Dr. Boo … and I’d bet good money Dan made at least one joke about that, considering it was Halloween, or close to it, when he was admitted.

The hospital staff were nothing short of fantastic. They took great care of Dan, checking on him frequently and keeping him comfortable. They made a big fuss about the fact of my long-distance visit. Everybody had been told to expect me, and I must have been asked a half-dozen times “Are you ‘New York’?”

They completely ignored visiting hours, letting me show up at 5 a.m. and stay until after midnight, they offered trays from the cafeteria at breakfast, lunch and dinner, they told me what a good friend I was for traveling this long way, they listened to my stories about Dan the mule packer, wilderness guide and good friend, they kindly pretended not to notice my erratic tears, and there were even a few hugs.

  • http://spinozasbicycle.blogspot.com mikeg

    Damn. Profound. I couldn’t help but think of my grandfather’s recent (well, two years) passing. I enjoy your blog, and read all about Dan in your previous posts. Glad you could make it out there.

  • AW

    I am really grateful that you got to spend some time with such an important person in your life. I am sure he appreciated your company and the comfort you provided him, too.
    I think Dan must have been a really special person – Bishop tends to draw those kinds of people. Rest in Peace, High Sierra man.

  • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort

    T^T Crying here, so very touching. I’m happy you were there with him when he died. I’m sure that he was happy too.

  • Randomfactor

    To be with a loved one at the end is the best we can hope for, I guess.

    Mine happened in Bishop also, oddly enough.

  • Tiktaalik

    I grew up in the Sierras ans spent 1967-1976 and also 1989-1994 in Yosemite. I wonder if I ever met him?

  • sphex

    My warmest thoughts are with you. I’m glad you got to be there, glad you got to have him in your life.

  • Lisa

    Thank you for your blog, and thank you so much for sharing your Dad and this personal story and tribute with your readers. Such a beautiful and moving recounting.

  • http://googleplus.bengrimm.net/ Ben C. O. Grimm

    Stay strong, man. Glad we could get you there in time.

  • http://wunelle.blogspot.com/ wunelle

    Thanks for writing about such a moving and personal thing. One of life’s truly profound moments.

  • http://florilegia.wordpress.com Ibis3, denizen of a spiteful ghetto

    Love the picture. You can really see his character in that: compassionate and easy-going, rough and tough enough to get the job done, but not taking himself too seriously. I’m sure he was happy to have you there to see him out. Let’s all raise a glass to Dan Farris: One of the good guys.

  • raymoscow

    I’m really glad you were able to spend that time with him.

  • http://www.electricminstrel.com Brett McCoy

    Glad you were able to be there for his last days.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/ Ophelia Benson

    Choking up here…

    Well done. You’re a good son and friend.

    Where’s that kleenex…

  • magistramarla

    I’m so glad that you got to be there for him.
    It’s time to grieve now, but I encourage you to write a book about your Dad. The words that you have already written about him are so moving – I’m sure that a book about his life would be a fitting tribute.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rbbfounder dickbeery

    Thank you for sharing!

  • geocatherder

    Big, big, big virtual hug.

  • GenghisFaun

    Cryin’ on my keyboard, here! Thanks for sharing and sorry for your loss! :^(

  • R. Schauer

    So very sorry to hear of your loss, Bro. Sweetly savor thy memories.

  • F

    I have no words. I just have a new and deeper case of sudden-onset admiration.

  • Mark

    That’s a wonderful picture for a wonderful life, and it sounds like the hospital treated you right. My thoughts are with you, ‘New York’.

  • anthonyallen

    I’m so glad that you could make it to see your dad one last time.

    I’m so sorry that you had to.

    Best wishes, Hank.


  • Marie the Bookwyrm

    Oh, geez. I’m so sorry for your loss, but glad you were able to be there with him at the end. Take care of yourself.

  • Crudely Wrott

    There wasn’t time for me to be with my father when he passed; it was unexpected and I was three states away. That you could be with Dan in his final hours gladdens me even while my eyes are brimming.

    I’ll take your word that he was a hell of a man. Take my word that you are too.

    Every trail has a start
    Every trail has an end
    Every trail is the better
    When you ride with a friend.

  • Mr.Kosta

    Going into de-lurk mode just to say I’m very sorry for your loss, man. At least you could see him one last time to say goodbye.

  • http://www.facebook.com/DeannaJoy Deanna Joy Lyons

    Hank, I’m so pleased to be able to read your account of your time with you Dad. Thanks so much for sharing such a personal moment with us.

    I’m especially happy that we could pull together as a community and do a little something to help this happen. This is community at its finest. Thank you, everyone.

  • http://lapalma-island.com Sheila Crosby


    I’ve lost both my parents, and I’m going to risk a little advice to you or anyone else going through this. Feel very free to ignore anything which doesn’t help.

    You don’t have to grieve to anyone else’s schedule.

    After the first few days it’s rather common to find you’re on an emotional roller coaster. The day can be going pretty well, and then something triggers a memory, and you’re blind-sided by grief again. It can feel like it’s never going to get any better, but the proportion of good memories to pain slowly improves.

    It’s extremely common to be stupid and forgetful. It’s not permanent – your brain will start working again when it’s ready to.

    Coming to terms with the loss of a parent is one of the hardest things most of us do. Give yourself space and time, and don’t feel it’s weak to ask for help.


  • Didaktylos

    Hank – my sympathies. I lost my own father three weeks ago so I have some inkling as to what you’re going through. Our only hope of immortality is to live a life worth remembering – and Dan appears to be the sort who will not be forgotten by those whose paths he crossed

    Sheila #26 – that really struck a chord with me. You’re right about the emotional roller-coaster. The worst day for me was the actual day I got the news. The worst moment of all was when “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor just happened to come on the Internet radio station I had on – then I did lose it. It’s been getting steadily better since then. There are moments when I find myself thinkimg of what I might say when we next get together, and I have to bring myself up short; but I’m getting to where I feel more wistful than grief-struck when that happens.

  • Carlie

    I’m so glad you were able to be there. You did the one best thing a person can do for another – let them know they are loved.

  • judykomorita

    Hank, I’m so glad you got to be there. It’s hard, it’s bittersweet, but it’s a sharing that is never forgotten. I’m sorry for your loss. He had a special friend in you, too.

    It’s times like these that I wish heaven really existed. I would love to see my family again.

    But memories will have to do.
    ((((virtual hugs))))

  • EricR

    Thank you for your recounting of your stay with your dad, it brought tears to my eyes I have to admit. I never had this opportunity and I often regret it.

    My dad was a drunkard and a cad, after the divorce the only way he could screw down enough courage to call was when he was drunk. He lied during those calls about how we would get together the upcoming summer or he would come out to visit.

    When I learned of his death from my uncle on my dads side, there was no feeling of loss, none whatsoever. I was told there was some money that he had willed to me, not much, a few thousand. I told my uncle to keep it to pay for his burial.

    It wasnt until many many years later I began to reget not having some reconciliation with him.

    So I am very glad you were able to spend time with yours.


  • Quincyme

    Hank, I totally echo all of the above and am not poetic enough to match some of the comments. There is one irritating part to your story and that is that you felt the need to give us enough details to “check out my story”. I really hope it was not solely due to one idiot troll on an earlier post.

    Be well Hank.

    Chris, UK.

    • Hank Fox


      That was definitely in reply to the one commenter, but it was as much for posterity as for readers here today. I wanted to make sure that if the question came up in the future, there would be some verifiable record of facts, right here on the blog and not out there in some difficult-to-locate Internet pigeonhole.

      • Quincyme

        Thanks for the clarification, Hank. I respect your decision and your fortitude at this time.

  • fastlane

    Very glad you got to spend that time with your dad. I’ve had too many friends and family that passed very unexpectedly that I never got the chance to see at the end. It’s hard to think of yourself as ‘fortunate’ in this situation, but that’s the best word I can think of at the moment.

    ‘scuse me, I got something in my eye.

  • carolw

    Happy trails, Dan.
    Hank, I’m glad you were able to be with your dad. He sounds like an amazing person to have had in your life, and it sounds like he touched the lives of many others, too. (hugs) Grief is weird. Do it your way; it doesn’t have to follow a pattern or make sense. Be angry, sad, drunk, joyful, whatever you feel like, it’s all part of the process. It gets better, but it never is over.

  • Sol Davis

    What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it.

  • http://camelswithhammers.com Camels With Hammers

    So sorry for your loss, Hank.

  • GLub

    Hank, so glad you got to spend time with your Dad. As someone upstream said, it does get easier. Thanks for sharing your story. Such a loss for you. I’ ve not seen it so well said.
    Gotta go dry my iPad off now.

  • http://bensix.wordpress.com BenSix

    I’m sorry to hear it, Hank. I hope it’s some consolation that he led such a beautiful life.

  • drdave

    Hank, my sympathies for you. My dad passed away last week, and he too squeezed everything out of life that one might want. Played tennis until he was 91. It does leave a emptiness.

  • Mommiest

    My deepest sympathies, and I’m glad you were with him. It was generous of those who donated, and also generous of you to honestly ask for help so that you could go. We all will die, and would be lucky to be attended by those who love us when we do.

    Thanks for this story, Hank. It makes me think of all those who have brought goodness into my life.

  • http://daisysdeadair.blogspot.com/ Daisy Deadhead

    You made me cry, since I lost my father this year too. I am so sorry for your loss. He sounds like quite a character. My best wishes to you.

  • niftyatheist

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Hank.

  • Leslie

    I was directed to your blog by Pharyngula shortly before you left to visit your dad. I put your blog in my favorites folder and am glad I came back to read some more.

    I lost my father 22 years ago. It does get better over time. You never get over it but the pain eases and the happy memories fill in all the nooks and crannies.

    So glad you were able to spend this time with Dan and that this community helped get you there. Just when I am ready to denounce humanity, something like this comes along and changes my mind.

  • Eric L Broomfield

    I am sorry for your loss, but I know from your character that your dad was a hell of a man. Thanks your writing proves that an atheist can touch the heart as well as his life.

  • Deacon Duncan

    Your story sounds a lot like my own: I was there for the last 3 days of my dad’s life, and was at his bedside when he died. Even when it’s expected, even when it’s a relief from long, drawn-out suffering, it’s still tough. It’s been years, but I still have dreams now and then, and wake up thinking he was just there. Immortality, of a sort: you live on in the memories and feelings of those who love you.

    We’ll be thinking about you, take care.

  • bonnie.

    Daniel Farris was my stepbrother, I hadn’t seen him in years but there was always a great deal of love between us. I lost contact with him for a while and just yesterday felt I should try to locate him again and give him a call. What a blow to find out he was gone. If your mother is who I think she is and if you were born in Lancaster, California in the early 60s, I knew your mother and saw you as a baby. If she is still alive she will remember his little dark haired teenage sister. I know her name but don’t feel I should post it on a public site. You may get ahold of me through email, if you are interested. I remember well his pain and a lot more.

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