Secret Behind My Dad’s Death by Joni Caggiano

The black and white image of the grim reaper playing golf with human skulls
Image Source: Canva

Strange questions were bouncing off the wall when I said goodbye to Dad.  As I lay, the phone down, my intuition was flexing its head like a water moccasin.  I sensed a myriad of harsh realities lurking like monsters in dense fog.  It was a simple lung biopsy, and they had stabilized his blood pressure, so why weren’t my parents listening?  The week at the VA hospital was a preventative measure because Dad had two inoperable brain aneurysms. 

Mom insisted I come even though I told her I didn’t have the money for the ticket.  So, I borrowed it and would see Dad early the next afternoon.  This would be my first visit with them since their two-year sobriety.  A dreadful feeling began to cover me like a blanket of red bricks.

Aunt Marie met me at the airport.  She looked much older, and I could tell she had been crying.  She held me so tight, like a lid on a mason jar, when we made a stop to pee.  Her weeping was competing with the Dog-day cicadas.  “What is it, Auntie?” 

“Josie, your dad had a massive stroke about an hour ago and is brain dead!”  I sat back in the car, which smelled of nicotine and collard greens.

 “Wait, Auntie, that makes no sense.  The lung biopsy was standard, and Dad’s condition was very stable.”  Her voice faded as I let the cicadas’ solemn offering wash my broken soul.

When I saw Mom in the ICU waiting room, I lost it.  Holding my arms to blot out the embers of pain boiling up in both of us, reaching for her.  “Oh, Mama, I am so sorry.  I don’t understand!”  She shoved me away with the same visceral force she would push me when drunk.  Darts of anger drove splinters of glass through my muddled brain.

I was feeling lower than an earthworm stuck on hot pavement.  I took five minutes to say goodbye to Dad.  His body was already cold.  His soul was floating in this hollowness, this white cocoon.  I couldn’t wait till the staff cut off the respirator, and Dad flatlined immediately.  Mom told me I wasn’t welcome at Auntie’s and to be at the funeral in two days. 

Staying at my cousin’s house on base at Fort Bragg was a blessing.  A light rain peppered the soil the day of the funeral.  Gray clouds cleared at the gravesite, and sun streaks blazed through the Willow oaks as if to spotlight the American Flag.  Dad had a “Full Honors Military Funeral.” The guns fired, the bugler played the taps, and the Flag was folded and presented.  I then sang the “Rivers of Babylon,” a cappella.  Remarkable what you can pull off on two valiums.

Mom never talked to me after the funeral except to say, “Your father should have never had to ask you to come twice!”  Feeling an uncanny sense of loss, I returned to my cousin Faye’s house on base. 

I wore a gorgeous silk dress with a slit that crawled up my toned right thigh.  My waist-length hair went into a loose bun, and I wore three-inch lace heels.  I rarely ever drank because I feared ending up like my parents.  My cousin Faye had told me she knew where we could listen to some great music and dance till two. 

I felt relief for my father even though I still did not understand why he had died.  I know his doctors pushed real hard for an autopsy, but Mom fought them till they gave up. 

After the first drink, the music started, and men were everywhere.  I had forgotten how strikingly fit, and polite men were around the base.  I sashayed to the bar for the second round.  A man was leaning against the bar, and I noticed him studying me.  He was undeniably handsome.  The most quietening yet stimulating sensation came upon me when he smiled.

I craved physical contact as never necessitated before, asking him if he had a name.  “My name is Royce.  I have a little horse farm not too far from Fayetteville.”

“You know I had a boyfriend in the second grade named Royce Evans, and he had a twin sister named Joyce Evans.  He liked to write on the back of my big ears and tease me.  The three of us were joined at the hip.”

“Josie, it’s me.  I can’t believe it.  What on earth are you doing here?” He immediately took out his driver’s license and proved it was him.  I told him the whole story, and he suggested we get out of there so we could talk.  Off we went to his horse farm.

I rode his most beautiful Arabian that night under a full moon after he threw a blanket on her powerful back.  I asked him to unzip me, taking the loose pens out of my hair as I watched her toss her long mane.  I rode her naked and felt more unencumbered than in ages.  He held me all night, and we talked till the sun painted the sky orange, pink, and red.  He was engaged, and I just wanted to feel comforted, and he was happy to oblige.  There are gentlemen out there, and God was watching over me and leading me to a childhood friend.

About two weeks later, I learned that my father had taken an entire bottle of Sudafed in his bathroom bag.  Mom and Dad had planned the whole thing.  His doctors told him that only two decongestants could cause a massive stroke.  Mom got the empty bottle out of the room right after he took them.  I forgave her for such ruthless behavior.   My real sadness was that I never knew or would know my father.

Two short years later, Mom followed Dad.  Driving to a quiet street, mom took an overdose of anti-depressants.  She was dead on arrival.  They were in pain their whole lives.  I knew, at last, they were in heaven together and free of their alcoholism, memories of their horrid childhoods, and their own regret.  After all, we all deserve forgiveness if we want God to forgive us.


Joni’s blog is Rum and Robots, where she has published poetry, photography, and short stories. Take a look at Joni’s work in Spillwords Press NYC, Vita Brevis Press, The Finest Example, The Tiny Seed Literary Journal, I Write Her – The Short of it, and MasticadoresUSA. Joni’s work was included in the following anthologies: The Sound of Brilliance (The Short of It Publishing, Volume 1 2020), Inner Eye (Poets Choice, 2021), and It’s Not Easy (Poets Choice 2021). Her blog is an effort to give back – she is a surviving Adult Child of Alcoholics. Joni is a retired nurse and paralegal.

You can also read her writing on Instagram @jonicaggiano and Twitter @theinnerchild1.

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16 Comments Add yours

  1. Terveen Gill says:

    Joni’s true story is very special to me on two accounts. First, it highlights the struggles of depression and addiction that so many face in their lifetimes, and sadly many never find their way safely out. Second, sharing the truth about one’s life is never easy especially when the facts are sensitive and controversial. It takes courage and a strong will to declare the secrets of one’s heart. Society has never been kind nor understanding, but those that turn a blind eye to reality are the ones I truly feel sorry for. The image I have chosen may seem a bit over the top, but death appears to be a game just like life, and the hits, misses, gambles, and strikes see us out when it’s time.
    Congratulations Joni!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. jonicaggiano says:

      Terveen, I love the photo you chose and it truly is not over the top. As a little girl and even early teenager being afraid of death growing up, due to so many crazy things, it seems spot on. Thank you for all the kindness you have shown me but also understanding that there are so many crazy things happening to many children in our world whether people choose to believe it or not. Your encouragement towards branching out with stories will always be a gift you gave to me. Blessings, Joni

      Liked by 2 people

  2. michnavs says:

    Oohhh my dearest Joni…i can’t stop crying…😭😭😭😭i seriously felt every this stabbing my heart…i am beyond speechless.

    And not to mention the way you told the story is very impressive…every word used is of essence, every word has an impact….

    This piece deserves a standing ovation

    Liked by 2 people

    1. jonicaggiano says:

      Dear Mich thank you for this comment as you have left me a bit speechless. I am so grateful you felt the story, that means so much to me. “This piece deserves a standing ovation” such words touch my heart. I was in my twenties when they were both gone. They are at peace now and I write about it because it is a part of who I am and young children need to know that they are not alone, like I felt. There is no need for any child today to suffer in silence. I have connected with many people who understand the fear, isolation, and horror of growing up like this. My mom taught me all about God and gave me my first bible at 13 and”The Word” was my companion as was God who was always nearby. I know you are so busy, so thank you again for reading me here on MasticadoresIndia. Blessings to you Mich. Hugs, Joni

      Liked by 3 people

      1. michnavs says:

        I am truly grateful that you shared this with us…it is an absolutr blessing to read this…and add the fact that you are a brilliant story teller.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. jonicaggiano says:

          Thank you so kindly for your feedback. Terveen was wonderful at encouraging me. Writing my truth helps me and I have met many people that have made a connection because of writing what is difficult. I was blessed by God who was with me and still is the most important thing to me. Forgiveness was truly given and I look forward to seeing them in heaven. Thank you for your kindness Mich. 🦋❤️🦋

          Liked by 3 people

  3. Michele Lee says:

    Wow, Joni, your honest and gripping story has so many layers to it. Feels like this could be expanded into a book.

    This stood out to me:
    “I let the cicadas’ solemn offering wash my broken soul” 💖

    Liked by 2 people

  4. jonicaggiano says:

    Michele you are a sweetheart, thank you for your kind comment and for reading. I appreciate your very thoughtful words and you taking your precious time to read the story. Blessing to you my lovely dancing friend. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  5. jonicaggiano says:

    Happy weekend Dawn! Thank you for reading and your comment. It is sad indeed. My prayer is that by writing about my childhood and early years that if I reach other people that can relate, I know they feel less isolated. I have made some amazing friends this way and it also blesses me. Many are too hurt to share what they lived through and that is totally understandable but I can always relate to them if they reach out. Thank you Dawn, I really appreciate you. Hugs, Joni

    Liked by 2 people

  6. butungislayp says:

    This one is raw and visceral. Thank you for sharing your story, my friend. Tight hugs and warm love, Joni 💜💜💜

    Liked by 2 people

    1. jonicaggiano says:

      Thank you so much for your kind comment and reading me too. Sorry this one got answered late. Big hugs and happy Wednesday!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. butungislayp says:

        My pleasure, Joni. Keep sharing the power of your words. Big hugs back and happy Thursday! 💜

        Liked by 1 person

  7. johncoyote says:

    Thank you, dear Joni, for sharing the story. Some stories. We must write, even if they break our hearts,

    Liked by 2 people

  8. jonicaggiano says:

    John thank you for your support. I appreciate you reading me here and also that you understand me my friend. Sorry for the late answer, sending you lots of hugs and love to you and the family.


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