For over a decade, Patrick Kispert lived with the knowledge that his father was fatally ill. Though he lost a parent at such a young age, he has carried on his father’s legacy by becoming a person of warmth, compassion, and love.
Patrick: My dad was sick for more than half of my life. When I was in 6th grade, there was the first big scare of him being diagnosed with cancer. It hit me at a very young age, because no one else at my age was worried about losing a parent. Now that I’m in my 30s, it’s becoming more common for other people, but at the time, I was alone and hit with this chaotic storm of, “How do we deal with this?” My parents tried to keep us [me and my sister] guarded, and didn’t want to tell us a lot of details. I very vividly remember that the day of his first surgery, we went to school. But my dad was diabetic, and had a lot of health issues. To be honest, it totally freaked me out.
He actually recovered pretty well from [the surgery]. They had to take out one of his kidneys. For the next few years, it became this thing where he had to take extreme care of himself. Over time, other health challenges progressed. One time, he showed me this picture of a stone foot, where someone was showing how their drug could help with pain. There were about a hundred razor blades in the bottom of this foot, and he said, “This is what I feel like all the time.” He went from feeling all that pain to not feeling his legs at all. He could still walk, but he would say, “I have no idea what I’m actually doing. I know I’m walking but I have no idea how I’m doing it.” I feel like I blocked out a lot of that stuff, because of trauma. I knew from 6th grade that it was going to be the end someday soon. Throughout the years, I lived every year thinking it would be the last year with him. He passed away just after I was through with college. I had a hard time finishing college because I lived at home, and I felt like every moment with him counted. That was my priority.
Josh: What was it like living with the constant anxiety of knowing any day could be the end?
Patrick: It felt like every week, something new was added to his health mix. Honestly, it was terrible. My family carried on as normally as we could. He was someone who didn’t want anyone to worry about him. But it takes a lot out of you. Chronic illness almost becomes a part of your identity – even as a son of a sick parent. On the good end, you value time with the person, and on the extreme end, you’re scared of waking up. It’s just part of your life, which is strange and awful. I still deal with a heightened level of anxiety, because I had a reason to be anxious for so long. At the time, that felt normal. I have a higher threshold for sadness or depression with anxiety, and it’s still something that’s hard to shake off to this day.. I couldn’t focus at school. I was in this constant swirl state. You basically feel like you’re waiting for an emergency call from someone at any time of day.
Josh: If I may ask, how did he finally pass?
Patrick: He had just had a kidney transplant – our neighbor across the street who I’d grown up with turned out to be his perfect match for donation [but that’s a story for another time]. The day it happened I was upstairs, waking up for the day. He was down in his room in the basement. He had trouble getting up that day. I couldn’t hear anything. He said he’d banged on the wall, yelling for any of us, but my mom and sister were out. He had gotten up and over to the laundry room, and he tripped and fell head-first into the drywall. Something about that event caused a blood clot that went from his head through his body. Patrick [my husband] and I visited him at the hospital that day. Visits to the hospital had started feeling like a regular part of my journey at that point, so I’d kind of gotten used to that feeling and situation. We said that we were going to see him tomorrow, and overnight, he passed away because the doctors switching shifts had not communicated about his blood clot. They gave him a blood thinner, and the clot passed through his brain again. That was it. He was in a coma. We got the call the next morning and had to make a decision [to keep him in a coma] or to ease him into… We went through that day, and everyone said goodbye.
Seeing someone in pain for so long, and then leaving the hospital at night with my sister… It happened to be the day the song “Happy” by Pherrell had to come out and it was the first time we heard it on the radio driving home together! It was this moment where it felt like him, from beyond, in some way, telling us not to worry about him, and that he was happy and we’d be okay. That song became one of the biggest hits of that year.
My dad had a huge music connection. He had basically retired when I was in 6th grade because he was too sick, so house projects and yard stuff became his passion. Every time he went outside, he had a playlist. There were the Golden Oldies, Rock, Dianna Ross and The Supremes. He put them all in Windows Media Player. A day or two after he passed, I listened to one of them to get a grip on myself. And I noticed there was a new one, called “After I’m Gone.” It was a list of 20 songs he’d put together for his funeral. You could tell that each one of these songs was specially picked for different people – things he wanted to tell different people who needed to hear him. I burned 300 copies of this CD. Before one of the surgeries that he thought would be the end, he’d written a letter to me and my sister on a white board in our fridge. It was a huge heart that said, “Heart you always.” I took a picture of that board, and it became the cover artwork of the CD.
Josh: And, if I recall, one of those songs represents a beautifully-unexpected, meaningful moment between the two of you. Could you please share the story again?
Patrick: Oh yes, it’s the contentious Christmas song – ‘All I Want For Christmas is You’. All I want to hear for Christmas is that song. It was pretty close to the end of his life and at that time, I wasn’t out. During college, I had my first boyfriend, and it was pretty serious. I told my sister at breakfast, and her reaction was, “I KNOW.” I’d have been shocked if she didn’t know. I felt more comfortable telling her before telling my parents, but the other factors in this was knowing I was gay, and knowing that his time was limited. I needed to prioritize that. I went through my head thinking “I think it’ll be okay, but actually, I don’t know…” And you find any reason in the moment of attempting to come out to make it not go through with it.
I told my sister in October, and on Christmas Eve that year, I decided I was going to make breakfast for my dad and I. I’m at the stove, making us breakfast sandwiches, he just started singing that song – “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” At first I was like, “Okay, you’re just feeling your Christmas fantasy.” My back was turned to him, and he started changing the words. The lyric that stands out was “All I want for Christmas is for you to be happy.” It just all came together. It was one of those moments where a parent and a kid… That love… It was honestly one of the best momentos of my entire life. He sang a whole version of that song with everything he needed to tell me. You don’t have to do anything, be anyone else. “All I want you to know is that I love you no matter what.”
Josh: How does that feel now?
Patrick: I wish he was around. Even having a house for the first time, there’s a lot of stuff I don’t know how to do, and I know he would be over here in a heartbeat to help. I don’t think anyone should lose a parent at that age, and I would love to have him around, but the way that it happened was more than I could’ve ever asked for. I forever have this memory, and I guarantee every Christmas I will hear that song and be reminded of the beauty of that moment.
I think he would be proud. He was there when I came out. And he’s one of those dads I think would be a dad to more than just me. He always encouraged me to sing. As a young person, it’s something that I thought would out me, so I never did chorus because it would’ve put a target on me at school. And he was the one who always encouraged me to pursue it. My mom comes to every concert and loves it, but I do often wonder what it would be like to have his support out in the audience.
Josh: He would be so proud of you, Patrick.
Patrick: That’s the part that’s awesome. He always was. Even at the time, I don’t think I fully realized what he was saying to me, but he said it all. It is, to this day, an all-encompassing love that I carry with me and try to give to other people. There are plenty of us in the community who do not have supportive parents, and I was lucky to have one for a short time. A lot of people may not have a fully open and transparent relationship with their family. Living through that experience, it’s important for me to reach out. I know how impactful losing a parent can be, and I hope that people see me as someone they can come talk to. Because I’ve been there, and I know it sucks. So, “What’s up?”
Josh Elmore (he/him), singer and member of our small ensemble OutLoud!, created Humans of TCGMC in 2018. He graduated from Carleton College with a B.A. in Linguistics and has since worked in sales, higher education, and, most recently, as a bilingual insurance agent (Spanish). Endlessly curious, he has dabbled in improv theater, stand-up comedy, sword fighting, the cello, and modeling for fantasy-themed photo shoots.