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A woman's true account of her

coming to terms with the end of her father's life. .


By Sarah E. Ratliff


All materials copyright by Sarah E. Ratliff May 2002

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While I may have grown up with my father, I was later introduced to George

Orick when I joined the Virtual PC support group, an online support group

for men (and their families) who have prostate cancer. (PC). It was here

that I met people who constantly referred to him as a great man and his

Little Sunday Travel Piece, in which he wrote segmented pieces of his life.

George (I am not so comfortable calling you that) was indeed a great writer

in his day. Working for ABC News as their head writer, press writer for

Bobby Kennedy, and a documentary writer for the United Nations, my father

knew how to write. At least people paid him well, so I think this made him a

good writer. When he was diagnosed with PC only a year after my mother died

in 1994, he joined the Virtual PC support group. A retired man, aged 72 by

this point, his mind was filled with images and memories of his past. He had

only time and a computer, and so The Little Sunday Travel Piece was created.

Real accounts of his fascinating life shared virtually each and every

Sunday. Hundreds of people held captive by this man, my father. Seems almost

odd to me, because this is not the man I grew up with. But as I say, I was

introduced to George Orick and realized he was not the same person as my

father. Or was he?




George Orick has lived on five Continents, visited all seven, and been to

more countries than most people can even name. I have frequently bragged

that my father was in Antarctica, that we lived in Lagos, Nigeria (though I

was much too young to remember), and thanks to his wild career in

television, he's been able to visit places that I, even as his daughter,

have only read about in National Geographic. I too have been held captive

for an hour as I read his Little Sunday Travel Piece, because they are damn

interesting. Biafra, yeah I was there, but I was a year old. I had to hear

about it from him or read about it in the countless books since written

about the Civil War between it and Nigeria.  I was 14 when he and ABC News

traveled to Antarctica, but I was home with my mother because my older

brother had a drug problem and had indeed overdosed. He lived, but it

certainly began to shape the way each of us (three kids) and our parents

related to one another. I admit it because we're not the only family whose

son took drugs. I was 13 when he traveled (again with ABC) to Tampica,

Illinois, the birthplace of former president Ronald Reagan. I was 16 when he

wrote the interview for (for Barbara Walters and 20/20) with Tina Turner,

and got her autograph for me. I was in high school when he was a writer for

and helped create Nightline. The show was originally put on the air to

account for each day that passed that Iran held Americans captive. Of course


it evolved into something different after all the hostages were released.

Indeed it was an interesting life and time, if only I had been old enough to

appreciate it. My life is filled with memories of dignitaries,

correspondents, anchors and writers, but I didn't really know the person

they associated with, my father, until recently.




I joined the Virtual PC support group because in December of 2001, my father

became extremely ill. A type of Pneumonia that frequently grows along with

aggressive Cancer began making its mark in my father's body. I looked to the

Virtual PC support group to help me. I knew that these people had the

expertise and perhaps just as important, the support I needed. I sent a

message introducing myself. I received 30 or 40 responses. Each one welcomed

me and of course wanted to know how my father was. They missed him. I was

overwhelmed as you can imagine. Here I was (virtually) face to face with

dozens of people who liked and missed my father. It was hard to work out.

They talked of a man with great compassion, a childhood full of physical

abuse at the hands of his own father. They also spoke of a man with

incredible courage. My father? I thought? No way! But gradually through

listening to Barbara in Boston, Hannah, Nancy, Haley, Aubrey and others, I

met a man that under other circumstances, I think I could like. One even

sent me every Little Sunday Travel Piece he'd ever written. What a gift! It

was there that I was welcomed with open arms just because I was the daughter

of George Orick. People loved this man! They looked forward to reading his

writing, hearing his opinions and called him things like great,

compassionate, complicated, and even belligerent. (Ah yes; now there was a

description I could relate to).


They missed him and wanted to know when he was coming back. Was this illness

temporary or what? When I joined it was to get answers from people who knew

about PC, what I got instead was something no one could have anticipated,

not even me.




People compared me to him and at first I was confused. Was I really this

similar to the man that had (perhaps unintentionally) hurt me my entire

life? I am still unsure. I do know that the last months of his life I was

able to relate to the person I never really liked much, couldn't fathom and

always fought to please. I slowly began to see the man that most of the

people on the Virtual PC support group know. My father would freely admit

that his child hood sucked. His father, a man though alive in my lifetime, I

never met. A sadistic, Nazi-sympathizer, racist man willing to lay around in

his silk robe and be waited on by my paternal grandmother who worked her

butt off as a teacher.  I have few images of my grandfather. I have no

pictures of him, only those of my grandmother and so he is an enigma. Not

entirely unknown, but a man I wouldn't want to know. He died at 103. I was

nearly 20.




In March, 2002 I began writing to the Virtual PC support group (et al, i.e.

friends and family who were interested) as my father had done for years. It

was around this time that his Oncologist in France (where my parents retired

to in 1987) pronounced him terminal. As many on the virtual PC support group

knew, my mother passed away suddenly in August, 1994 of an aneurysm. Living

the good life, complete with cigarettes and fatty food from the deep south

caught up with her. As I said, she went quickly. The urge to fly there and

be with him was incredible. The urge to sit still and do nothing was equally

strong. They often did battle with one another. Ranges of emotions over took

me.  I looked for a safe place to discuss my fears, hopes and sadness about

his dying. At first just emails discussing my feelings about a man they knew

and a father I knew. Same name, very different person. After a time I began

writing 5 page descriptions about the father I knew, which sometimes

resembled the man they knew. Often times there was little resemblance.  I

too called mine the Sunday Travel Piece so as to honor him. I wrote stories

of my growing up with this man, this man so many have referred to as great.


To me, he was my father. He was the man who I'd struggled with my whole

life. Our relationship was probably difficult as soon as I entered the



The difficulty I figured out quite quickly in honoring my father is that

quite honestly he was not (nor was my mother) well equipped to raised

children. Both of them had challenges growing up that in these modern times

they, like my husband and me, would admit that maybe having children isn't

the best thing to do. But that choice wasn't offered to them in the 50's and

60's. Newly married, it was expected of them to have children. I do think

that my parents loved us; they showed us in ways that might seem eccentric

to most other families.


We moved to New York City in 1967 from Lagos, Nigeria. Both my two brothers

and I are born abroad (they in Nigeria, I in the Netherlands). My father at

the time worked for the State Department, which was the beginning of his not

being around much due to work. When he was, we wished he weren't. I can't

recall as many fond memories growing up as I can painful ones. We didn't do

that many kid things. I don't recall countless trips to the Bronx Zoo or the

Children's Museum. And we never did take that heart-stopping trip to Disney

World. What I recall was being taught from day one how to be an adult and

how to cope in the world, a tough world. My parents didn't talk down to us

and in fact by three years old I was reading. By the time I was entering

school at 5, I was able to skip two grades because my reading and math were

well above the kindergarten level. But intellect is not the most important

thing you can pass on to your children.


To follow is the last piece I wrote to the Virtual PC support group. It was

written on Sunday, April 27, a month before he died. I wrote two others

prior to this one. One was "A Little Sunday Travel Piece by the Littlest

One", in which I described our rather unusual childhood. I painted a story

full of rich memories. Unfortunately, because I can recall so few, I used

them all in that piece. With my father's permission, I was allowed to write

of the true childhood both my brothers and I had. Full of anger, alcoholism,

abuse and fights. I wrote about it in the present tense, as a grown woman

looking back and trying to be at peace with herself and forgive her father.

I would have preferred not to begin working on my relationship with my

father while he was dying, but it was more his wish than mine. I entitled

this piece, "Stronger in the Broken Places". I felt then, and still feel now

that is what I am. Seven years of therapy to point out each and hopefully

every detail of my childhood broken down by weekly visits looking up at a

soothing coral colored ceiling.  Now I see myself not as perfect, or "over

it all" but merely stronger in the broken places.




Each Little Sunday Travel Piece described my childhood and coming to terms

with the fact that my father, a man I'd not known very well, or liked


much in life, was dying.


Our relationship was often strained and finding the right words to say could

be difficult (for us both). I loved my father, one is supposed to, but

didn't usually like him. I will make no apologies for feeling this way. But

I will say that I learned a lot from both him and my mother and can see the

difference. I hope you can as well.




April 27, 2002


Dear Virtual PC support members, et al,


The subject of this week's Little Sunday Travel Piece is trying to be normal

in the face of acceptance.  I call it, "I Fall to Pieces" after my favorite

Patsy Cline song.


I had several experiences this weekend that made me feel as though I were in

a movie, viewing my own life.  The person in the film was enjoying herself

but all the while I knew she wasn't supposed to. I became angry at the

central character in my film. You see my father is in France dying. His

wife, Gigi is taking care of him. I am home in California with my husband,

am in school, and launching a business. While I am putting all of his

affairs into order (Legally speaking), the guilt of not being there to

change bedpans, hold his hand, and talk with him is overwhelming.






Every Saturday I meet my best friend Buffi. We are training for a 60-mile

charity walk in October. This magical number, when we reach it, we'll know

that we're ready for this not only physically draining, but also emotionally

daunting experience. This past Saturday, stiffness prevented Buffi from

walking more than 8 miles so we called it quits and decided to get ourselves

a pedicure. While this might seem quite decadent, anyone who has ever done

any walking or running regularly, knows the importance of keeping one's

toenails short and feet in good shape. They will never betray you. While in

the nail salon, feet in foot massager we were laughing and joking when my

cell phone rang. Gigi. My heart sank. Before I picked up the phone I

instantly became angry with myself for having such a good time while she is

in France at home caring for my cancer-ridden father.


She called to tell me that she and my father had had a rough night. He had

been having diarrhea all day and despite it's being necessary, he didn't

want to go back in the hospital. "I'd rather die than go back to the Sadists

again!" He told Gigi. I talked with her for a few minutes and she asked

where I was because she heard Vietnamese women's voices. She is half

Chinese, half Filipino and having lived all over Asia, she could distinguish

one language form another with ease.  "LA" I replied. I couldn't tell her I

was getting a pedicure. I felt ashamed as she'd been up all night caring for

my now bed-ridden father and I was out being this indulgent and uncaring

daughter. I talked with my father for a moment and I asked him how he was,

"Sarah I just want to go."  I closed my eyes and before the tears fell, I

just stood up, sucked in my breath. "Walk it off" I could hear my father

telling me. I was seven years old and fallen and scraped my knee.


My feet were nearly dry and I told Buffi I had to go home and call Gigi from

a LAN line. It would be too expensive on my cell. Buffi's birthday is

Wednesday and Paul and I'd planned to spend the evening with her and Matt,

her husband. She offered that if I was not up to it not to coming over for

dinner, that we could pass. All week long we'd been planning this huge

dinner, her favorite Chinese food and I was making the birthday cake. "No I

insist on trying to be as normal as possible. See you at 6."


I got home and called Gigi. We talked for a while and I asked her, "Gigi,

would you please let my father die?"  Where had I gotten the strength to say

that? Even writing this my heart skips a beat. I said that I was convinced

that he was holding on for her. Through big sobs she agreed. I told her she

had been a wonderful wife. I talked with my father who began to extract

promises from me. This was indeed a first for him. Each one seemed

reasonable so I gave him my word. Then, I asked him, "Do you feel like you

can go now that I am going to take care of those things?" He replied with a

definite yes and reminded me that he loved me. I can't recall hearing him

say it that often. In five months I am sure that he'd said it more than in

35 years. I hung up the phone and cried loud uncontrollable sobs. I knew

that at this point it was all up to my father. My father was dying, he knew

it and now we all knew it.  I sat motionless on my bed, holding a stuffed

animal my husband had given me. For the moment I felt better.




Later that evening Paul and I were at Buffi's house. We laughed and joked

and carried on as if life were normal. Paul and Matt both spent a few years

in the Marines and this seems to supply us with hours of memories to laugh

at. Both of them young men when they joined and had grown up (quickly) with

their new mother and father, Drill Sergeant and Staff Sergeant.  And then

Buffi can always entertain us with stories about the people she nannies for.

They are hotshot movie producers whose money buys them everything but common



After dinner Buffi says, "Let's go sing Karaoke!" I had never done this

before, and it sounded fun. We all piled in my car. I hesitated.


I should be home, sitting in silence or just not having fun right?


How dare me!


It's disrespectful of me isn't it?


The moment passed as we drove about a mile to this place called the "Speak

Easy".  Decorated with brown wood paneling, video machines, pool table and

dartboards, I am sure it bared no resemblance to the Speakeasy's of the

20's. Inside there was the usual assortment of regulars in any bar. They

hardly change from city to city. There's the older white man, white hair to

his shoulders, sitting facing the corner, singing a Neil Diamond song. I was

impressed that I even knew it was Neil Diamond's lyrics on the teleprompter.

Had he been a bad boy and his punishment to sit in the corner? "You can sing

but you have to face the corner." I thought to myself. It occurred to me

that it could be some self-imposed isolation.


Maybe he's shy. There was the middle aged White man known by all in the bar

as Wayne, who sat on his barstool, waiting his turn to sing Frank Sinatra.

Salt and Pepper hair, about average height and weight, average hair length

and average looks. I imagine that in his life, the word "average" probably


came up a lot. Now in his fifties, he could sing Frank at least as good as

Frank once had and maybe he'd made something of himself or not. But in here

he was someone.  He was Wayne!


There was the forty-ish Black man who shared his time equally between the

pool table and the Karaoke microphone. His specialty was Leo Sayer, and any

other "one hit wonders" from the 70's. Please don't make the same mistake I

did of asking him to sing Luther Vandross. Talk about flat! He wore a black

glove that only covered up his ring finger and pinky. I entertained

fantasies that this was he fancied himself the only Black D'Artagnan. A

swashbuckler in a previous life, trying desperately to resurface. I later

learned he was a cop. It fit well with my fantasy. I was informed later on

that this glove helped him grip the cue better.  And lastly was this other

Black guy, not as good a pool player as D'Artagnan, who only sang Lionel

Ritchie songs. Honestly I didn't like Lionel Ritchie then and he wasn't

doing it for me now. There were other minor roles, scattered through the

bar, but they didn't make the impressions on me that these four did.  My

instincts were right on as they turned out to be THE entertainment for the

evening. I played three games of pool and won two. Not bad considering I

haven't played since college.


Buffi knows I love Patsy Cline and gave me some inside information. It

seemed that Ruthie the bartender did a killer "Crazy". It might seem strange

to you that I love Patsy Cline. I grew up on good ol' Rock & Roll, you know,

Led Zeppelin, Santana,  The Allman Brothers, Bruce Springsteen, and Stevie

Wonder. I am a child of the 70's and so it is a surprise even to me that

when I am down and out, I turn to the first lady of Country music to pull me

up. Hesitantly I approached Ruthie, a full of life, middle-aged woman whose

thick Scottish accent instantly warmed me. "Ruthie, I hear you can make a

grown man cry with your voice."


She smiled, "What you wanna hear missy?" I buttered her up.


"Would you sing 'I Fall to Pieces' for me?"


"Sure, what's yer name, lady?"




"Sayrahh that's my neicee's name. I love my neicee, she's 11. She's still in

Glazzzgo. Alright, lady, it's yer day. Patsy it ees"


Ruthie approached the "stage" picked up the microphone and said, "This one's

for Sayrahh, I think she's in a melanchaulee mood. She wanted to hear this





Buffi was right. Ruthie could have recorded the soundtrack for "Sweet

Dreams" the story of Patsy Cline's life. For a moment I believed I was in

the audience at one of Patsy Cline's concerts. I was in some outdoor arena

along with thousands of her adoring fans. I looked at Paul and he squeezed

my hand. I turned toward Patsy, as tears stung my cheeks. I did little to

push them away. It wouldn't have mattered. They came faster than I could

react. Why was I crying? Was it guilt, grieving, confusion, or something in

between? I thought of my father, in his rented hospital bed, only his living

room ceiling to see each day when he awakens and each night before he falls

asleep. I thought of Gigi by his bedside, tape recorder in hand, recording

his life and his dying wishes. I knew it is getting close, any day now. I

thought of how he doesn't sleep well. He's not slept in his own bed in 5

months. A man should sleep with his wife. The rhythm of her heartbeat and

breathing might help him sleep. I held Paul's hand. He leaned closer to me,

breathed softly on my neck and said, "Don't be angry with yourself for

having fun, Sarah, you'll have your turn when I get sick and die."  How had

he known I was crying? I sat next to him but couldn't face him. It occurred

to me that while it may have seemed that I cried only on the inside, being

utterly silent like you are when you're a child consoling yourself, my body

had betrayed me. At first I couldn't even turn to face him, tears were

falling so hard. I did finally turn and hugged him. I felt like I was the

luckiest woman alive to have a husband with the huge heart that he has. He

knew I was angry, that I felt ashamed for having a good time. It's the

struggle I live with every day.




My father died on May 25 only a month after that night. He was 78. I didn't

say good-bye to him in person, but had so many times in our conversations. I


think that's how he wanted to die. He was with his wife, Gigi and not his

children. This is apropos of his life. I hope he died knowing I loved him.


Our relationship was a very challenged one often colored with insults and

anger. He didn't know how to relate to his children when we were young or

long after we grew to adulthood. He frequently said the wrong thing and hurt


our feelings.




I can recall many examples but these are the ones that seem to stick out

most for me.




I remember as a 7 year old I was outside playing catch with my brothers.

Nicholas, the eldest, threw the ball to me. He was much stronger than I. I

ran to catch it. It could have been a perfect Tony Riggins (Running Back for

the Washington Redskins in the 1980's) catch full of grace and choreography.

It wasn't. Instead I slipped and fell on the concrete, ripped a hole in my

dungarees. My brothers and father just fell over themselves laughing at me.

I remember the pain. I felt the wetness on my left knee, and couldn't

believe when I finally looked down. There was so much blood, my brothers

stopped laughing and ran over to me. I lay down on the ground, in front of

the entrance to my luxury high rise. I looked up at the double glass doors

and the green canopy, 885 West End Avenue it read. I think that was the

first time I remember reading it as distinct from memorizing it. Oh the pain

was horrible. I let out a loud scream. I held my knee close to my chest. I

saw my brothers standing over me, one asked my father, who was curiously

feet away and seemed disinterested or perhaps distracted. "Dad, Sarah's

bleeding bad, we should take her upstairs." Upstairs was 11 stories up and I

remembered the main elevator was broken. So did Nicholas. "Dad, I am going

to call the Super and get him to run the service elevator. She's bleeding





"Bullshit, her head's full of scrambled eggs. Let me take a look at her."

Suddenly my father was on me. He kicked me in the right leg. "Did that





I tried to answer, "yes, Daddy."




"Yeah well maybe the pain in your left leg isn't so bad afterall." He

paused, "Get up, walk it off! and stop being such a cry baby. You bastard

kids embarrass me. Look all the neighbors are watching. In the Army we

couldn't let a little scrape stop us. We had to fight no matter what. Get

the fuck up! Now, or you're grounded for 2 weeks."




I got up, with the help of my brothers. Blood dripped from my knee, stained

the sidewalk in front of the entrance to our building. Our neighbor Kitty,

whose living room window faced the front entrance, walked out of the

building and put her arms around me. She led me into the building and called

the service elevator. She took me upstairs to my mother, who cleaned me up.




Later that evening, my father came into my room and apologized for being so

mean to me. Said that he hadn't realized how bad it was. I held back the

tears as he spoke to me. It was so matter of fact, no emotion. It was as if

Mom made him apologize again. When he left my room, I did what I had done

most of my life, cried myself to sleep.




Once as an adult while Paul and I went to France to visit him. I made a

special effort once he was diagnosed with PCa to visit him every 18 months.

We timed our trip around the route of Le Tour de France passing through

Provence. They would be riding through a town called Foxamphou about 20

minutes from my father's home. Two friends of our joined us from San

Francisco. At my father's insistence, they stayed with us for one of the two

weeks we were in France. They went on to Paris for the remainder of the





The four of us left at 9:00 one morning and informed my father we'd return

after dinner that night. We really wanted to see a town called Lourges. Its

claim to fame is that it boasts the most alien sightings than any other town

in the world. He said he was happy for the peace and quiet and would likely

sleep all day. Indeed his friends Charles and Lindsey were there to pass the

time away debating on topics such as what thoughts were going through Daniel

Boone's mind as he battled the Alamo in 1863.




As promised, we returned after dark, perhaps by 9:00 with full bellies. We

greeted everyone as we approached the bistro table where the three sat

arguing and debating. It would seem that they still were discussing Daniel

Boone. "Where the fuck have you been?" My father roared. "We've been sitting

here starving waiting for you."




"I told you that we'd eat dinner out. We went to Alien City." That's what we

had affectionately called Lourges.




"You are an ungrateful, selfish, childish bastard. I wonder what the fuck

was going through Emily's and my mind when we decided to have kids. And you

know what? You can't write worth a shit either. I read this piece of shit

you call writing that you left here. It's god-awful. Clearly Emily and I

didn't pass on any of our talent to you. Jesus Sarah, you really disgraced

us." He often referred to my mother as Emily. I never knew why. I looked

around the room, Charles and Lindsey sat there, mouths gaping open, our

friends stood there unsure what to do so they took a walk around the

property and my husband looked my Dad square in the eye and said, "George,

you crossed the line this time. Apologize to Sarah. We come see you every

other year when we can afford to, we spend two weeks with you and we wait on

you hand and foot while we are here. We don't mind doing it, but if we want

to do a little sight seeing while our friends are here, and leave you with

Charles and Lindsey, who will take very good care of you, give us a break.

Sarah is the only kid you have that will drop everything she's doing and

help you. You know you can't say this about her brothers. What is wrong with





"I'm sorry Sarah. I was only kidding. Lindsey cooked a fabulous meal. There

are leftovers on the stove if you all are still hungry. I appreciate you

flying all the way to France to see little ol' me." A huge grin crossed his

face and it seemed as though a completely different person overtook his





I didn't usually like him and was often tormented by his anger, physical

abuse and sharp tongue.


The last five months of his life are how I would like to remember him.

Though it can be difficult. I really feel he made a huge effort to celebrate

my attributes in his final months. Indeed I got pointers on writing that

he'd never felt it important to offer in the past. For the first time in my

life he praised my writing and told me in the past he hadn't wanted to tell

me before that I was talented because "writers end up drunks or addicted to

drugs." He hadn't wanted this for his daughter.


He told Paul to take good care of me. He even told me he was proud of me. He

finally learned to compliment me rather than insult me and apologize later.

Maybe because my father realized that this time there wouldn't be a later.


In one of my last conversations with my father I told him that I got a plane

ticket to come see him. I think we both knew that I wouldn't see him in

time. People have a way of controlling when and how they die. If he'd wanted

me to see him, I would have. It was all his choice. We had a really great

conversation. I remembered that he is well versed on many topics. He seemed

at ease talking about the Virtual PC support group, his writing, my writing,

Gigi, my mother, his life and my writer's block as he did talking

motorcycles with Paul. I forgot my parents rode his motorcycle before they

got married and had kids. My father was indeed a fascinating man. I am glad

I am mature enough, no longer angry enough to see this.




My life may not be a fascinating life, but I am extremely happy. My days are


long, filled with the necessary busy work it takes to run a business. I

clean up cat puke, I wake up early to see Paul off to work. I have rich

friendships with my girlfriends and in laws. I failed in reconnecting with

my adult brothers. It had long been a dream of mine that one day I finally

gave up on. They'd given up years ago on hope of it.  I hope they have the

same rich and sweet life that I have. I hope they have taken the steps to

find themselves and be fulfilled.




And so I am stronger in all the broken places. I think it took his dying to

help me realize this.


I love you Dad, and wish that our relationship had been different. I wish

that I didn't have to join the Virtual PC support group to appreciate the

man you are. I am sorry that your being in bed dying is what brought us

closer to one another. I am sure there are many metaphors for that. Things

happen when they happen. I am thankful that we finally mended our

relationship. I forgive you for being such a rotten father. I hope you can

forgive me for realizing at 35 that the father doesn't always make the man.

I will always think of you when I think of you and not for some obvious

reason. I know you hated when I wrote things like that. You thought they

made no sense and sounded stupid.


That's okay. It makes sense to me.








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