Lizzy Pilcher, expert witness in Worker’s Compensation and stand-up comedian, shares her experiences growing up with an ill father.
Tell us about your dad. My dad’s name was Eugene Pilcher. His whole life was a dichotomy. He was an economist, and also a huge trouble maker. He could charm the gold out of Fort Knox and do difficult calculus problems over the phone like they were simple addition. He was the kind of dad your friends thought was cool because he was a lot more "rock n' roll" then a lot of dads. He had some legal and addiction problems, which is ultimately why he passed at a relatively young age.
What kind of illness did your dad combat? For how long? He died of liver failure when I was 21. He was really sick for about a year or so.
What symbol reminds you of your dad? The prism on the Pink Floyd album “Dark Side of the Moon” album. He loved Pink Floyd.
Do you recall the moment that you found out he was sick? What was
that experience like for you? I don’t remember when exactly I found out, but I don’t remember being overly shocked about it. It seemed like a natural consequence to his life choices.
What was the most challenging aspect of seeing your parent combat his illness? The hardest part was the powerlessness. He didn’t have any money, or resources and he had a criminal record. So we relied on Medicaid and whatever we could scrape up. He wasn't eligible to get a new liver because of his history, so he was a dead man walking. The family really had to come together to take care of him. It was especially difficult, as he was in denial of the situation. He was always calling the doctors quacks, and making future plans to finish his Ph.D. There were times when we would have to lie to him in order for him to go to the ER, as we knew he was too sick to be at home. We took care of him the best we could, until it became unmanageable. Shortly after moving into a nursing facility, he passed away.
What was a rewarding aspect of experiencing this journey with
your parent? One of the things this situation taught me was compassion and forgiveness. We’re all just trying to make it in life. Some people get on a bad track and can’t step off the rails. It doesn’t mean that you should watch them suffer. It’s very easy for people to sit in judgment of someone who did some bad stuff and say, “they get what they deserve.” Sure, there may be truth to that. And at the same time, we are all human, and we all mess up. It doesn’t hurt to help someone in need. I credit my mother for that. To this day, it brings tears to my eyes to think of how much she stepped up.
Was is one piece of advice your loved one gave you that will always stay with you? I was talking to my Dad about paying for college and he said, “Just take out a bunch of student loans and don’t pay them back. That’s what I did. The government is just a bunch of crooks. Just consider it an advance on your Social Security.” I took out the loans, but I’ve never missed a student loan payment. Ever.
If there is one piece of advice you could give young women with an ill
parent, what would that be? Don’t judge yourself re: your own process of handling the situation. Often times you may think you should feel a certain way, or you should be handling it like a champ. But if you’ve never dealt with something like this before, you don’t necessarily know how to. And that's okay. You’ve got a lot of emotions to process: past issues, stress, fear of the future. It’s mind boggling. Just try to take care of yourself and the other person. Seek help if you’re going down a destructive path. If it’s terminal, say as much as you can without making it awkward for the ill.
Don’t be surprised and don’t feel guilty if you’re relieved when (if) they pass. Naturally, you want someone to be around forever, but not in an ICU way. The grieving process is very difficult and everyone is different. I always say that when someone dies it’s like going through the worst break up of your life except you’re not angry at an ex—you’re angry at God. You just have to get through it.
To connect with Lizzy, you can follow her on Twitter or Instagram @LizzyPilcher.