Now I’m Left to Wonder if Anyone Noticed That My Dad Died.

My Dad died on February 28, 2024.

Early that morning, I arrived at the funeral home and see one arrangement of flowers. They were from my brother’s coworkers. Two more arrangements arrived later that day. I don’t know who sent them.

That was it.

We had listed ‘Kerry’s Kittens‘ as a charity in lieu of flowers. But there have been no donations at all, much less donations in his memory.

Between these two factors is my broken heart. The money spent on flowers or a memorial is not the point. But there have been no cards, notes, or any expression of sorrow or comfort outside of social media. It all says whether my Dad, a very ordinary Pittsburgh man, mattered.

My Dad was 83 years old. He barely used social media ten years ago, much less recently. While my brother (I think) and I did see those comments, it’s not the same. After losing both of my parents in two years time, I assure you it is not the same. But that doesn’t mean those gestures are meaningless, simply that I wonder – where were all the people who should care?

My Dad grew up in Brentwood, lived in Baldwin for a decade, and then West Mifflin for 45 years in the same house.

Where were his neighbors? His high school classmates?

My Dad spent over 50 years in steel mills – J&L Hazelwood, LTV, Sharon Steel on Neville Island, then Koppers and ArcelorMittal from where he retired.

Where were his coworkers? He must have interacted with hundreds if not thousands of people. People who came to the viewings of his parents. People who distributed hams and candy and big tins of salted nuts at the holidays, who shared Steeler and Penguin tickets. People who borrowed his newspaper (after he finished the crossword puzzle_, circulating memes and jokes on paper long before anyone had a keyboard.

They had deep histories, intertwined by shared experiences and struggles in a brutal job.

Where were our childhood friends? The kids who caught rides and swam in our pool. The friends from college whom he regularly helped move into our dorms.

Maybe some or all of these people did attend his funeral and I simply don’t know. It seems unlikely, but maybe …

My father was a lonely man. Most of the people he grew up trusting betrayed that trust. In childhood, his elders told him that his father was dead. When the truth came out, he felt betrayed by the people he trusted most, his grandparents who were raising him. A few years later, he learned he had an older sister, permanently warping his relationship with his parents. His father was a violent predatory monster, leaving my Dad to wrestle with a deep craving for a normal family life against the realities of his family. He wasn’t informed when his most beloved uncle died. His grandmother died in a terrible apartment fire shortly after I was born.

He was aloof and awkward in social interactions with adults, but very kind to the other kids in the neighborhood. He didn’t know how to engage and bond because of his childhood traumas. Dad was a wallflower who never felt courageous enough to dance and was never asked. He showed up to participate in spite of this.

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He found consolation in alcohol and gambling. He destroyed his wife and children because he had no skills to parent. He tried, but continuously berated himself for his failings instead of seeking help.

He was a member of the Steelworkers Union for about 20 years. Then they promoted him to a low rung management severing that tie with the union. While he was smart enough for the promotion, he wasn’t educated enough to be admitted to the social circle of management. After giving his entire life to the mills, he was forced to spend his final years back on rotating shifts. He had to work to sustain his habits. A vicious final chapter for a man who did work very hard all of those years. Some of that is his own, a lot of it is corporations grinding people into the ground.

I feel guilty because my Dad had two wishes of me in recent years – he wanted to meet Bill Peduto and Franco Harris. And I never tried to make that happen. When then-Mayor Peduto officiated my wedding, my Dad was pleased as punch. Why didn’t I ask those favors to make him happy? I guess I assumed there would be time.

Why a cat charity? First, it’s named after my mother. Second because of an abandoned kitten he named Claudius Aurelius. In 1996, he found the kitten at work in very sad shape. My Dad tenderly cared for him, nursed him to health, and Claude lived nearly 15 years. I remember at Thanksgiving in 1996, my parents came to visit me in Kentucky. They brought Claude along. He sat in the rear window watching the scenery. Then he hid under my bed for the weekend until his return trip. My Dad carefully cut up turkey and fed him under the bed.

He had several more cats. And they sought out my father when he napped on the couch, curling up on his chest to offer him the contentment of their purrs.

I cannot find a photo of Claude. I can picture him sitting regally on the back of the sofa. He was a nice cat.

My whisper back in time to a lonely, overwhelmed little boy that I will not let him be forgotten is one reason I say kittens.

I wonder if anyone misses him? I do. It’s complicated. The absence of the typical expressions of condolence makes me question if anyone noticed he died. Or cared. His monstrous father’s funeral was overflowing with flowers. That fills me with rage. My father in spite of his flaws was never like his father.

Did he feel lonely watching over his own funeral, noting the absence of signs that any 80+ person should have accrued? Or did it reinforce his core belief that he never deserved better?

In all honesty, I have likely failed to express my condolences to many people. This is a painful lesson why it matters. I will do better. We can still show up for people who also felt isolated and alone, unlovable and overlooked.

My mother used to urge me to pray for the poor souls in Purgatory. She did so relentlessly. I suspect both of my parents suffering on earth was their purification and they are now free of those traumas. But I also suspect maybe I should honor her wish for the poor souls still on Earth who also struggle to find peace.

My Dad stood on the sidelines because he felt unworthy. I refuse that life. He often told me to stop being so political because it would draw trouble my way. Perhaps the fact that my brother and I live bigger lives than his is a testament to all that he did contribute to the world. That I don’t drink or gamble. That I accepted that while my mother and father could not parent me, they did love me.

It isn’t that you owe my family or the kittens money or flowers. Flowers and kittens are a bad match. It is that I had hoped he would finally have the tribute he and so many other everyday Pittsburgh Dads deserved. The decent people, the ones who sincerely tried and were painfully aware of falling short. The other victims of family monsters.

The funeral home sent me a photo of his casket with three bouquets of flowers. It is stately and dignified. It it is not a joyful homecoming or celebration of a life well-lived. I almost wish I had not seen the photo.

It is simply, as they say, what it is.

It’s the heart afraid of breaking
That never learns to dance
It’s the dream afraid of waking
That never takes the chance

It’s the one who won’t be taken
Who cannot seem to give
And the soul afraid of dyin’
That never learns to live

Amanda McBroom


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