Back last night from a quick visit to my mom in Waterloo, Ontario. She's almost 83 and is going strong, God bless her! We should all hope to be so active and chipper at that age.
I was also able to drop in on an old friend. We're blessed with a number of wonderful friends, and he's most certainly among them. He and I have known each other since about 1972, and he's that rare friend with whom there's no loss of connection over time — we can have not seen each other for several years, but when we do get together, it's as if we'd been hanging out daily. No awkwardness, no discomfort.
There's still catching up to do, of course, and we did that, including talking a lot about Katie. He's been desperate to get together since she died, even offering to drive down and see us. Members of his family have had their own emotional troubles, and so he's quite familiar with the issues.
I noted that as her father, I feel that I failed her. He got quite stern with me, saying that's wrong. He told me about the death of a friend of his son's, who died suddenly last summer after contracting a virus — fine one day, in hospital the next, gone a few days later. "Her parents had no control over that, and neither did you", he said.
Intellectually, I understand his point. As I've thought it through since, I've come to distinguish between what I'm calling general vs. specific failure.
Specific failure is when (I know, we're supposed to say "occurs when", but this ain't English class) you do the wrong thing, either actively or by failing to take action. Had we not acknowledged Katie's problems, or not done everything we could think of to help her, we'd be guilty of specific failure. We did, and we did; and so I agree with him, we aren't.
General failure, however, still applies: in the end, we were unsuccessful. I analogize (at the risk of trivializing) this to a sports championship, where everyone has a great game, sets personal records, etc., but the team still loses. As opposed to a game where the star is sick, or several players just don't seem to play their best.
In both cases, the outcome is the same, but the nature of the failure is different. In the first case, the other team was just better; there's no "We should have beat them, but ...", and the team can and should feel OK about it (other than disappointment). In the second case, the emotions are much more mixed: the players who didn't play well may feel that they let the others down, or the others may be resentful of them.
So, in the end, I failed in my role as father and protector, by failing to save my daughter from her illness. Whether that was even possible, I'm not going to argue; intellectually I can see that it probably wasn't, but the bottom line remains the same.
And it sucks rocks.