A journey about losing a parent to death
Have you lost a parent?
I lost my father in September 2018.
….but its like I found him that year too.
Being a therapist I was knowledgable and equipped with what I was about to face, yet I was so curious too. I took each day as it came. Infact the grief started before his death as we became aware that he was terminal. This is a journey about losing a parent to death.
Was I going to be ok?
How was I going to cope?
I have seen a number of clients who have experienced grief and I notice where they get stuck. Some are stuck at anger, some stuck at disbelief, some stuck at guilt, infact there are many stuck points along the way.
What was going to happen to me?
Well it was now my turn, and so I faced it with curiosity and love. That must sound strange, but there was a subtle love accompanying me each step of my journey. So I let it.
A journey about losing a parent to death
In March of 2018 my father was diagnosed with Lymphatic Cancer.
Being interstate when I learned of his diagnosis I remember tears falling out of my eyes and dropping my head into my hands. This was my first emotional melt down. A blanket of sadness covered me and stayed with me, so I wore it. I will add at this point, that he was deteriorating the year or so earlier, and this was sad for all the family to witness. I carried sadness and concern, but this particular day was rather impactful.
No more than a week later whilst in my clinic having a meeting with colleagues I received a call from my mum relaying to me that the doctors had given my dad 2-8 weeks to live. I was immediately distressed and my natural tendency to compartmentalise, took charge until my meeting with my colleagues was finished. I then felt gutted. And I physically resembled this image if you were to lay eyes on me. Infact one colleague noticed (as she is also now a dear and reliable friend). But we both decided to remain professionally distant from the emotion that was invisibly filling the room.
Im a person of words and so I used my words to deliver the news to those closest to me. I have my besties too. The downside of this was that it made it a reality. The upside was the comfort of the journey ahead not being undertaken alone.
I then did what most of us would do…
More contact with mum to check on her emotional state, and to allow her to express herself. Communications with relatives, and so on.
The thought of this predicament now lived permanently in my mind. This was no burden, by the way. It was never my intention to have it disappear from my mind. It became my closeness and connection to my father.
My father was very ill and becoming increasingly ill with each day that passed.
As most would expect, a family meeting was held in the hospital led by a professor and his team.
So the news was only worse than expected. These medical professionals ensure they talk nothing but the truth and choose their words carefully. We can almost feel offended at their lack of emotion and wonder how they can say it with such coldness. But the truth is, there is no other way to deliver it. After all, we need the truth. And these days its hospital policy to be upright and truthful infant of the patient.
I wanted to interrupt and let the professionals know that my father did not want to hear such harsh facts which only emphasised his death sentence. My father told us that he was fine and that he was going to be better and go home soon. We knew he was not appreciating what the experts were saying. As the experts spoke of his condition, I watched my father make small gestures of resentment in what he was hearing. I wished he was deaf for that meeting, or I wish he was asleep. But he could hear everything.
I only expect that reading this would devastate you as the reader, especially if you have recently had a similar experience of losing a parent. It’s simply a journey about losing a parent to death. And for this I apologise for any resurfacing of emotions. This may also be an opportunity to discontinue reading this blog. My aim is not to devastate you, my aim is to share my experience – as many individuals have shared their experiences with me too.
So I will now continue with my experience and thank you for your patience as your read on. I’m hoping to show you some insight into this journey.
The next few months served to dampen our lives as we began to lose our father (grandfather, uncle, brother, friend and husband).
The next few months also served to bring 3 siblings who had lost contact over the last 20 years (for their own personal reasons), and to put aside their estranged relationship to be present for their mother and father.
My father was bed bound to the hospital, and for a short time some “higher power” allowed him the luxury of going home for a few weeks. He seemed better. Infact my friend told me that he first passed through KFC drive-through on his way home. I giggle at the image in my mind.
At home he came “alive” so to speak. He smiled, he wore his day time clothes, he watched his TV and spent lots of time praying. He clearly wanted to do anything to stay alive. This is truly a journey about losing a parent to death, all the details count.
As predicted he ended up back in hospital and his body was slowly or shall I say rapidly dying.
But you know it was so interesting that my father turned to all of us and reassured us with his own confidence that the doctors did not know what they were talking about, and that he was cancer free.
We all would smile at him and agree with his verdict.
We asked the hospital not to keep telling him that he cant be saved and his time was limited.
However the hospital staff kindly let us know that it is hospital rules that they must be honest in front of the patient and let him know his reality.
My mum did not leave his side. Most of the time when I was there I saw people I’ve never seen before, and I saw people who I last saw when I was a child. I would leave thinking “how nice of them to visit” but I soon learned they were there saying goodbye.
He received favourite foods from his sisters, hair cuts and shaves from my mums sister, and lots of little surprising moments.
I took lots of photos. I took so many. I almost felt guilty that I may have had more photos of his dying moments, than of his days of wellness. But the truth is, like I said at the beginning of my story, although I lost him, I also found him. I was able to look into his eyes during my visits, and stoke his cheek with the outer part of my forefinger (something he would do to my cheeks when I was a child, and something he continued to do as a gesture of love and kindness to his god children, grandchildren, and any kids in general).
I would even hold his hand and stroke that too. I told him he looked good, and to be honest he did. His face became angelic and soft. His eyes became innocent, and when he could he would smile.
My mother was totally amazing. I told her on many times what a wonderful job she was doing. She made him so comfortable and he always had her smiling face. They had their ups and downs through their marriage, but she told me that all that didn’t matter. She said she needs to make sure he is ok and that this is her job now. She told me she will be there till the end and she was.
Then he passed.
On the night he died, I told her again what a wonderful job she done caring for him. And on the day of the funeral I wrote her a condolence card.
Again I wrote what a wonderful job she did. And so I write it here too.
It became routine I would go visit him almost nightly. Funny… that elevator to and from his room would make me cry, before and after each visit!
During his final week, it was like a big fat greek re-union at one point where there were lots of visits day and night. I wonder if he knew how loved he was. My father was so kind and giving, and this is how he was known.
Sadly he was losing his rational mind and I remember once asking him if there was anything he was worried about. He looked at me like I had lost my mind, and exclaimed “yes” and he went on to tell me how he was worried about my sister and the dinner party he needed to organise for her to organise her wedding. [she is divorced with 2 kids, and had no intention of remarrying]. I told him not to worry and that everything was being organised as he wished. This compliance helped settle him. This was a recurring worry for him (at least during his last week alive) as he repeated the same concern the following night when I asked him. But then strangely enough he looked me in the eye and asked me in his home language “Have I lost the plot?” And the best answer I had for him at that moment, was “No not at all”. I knew I was going to say anything for him to ease his unease.
My wonderful friends would always ask me how I was. We found an attachment to the word “sook”. It became my descriptor, and we all embraced the term as appropriate. It became a sweet and childlike way to letting them know I was very sad. Sometimes they had a turn to sook too, and would borrow the term. We still use it today.
I witnessed a woman lose her husband, children lose their father, grandkids witness possibly their first loss to death, son and daughter in-laws witness their partners lose their father, sisters lose their brother, god daughters, nieces and nephews lose their godfather and uncle, and others lose their friend. A life long friend of my fathers who happened to live in a commission home so far away, would hop on the train each day to come visit him. He would bring a small plastic bag with a bottle of water, a banana and sandwich. Often he would offer that sandwich to my dad.
We all remembered, and we all were saddened by what was happening and what was to come. Truly a journey about losing a parent to death.
My father was accustomed to certain social outings whilst well. He enjoyed going to the beach, and eating a meat pie too. Most of all he loved the “farm” life. He also enjoyed lunches out with his family and relations. When we would leave the hospital we would tag our goodbye with a promising future event to look forward too. We imagine this served him well. We did the best we knew, for that moment.
He spoke of leaving and going to Greece. Infact he was so passionate about it. We did not tell him he wouldn’t be going. We reassured him that he will be going. I’m not sorry for lying either.
2 days before he passed, as I left for work, I stood at the front door, turned to my husband and told him it was important for me to be there the moment my father passed.
The end was coming. The next day he was transferred to a different hospital….”the” hospital. The type where no more medical intervention took place. Only pain relief and standard medications. Upon transfer my mother told me she forgot to take one of his special medications from his previous hospital, so I went back around 9:30pm, grabbed it and took it to the new hospital, his new home. It was now nearly 10pm. I walked in with my son. It was dark and quiet. As I entered the room he was hunched over the rail with his arm hanging out. His oxygen mask was on the floor. It was a distressing site. Within a moment the nurse hurried in and told me he was in a lot of pain so she went to get him morphine. He must have been in extreme pain, because he was so “still” throughout the days. Yet his position here was so pronounced that I wondered how he managed it. So here was more of a journey about losing a parent to death.
I handed her the medication, she placed his oxygen mask on and then gave him his medication to swallow. She followed through with a table spoon of yogurt. My fathers eyes were closed but he was able to “grunt” to show he was able to hear.
I asked him if he was cold and he nodded and grunted a “yes”. The nurse told me she would get him a warm blanked out of the oven. My son walked out to give me privacy. This was my one and only opportunity to finally say to my father the words that I needed to say whilst he was still alive. I don’t know how I was able to speak, I was so sad. I told him how wonderful I thought he was. I thanked him for all the amazing things he taught me on the farm as we were growing up. I still have fond memories of different animals and fruits that he would introduce me to as he picked them off the tree. I also told him that I had no complaints about him and that he did an amazing job raising me. “And I love you ok…” were my last words. He grunted for me in between each sentence. This showed me he could hear and understand me. One of my most difficult speeches in my entire life.
I know there is no perfect parent. But in my world, I do not expect a perfect parent, partner or child. And so I feel very content with how I was raised. I am always aware that we can only do the best that we know how to at any given moment in our lives.
So that’s the last time I would see him alive. Now I only see him in rainbows. On my drive home that night I told my son that I finally had “the moment: with my dad, the moment to tell him what I needed him to know. I was relieved as I believed I may not get alone time with him again.
The next day I was finishing work at 6:30pm. I planned to go to the hospital after that. The previous night the nurse kept 6 days worth of medication, so I expected that he would be around for at least the next week.
I was in the end stage of a hypnosis session when I heard a knock on my door. I ignored it. I heard my key pad on my office door unlock. And I received a knock on my therapy door. I knew then that I may receive the worst news ever. A journey about losing a parent to death was certainly progressing. I opened my door quietly and rejected the messenger and the message, by shaking my head “no”. My priority at that time was to safely complete my hypnosis session with my client, and I did. I can’t believe I kept it together. I saw my client out and I will never forget this client ever. I’m not sure if he noticed me trembling in my skin. But he respected that there was something not quite right about the way I walked him out.
I sat down curious of what news there was about my dad, obviously urgent. Heart pounding and a gloomy unease flowing through my body.
My cousin rang me assuming I already knew, but I didn’t. She offered her immediate condolences as she felt so saddened by her being the first to deliver the news to me. I was frozen with disbelief. I collected my belongings, I contacted my next client and apologised for the late notice that I had a family emergency.
Making my way to the car, the weather was gloomy for me. Driving out I pass my dear friend, who received the sad news from my words and my glare at that moment. So I asked her to let my other besties know. She is always around to support all of us in all our times of need. She detoured to fetch my oldest son to take him to the hospital, and meet me there. My husband and younger son were already there.
I’m now driving knowing that this direct route from my clinic to the hospital will always symbolise this sad moment for me. I drove carefully and very alone. So here was a journey about losing a parent to death.
The drive was about 20 minutes and felt so long. I was so shocked at the fact that my father was now “not alive” and I missed that moment where I really wanted to be there. I don’t hold that against myself. I immediately forgave myself and accepted that this could not be predicted.
When I arrived at the hospital I remember running up and just before I got to his room I stopped. I turned around and looked back and said to myself, “right now I have only seen my father alive”. I knew in a matter of seconds this would change and my sentence would be “right now I see my father dead”.
I went in to the room. He had already been prepared by the staff (dressed, tucked in nicely, eyes and mouth prepared closed and a towel under his neck to prevent movement of his jaw). My mum was along side him. I went to the other side. She looked at me. She shook her head with her teary face and searched me for words. So I gave her what I thought was the most appropriate thing to say at that moment. I said “everything is as its suppose to be mum”. She took these words as reassurance. It was so sad. Siblings there, my husband and child, and then the next child, and their godparents for support. Slowly more people came.
My father died in my mums embrace. She thought he reached up to hug or embrace her. But he sank into her chest and that’s where he left her. The staff said there was an amazing rainbow outside his window when he passed. We found pictures of it (thank you facebook). And today his headstone writes “…he left on a rainbow”.
When we see rainbows now, my friends and I take photos and pass them around to each other. And when we fly on planes, we hi 5 all those in heaven. We believe in “make believe” as it comforts us. We created a common language amongst ourselves.
Article originally appeared on: http://www.positivethinkingclinic.com.au/blog/losing-a-parent-my-journey-from-the-day-i-found-out-he-was-dying-to-the-day-he-died/