You were my first love, dad, and I miss you!
On November 13, 2012, I lost probably the most influential, important person in my life, my dad. Although it has been over six months since his passing, this pain is still very real and very raw!
Last July, I stopped in to see my parents for a visit. My dad was sitting in the recliner and had been battling a raspy throat and nagging cough. He sounded horrible. He was taking antibiotics and was showing no signs of improvement. I knew something wasn’t right and I wanted him to go to the emergency room right away. He refused. I immediately left their house and drove directly to my brother’s. I told my brother my concerns and asked that he return with me to mom and dad’s to persuade dad to go to the E.R.
I remember his words exactly. He shook his finger at me in a teasing way, and said, “You’ve been busy, haven’t you.” I smiled and asked him to reconsider going. Between my brother and me, we talked him into going. After several hours in the E.R. and several chest x-rays later, the E.R. doctor confirmed my greatest fear, Dad had a large mass in his lungs, around his vocal chords and it was most likely cancerous. My brother, sister, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, niece and her husband, mom and myself were devastated. Dad said he didn’t expect the diagnosis, but he wasn’t surprised by it either. Dad had been a smoker for most of his life; however, he had quit nearly 20 years earlier. He was also a veteran of the Vietnam War and had been exposed to Agent Orange, a deadly herbicide.
The next few months proved to be a nightmare. It took forever to get his diagnosis confirmed, let alone for him to actually get in to see an oncologist. He was in and out of the hospital, primarily due to dropping blood pressure and falling spells. There was hardly a day that went by that I didn’t stop in to check up on him. My family grew extremely close. We rallied around dad to make sure he was receiving the best care possible. My sister was a nurse, who worked from home. My brother, a senior computer analyst, was also able to flex his hours. I am a school teacher and my principal allowed me all the time I needed to help out with dad.
Dad was already at Stage IV when he was first diagnosed, but attempted to slow down the progression of the disease through radiation and chemotherapy. He made it through his first round of radiation therapy, but only managed two chemo treatments. Although, his voice returned, his health continued to decline. By the end of September, it was apparent the treatments were causing more harm than good. To continue the treatments would only have prolonged the inevitable. So, after talking to the oncologist one last time, dad made the decision to contact hospice and spend the remainder of his time at home, where he was most comfortable.
This is where the days began to bleed into each other. We all took turns taking care of dad. Although extremely fatiguing and emotional, I was absolutely honored to provide care for him. It was so heartbreaking to watch this man, whom I felt was the most brilliant, wise, strong, compassionate person I’ve ever known, be reduced to such a level of helplessness. We were taking turns staying with him at night, so mom could get some sleep. We would sleep in the hospital bed while he slept in the double bed. I still remember watching him as he slept. We would have to help him to the bathroom and give him his medications in the middle of the night. We were all so tired by this point. I went on family leave act to be with him. I made homemade soups and breads for him, played his favorite music, and sat silently at his bedside.
Eventually, we moved him to the hospital bed and put it in the living room. Shortly after, he stopped eating and drinking. He became very confused, and I found it painful to see him with such a lost look in his eyes. He lapsed into unconsciousness and we were told by the hospice nurse that it would be 24 to 48 hours. We brought family in for two evenings. We watched old videos, reminisced about old times, and took turns holding his hand, stroking his forehead, and telling him how much we loved him. At one point, when my brother was out on errands and mom was getting some much needed rest, dad opened his eyes while my sister and I were tending to him. He could barely speak at this point, but he managed to motion my sister to come closer to him. He puckered his lips and pointed at them. He was saying his final goodbyes. He had her kiss him first then signaled to me to give him a kiss. He held up his fingers, one, two, and looked at us expectantly when he held up the third. He was asking for my brother. We phoned him and I woke mom. He managed to tell mom he loved her, but fell back into unconsciousness before my brother was able to get there.
Several days later, when it was only my brother, sister, and mom, I was at home resting when I received the call that it wouldn’t be much longer. I wasn’t there 10 minutes, after saying, “I love you” and kissing his forehead, when he took his final breaths. It was a very peaceful passing, just as we had prayed it would be. He departed this world his way, surrounded only by his wife and children, with no suffering.
He was cremated and his ashes were buried in a small private cemetery. He received full military honors. The memorial service went well and it was apparent how many lives he had touched.
So, that’s my story, right?
Life moves on, with or without you, like it or not. I went back to work after Thanksgiving, which was terrible. The memorial service wasn’t held until December 1st, so our closure was prolonged.
At first I told myself I was okay with everything because I knew where my dad had gone. He was no longer suffering and I knew I would see him again someday. Come to find out, I was using my faith to prevent myself from experiencing the pain of grief. Then one evening, on my way home from work, it hit me. The pain washed over me like a typhoon. I called a grief counselor who was able to see me within the hour. We talked for over an hour and he sent me home with a journal. He told me to write in it as if I was writing to my dad. I told him I didn’t believe my father knew the pain his death was causing all of us. That night, I cried myself to sleep. I was sleeping in the spare bedroom because I didn’t want to wake my husband with my restlessness. In actuality, I wanted to be alone. At three o’clock in the morning, I heard and felt footsteps cross over to my bed. Then I felt a light stroke on the side of my face and I knew. Dad was comforting me, whether it was real, a dream, or my imagination. He was there for me.
I have been writing in my journal ever since as well as writing poetry. After reading through this website, I realize I’m not as crazy as I thought I was.
If someone were to ask me how I was doing, I would honestly have to answer I’m not sure. I suppose my grief is “fluid,” even thought it seems I’m not making any progress whatsoever. I knew it was going to be difficult once school let out for the summer. Plus, my 19 year old daughter decided to become rebellious and moved out. But, this emptiness is almost paralyzing at times. Life is meaningless and empty. There is no joy. The future holds no interest for me. I feel like I am simply going through the motions of life. I put on a mask when I am around others because I know that my grief makes them uncomfortable, even my husband. I have no interest in being around people, working out, crafts, or cleaning. I sit and play solitary or complete online puzzles for hours on end.
My nights are the worst. Sleep doesn’t come easy for me, so I’m in the habit of taking a pill each night to help me out. I know I shouldn’t but my mind won’t settle down enough otherwise.
My dad was my world. I was the baby of the family. I also suffered from Graves Disease as a child which nearly took my life. He helped me through two suicide attempts and always acted as a buffer between me and mom. Although, he wasn’t perfect, he was the one stabilizing factor in my life throughout my rocky adolescence. He was the thread that wove our family together. Without him, it feels that the closeness we all shared as we went through this ordeal has been broken. I want to be left alone, but yet I don’t. I can’t seem to get motivated to doing anything. I used to work out and I don’t even want to get out of bed in the morning. I don’t cook anymore. I’m not looking forward to vacation this summer. I just want to crawl into a hole and die. I thought I was doing better, but now that I have all of this time on my hands, I feel like I’m back where I started. If I’m not crying when no one is looking, then I’m crying inside when they are. I put on an act.
The thing is………I have no regrets and I’m not particularly angry at anyone, not even God. Nothing was left unsaid. Dad knew he was well-loved. He didn’t undergo prolonged suffering. I was able to help take care of him. I was with him when he died. I just can’t get over this emptiness and feeling of hopelessness. I keep saying to my self, “What is the point?” I feel detached from the world and from the people around me. My husband is being so patient, but I know he must be thinking, “I didn’t act like this when my dad died, so why can’t you get over your dad’s death and move on?”
All I can say is it’s going to be a very long, lonely summer.