Since I started writing this blog, I’ve written about my funny dating stories, my trust issues, relationships, my quirkiness, funny, light-hearted stuff, etc. I’ve even written about my mom. But I haven’t written much about the first man I ever loved – the last man on earth that I trusted completely with my heart and my life…my dad. I had started writing a piece about him a few months ago, but could never get it “just right” – so I never posted it. Maybe it’s because the story wasn’t finished.
Sadly (and inconceivably), the only thing I’ve written since my last post has been my dad’s obituary and a speech for his funeral. In a whirlwind of events that still seem unreal to me, my entire life – my entire family – changed forever.
This is the series of events that runs on a constant reel in my mind…
I talked to my dad on the phone on a Friday. It was a good conversation, ended with “I love you.” He and my mom spent the day together on Saturday. My mom sent me a picture of him teasing and laughing at her (being himself). They went for ice cream later that Saturday evening – my dad told my mom that it was just exactly what he wanted – hit the spot perfectly – the ice cream, and I suspect just the entire day with her as a whole. The next day, on Sunday, he told my mom he was running out to get a garage door opener. He was gone too long. The kind of too long where you start to get a little worried, which my mom was. The next thing we know, the local hospital was calling. He had been in a car accident (minor, thankfully) because he had suffered another stroke. (He had one in early April – minor in comparison). He was being air-lifted to another hospital with a team of neurosurgeons, and my mom had to get there by car – almost an hour and a half away (a trip I think she made in just about one hour).
I got the phone call that he had had another stroke, and we had to wait and hear more details from my mom. The first time he had a stroke, my sister and I (daddy’s girls, through and through) dropped what we were doing and made the five-hour drive to be with him and my mom. I was upset and scared by this news. It had only been 6 weeks since his first stroke. What did all of this mean? Was he just going to keep having strokes? What can they do about this, etc? I was trying to go with the “no news is good news” theory, but couldn’t convince myself.
Then, in a blur of events that I will never forget, my oldest brother called me and asked if I was home. “Yes”, I said. “Ok, well I’m outside, I’ll be up in a second, just come to the door” – This. Was. Bad. And I knew it. I started shaking and answered the door to him and my sister-in-law, walked them upstairs and tried to play the “so, what’s up?” card, trying to pretend this was just a surprise visit to say hello. Instead, his exact words were “…our family is f*cked. Dad is on life support, and there is nothing they can do. The brain damage is really bad, and even if they did surgery, it still wouldn’t help…so we have to go there and say our goodbyes and let him go. You’re coming with me and we’re going. Now.”
After collapsing into a puddle of tears and screams, I grabbed some of my things, made arrangements for my girls, and we were on our way there – an agonizingly long drive when you NEED to get there, like, yesterday. By the very late hours of that night/wee hours of the morning, all five of us kids and most of the spouses and grandkids were there with our mom to say goodbye and let our dad go. We each had some time alone in the room with him, saying everything we wanted and needed to say – if that’s even possible.
Then, the team of doctors came in and were asking my dad to squeeze their hand, checking his pupils, etc. and he was responding. I don’t care how bad the prognosis is…when your loved one is responding to the doctors’ and your own requests for a hand squeeze or a thumbs up, taking them off life support is no longer an option. Period.
There was talk of which side of the brain was involved, etc. and we learned that because my dad was left-handed (meaning he was right-brain-dominant), there might be a little glimmer of hope. The right side of his body was affected by the stroke (as the stroke had started in the LEFT brain – not his dominant side). We could deal with a long road ahead of us, as long as we had him, and he had a good quality of life. But we wouldn’t know anything until the brain swelling went down. And so, the next few days were a cruel emotional roller coaster of hopes being built up and torn down over and over again. We were told he was somewhat stable and this would be a long road, so on the 4th day, I was planning to head back home so I could get my girls ready and be with them for their dance recital, which was a 3-night event. So that morning, we headed up to the hospital to see him before I left, and the doctor met us and wanted to talk to all of us as a family. There’s that sick feeling again.
In a private conference room, they told us that the swelling in my dad’s brain was getting worse and beginning to shift the entire brain. To have ANY chance of survival at all, they needed to do surgery to remove half of his skull to allow the brain to swell without damaging itself any further. And they needed an answer quickly, as in minutes. It was an extremely risky procedure on an extremely compromised person. They laid out – in no uncertain terms – what our options and likely outcomes were. And all of them SUCKED. We asked each of these doctors – off the record – this is not your patient, this is YOUR DAD – what would you do? And every one of them had the same answer. They would not put him through this surgery, under the circumstances, with the likely outcomes. They would let him go. Despite the rapport we had developed with them over the past few days, I suddenly hated every single one of those doctors. And their options.
As someone who used to be a respiratory therapist, I knew what was about to take place. I knew that he would be taken off the ventilator and made as comfortable as possible until the end. I knew that it could happen very quickly, or that he could last several hours, even days. At that point, my prayers changed. They were no longer selfish. My prayers of “please save my dad” became “please take my dad…and end his suffering…and help us all through this.” I remember laying in a reclining chair in his ICU room, staring at him, wondering if he was scared, if he could hear our last words, our cries, our pleas, our prayers. I was actually sitting there trying to telepathically get inside his head and speak to his innermost self – “daddy…can you hear me? It’s ok to go now…” I took pictures of his hand in mine, pictures of his tattoos.
For the next 8 hours or so, we stayed by his side until he passed away at 8:31 p.m. on May 31, 2012. FIVE. THIRTY-ONE. TWELVE. Numbers that I will never forget.
The world lost a one-of-a-kind man. My mom lost her best friend and soul mate. My kids lost their funny, silly grandpa. My siblings and I lost the best father we could ever ask for.
I can count on one hand, with fingers left over, the number or days I haven’t cried since that day. And I can tell you that, on the days that I DON’T cry, I feel guilty at the end of the day. Guilty for not crying, as if my tears are what keeps me connected to him. I know better than that. I had a very strong connection with my dad. And I know, as if I can hear him saying it out loud, that he would be furious at how upset I am, at how often I cry, scream, fall to my knees, think to myself that I just…can’t…do…this.
I’ve read about the stages of grief (some sources say there are 5, some say there are 7). Either way, I’ve cycled through all of them and back again – sometimes all in the same day.
SHOCK & DENIAL: Yep. I can recall every sordid detail about the hospital – the smells, the tile pattern on the floor, the way my dad’s skin felt. I can recall people who brought food to the house, or just stopped by to offer condolences – friends of my dad – grown men – crying. I remember seeing and hugging certain people at the visitation – remember how someone smelled – their perfume or aftershave, what someone was wearing, etc. I can recall everything. But there are many, many times when I have to stop what I’m doing and actually CONSCIOUSLY convince myself that it was all real. And then I tell myself “there’s just no way…”
PAIN & GUILT: This is self explanatory. The pain is nothing short of unbearable at times, and comes out of nowhere at any place, any time. God bless the WalMart check-out clerk who hurried me through with my groceries the other day as best she could because we had a moment of eye contact which must have conveyed my need to get the hell out of there ASAP because I was about to completely lose it.
Guilt over all the times I “should’ve” but didn’t.
ANGER & BARGAINING: The anger part – definitely. I’m so horribly angry. I’m angry about so much…and it’s more than just losing my dad. It’s as if it set off a domino effect, going back to some of my earliest memories, and falling down piece by piece through different events in my life. Simply put, I am pissed. I have no other way to express it. And I know others around me – those closest to me – are suffering for it. I am quick-tempered (more so than my usual feisty self). I scolded my girls for something that was really nothing more than little girls annoying their sister, and my youngest said “gee, mommy…why are you so mad?” – and I completely lost it, and told them I was mad because my dad died and there is nothing I can do about it. I’ve had to reassure them that my anger is not at them, it’s just because mommy is so sad over losing their papaw.
DEPRESSION/REFLECTION/LONELINESS: YES, YES, and YES. At times, I have not answered or returned calls or text messages from friends. I have declined invitations to go do things. I think I have even seen people that I know out in public, but I walk around in such a fog most of the time that it doesn’t hit me until later (after the moment has passed) that I just saw someone I know and I didn’t speak. Anyone who knows me knows that is NOT ME. I avoid going certain places because I just know I will run into someone and it will come up in conversation. Oddly enough, I WANT to talk about my dad, but on MY terms, if that makes any sense. So, if you are reading this and you are one of those friends – I apologize. I am so very sorry. Please know it is nothing personal. Your sentiments are felt and appreciated more than you know, but more often than not, I just find myself thinking “I just can’t…not right now…”
THE UPWARD TURN: This is supposed to be when life becomes a little calmer and more organized and depression lessens a bit. *If I have been through this stage, it was for a nano-second.
RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH: This is supposed to be when your mind starts working again and you can come up with realistic solutions to life’s problems. Currently, I find myself unable to come up with solutions to some minor issues. Everything seems monumental to me. For instance, the transmission in my car went out this week. The car used to be my dad’s. That plus the fact that I am a single, working mom without a car right now plus everything else equals me inching closer to my breaking point. I can’t come up with a good solution. You know why? Because this is one of those times when I would pick up the phone, call my dad, and he would have a solution. And I can’t do that. And so, yes, it’s just a car…but it’s so much more. This probably doesn’t make sense to most people reading this, but it’s all I got.
And lastly – ACCEPTANCE & HOPE: Accepting and dealing with the reality of what has happened. Again, my time in this stage has been miniscule – tiny stitches in time – and usually sends me right back to the beginning of the cycle.
I know my life will never be the same, and neither will my family. Ever. This is the most profound loss I have ever experienced – that my family has ever experienced. I find some comfort in a few things – wonderful memories, knowing he is no longer suffering, knowing I will see him again one day. I have some of my dad’s ashes, some of his cologne. I can close my eyes and smell it and imagine myself hugging him and smelling that. I find comfort in seeing dragonflies after a dear friend shared a wonderful story with me about “waterbugs and dragonflies” You should google the story. If I knew how to add links here, I would. It comes from a book about explaining death to children, and is a wonderful story that I still can’t tell out loud without crying. Maybe I will try to post it here in the next day or two.
Whether this is the first time you’ve read my blog or you’ve read them all – I hope you take something away from this. Life is uncertain. Say “I love you”. Use the good dishes on a Tuesday night. Go get some ice cream and enjoy it like a kid. *Quick funny story: speaking of the ice cream, I spent two days in a row eating a chocolate ice cream cone – dad’s favorite – sitting in my car down by the river at lunch time, SOBBING. I mean all-out blubbering sobs. There was a guy in a truck parked next to me who must have thought I was some kind of psycho – licking the ice cream cone, tears just streaming down my face. Sad, but still funny to me. Something only I would do…TWICE.
The funny, witty, sarcastic girl is very much still here. She is just under layers and layers of grief, anger, despair, disbelief, and sadness right now. But so much of my humor and wit came from my dad, so I feel I would be dishonoring him if I stopped writing. He wrote a lot, too. I intend to do more of it, and I may even share something he wrote once just for me. I can’t guarantee my writing is going to be all Wheat Thins and Catman Don’t any time soon, because I have a lot of things I need/want to get out, but I still remember how to laugh and tell a story. I learned from one of the best.