I am writing this one year after my dad was placed in hospice care. He had been battling Stage 4 lung cancer with brain mets for four and a 1/2 years. Six months before hospice, we found out that the cancer had spread to the spinal fluid. He made it through the summer, just long enough to be at my wedding in September 2017. A couple of months later, the medication stopped working, and we knew it was time to call in the hospice troops.
It's a very strange feeling, to know that a person you love as much as I loved my dad, was going to die. I suppose we knew all along, but since he beat so many odds, we were always hopeful that he would keep pulling through. Until suddenly, he wasn't. During the 3 months that he was in hospice care, my dad and I had some incredible conversations. He never stopped telling me how much he loved me, or that I was pretty. We talked about heaven and angels, and how much he was looking forward to being reunited with his family. That's the beautiful, true, and oddly joyous part of the journey.
But what I haven't talked much about is this. During that time, I was praying for him to go. He was not in pain, but he was miserable. He could not get out of bed, he was eating very little, he was weak, and he just wasn't happy. I hated that for him. And, truthfully, I was also tired. Tired of being on constant alert, tired of waiting for him to call for one of us in the middle of the night. Tired of walking into the living room where he laid, wondering if he would still be there. I'd often close my eyes as I walked in, to prepare myself. So I began to pray that God would take him. I couldn't understand- if he was supposed to go, if it was his time, why wasn't he going? Why was God letting us just live in this constant state of fear?
The day that my dad took a downward turn was unexpected. I had been with him in the morning. He asked me for orange pop. I laughed, and then started to cry. I told him that I didn't understand this, and that he was a mystery to me. But, I gave him his orange pop, and gave him a kiss on the head, told him that I was going home for a bit to rest. A few hours later, my mom called me. She said that he was breathing kind of weird. I told her to call the nurse back, which she did. I rushed back over to the house, and could sense something was drastically different. He was barely speaking, and he looked scared. I remember asking him if he thought that maybe this was his time, and he nodded.
For the next three days, my entire family spent every moment at that house. There was often 4 or more of us in the room, surrounding him. He could no longer speak, and wasn't moving at all. We would occasionally get eye contact. The nurses and aides from the hospice were in a constant rotation. Very early in the morning on February 10th, I came downstairs to relieve my brother and immediately noticed that my dad's breathing had changed to a rapid breathing. I called my mom from my cell phone and told her to get downstairs. I ran back into the room where my brother and Sara were sleeping and told them I thought something was changing. My mom and I sat with my dad, holding his hand and telling him that we loved him. All of the sudden, his arm reached up to the sky. Let me remind you, he had not moved in three days. At all. In that moment, he took one last breath. I do believe my dad was trying to let us know that he was going somewhere amazing, and that someone was coming to get him. The comfort I have from that very last moment is one I can't possibly describe. It was my validation that he was going to be okay.
But, with that comfort, came guilt. I had been praying for him to go, and now he was gone. I immediately wanted to take back my words, my prayers, my wishes. I couldn't believe how stupid I was for doing that. And I have carried that guilt with me every day since. I buried it deep, so that I don't have to think about it, but it creeps up. It's there, and it is very real. It is a feeling I wouldn't wish upon anyone, because it has caused me to begin a war with myself.
In the year that has passed, I have learned so much about grief. That it can come out as anger, that it hits you at all different moments. I've learned that grief is complicated, because not one person grieves the same as anyone else. I've learned that some days I feel okay, and then feel guilty about feeling okay. I've learned I've already forgotten his voice. I've learned that it's lonely. There are very few people who ask me how I am doing. They ask how my mom is doing. And don't get me wrong, I know that losing your spouse is 10000 times harder than losing a parent. But it doesn't help. And when people ignore it, ignore that I am hurting deeply, that's also lonely. Grief skyrocketed my anxiety and my depression. The sadness that enveloped me over the last year was one I never want to experience, nor do I want anyone in my life to experience it.
I dedicated (and will continue to) dedicate a lot of my time to helping my mom. Going with her to different things, spending Sunday nights with her. A new form of guilt began to rise- am I doing enough for her? Am I spending enough time there? I'm not at home enough- am I hurting Tom while helping my mom? This began a separate battle in my mind, one that told me that I am not good enough. That dagger is one that still stings, and that I still carry with me.
And then there is the simple, yet oh so complex, truth of the matter- I just miss my dad. I miss his jokes, his encouragement, the way he wanted to be involved in my life. He was my phone call every day after work. I called him about the celebrations and I called him when I needed advice. He never shied away from telling me how proud he was of me. He built me up, and he recognized the things I was doing in my life. There were so many times this year when I needed to hear him. And I couldn't.
Three times since my dad passed, I've been compared to him. I do not agree. But I realized, I am trying to be like him. And truly, what a person to live up to. I will do my best. I won't ever replace that incredible man, but if I can display just some of the patience, kindness, and encouragement that he gave out into the world, I would be satisfied with that.
There are moments of light, of course. The connections I made with strangers in my grief group, the way I embraced and was embraced by The Barre Code community, how I grew closer with my coworkers, and most importantly, how strong my relationship with my mom has gotten. Those are things I do not take for granted, and I do not forget. But I cannot sit here and talk about my grief, without addressing my pain. I have to let it out somehow.
I do not write this piece for sympathy. I write it because it is the truth. It is a true reflection of how grief has affected me. This will likely not be the last time I write about grief, but boy did it feel good to let this out. My only hope is that someone else connects with this, and finds it helpful to know that they are not alone.
Dad, I miss you, I love you, I'm sorry, and I'm proud of you and the ever lasting impact you made on Earth.