As our readers may have noticed, I have been away from the VNSNY blog since July. One of the last entries I contributed was one describing the experience of accompanying my Dad to our local hospital’s ER and the resulting aftermath that event.
My Dad died in July, not long after that blog entry. This is the first entry I have posted since then. I valued my privacy and needed that time to put my thoughts together in a readable and, hopefully, beneficial fashion. To be honest, for quite a while, it was just too painful to put down on paper the events and nuances of that time. Now that I am finally able to put pen to paper, I hope that as I share the meaning of such an occurrence, my experience — while a personal one — can become a window into the universal experience of dying, death and grief.
On July 27th, my father was scheduled to have a procedure required to clean up the removal of tubes that had been placed in his kidneys. Dad was in a weakened state, and he and I knew that the procedure would carry with it some risk, but after many consultations with his physicians, Dad decided to move forward with it. Early on the morning of the 27th, the surgeon made a visit to my Dad’s room. Doctor S. later remarked to me that my Dad was in a good place, at peace and commenting on the beautiful view as the sun rose over NYC. But as I mentioned, Dad was aware of the potential difficulties inherent in the procedure for someone in his state. His leukemia was weakening him, as was the dialysis he endured four times per week.
As Dad was being readied in pre-op, he spoke of his profound fatigue and mounting frustration. He had become quite immobilized at the hands of his disease. He was apprehensive, but also at peace with whatever outcome would occur. As the nurses came to wheel him into surgery, I told him how much I loved him and he responded, “I love you too.” Those would be the final words spoken between us.
The surgery lasted almost two hours. Eventually, the doctor came out and said that Dad had made it through, but he was in a deeply weakened state. Dr. S also said that given my Dad’s condition he felt that Dad had less than a month to live. Though my Dad had been reluctant to enroll prior to this surgery, it now seemed as if hospice finally was to be in the picture.
About 30 minutes later the doctor emerged again, this time with two nurses. His facial demeanor was different this time, more serious, and the nurses looked as if they had been crying. I knew at that moment that Dad was gone. My suspicions were confirmed as the doctor told me that Dad had experienced cardiac arrest. While attempts were being made to revive him, the doctor was not confident that Dad could survive this additional ordeal. The doctor and I then discussed Dad’s wishes not to be resuscitated; the doctor understood. He went back into the recovery room one final time and emerged less than five minutes later with the sad news that Dad had died.
I was alone in the waiting area. I had never before felt so alone. Regardles, my list of things to do and people to call kicked into action and I found myself on the phone calling my wife and urging her to get to the hospital with my mother as soon as possible. They arrived within 15 minutes. I also made a call to our pastor, who dropped what she was doing and got there just before my mother and wife. I knew that the comfort of a spiritual presence would be essential for us and, in particular, for my mom while I was handling the necessary details required by the hospital. I knew that I needed to call other members of the family to inform them of the sad news. Needless to say, the following two hours were the most painful I’ve ever experienced. My mom was not at all prepared for the suddenness of the death of her partner of 60 years. Her pain was palpable and amplified by the stress of her battle with dementia. It was deeply touching to see the heartfelt display of emotion by Dad’s nurse-caregiver, a tenderhearted young woman who had lived with my parents and cared for my father for the previous eight months. For me though, having our pastor present was a true gift. She provided a quiet, practical compassion for all of us stricken with such sudden grief. The loving companionship of my wife, Christine, was a great source of strength for me as well, though she too was suffering the loss of someone she loved. These moments laid bare the quality and depth of love that we have for each other.
I share these brief vignettes in the hope of encouraging readers to surround themselves with people who care about them and can truly be of support during times of loss. “Going it alone” can be a difficult option.
As a professional bereavement counselor, clergyman and social worker, I believed that my training would be of help to me in those moments. While it afforded me the intellectual foundation I needed to “do” certain tasks, I was surprised to realize another aspect of my role. I was, in a most profound and poignant manner, who I always was with my Dad: his son. I stand here grateful for that identity because as a son I was able to “be” myself, to feel and experience the waves of emotions as they unfolded within and around me. I often tell my clients to “let the feelings come” and “be prepared for the start of a roller-coaster of emotions.” I had no idea how true those statements were. In spite of all the schooling and clinical time I’ve spent over the past 30 years, I feel that I truly became a bereavement counselor on July 27, 2010.
I plan to keep writing over the coming weeks about the experiences and feelings I’ve encountered since July and hope that it will be especially helpful for readers who are themselves bereaved or professionals who are interacting with bereaved clients. My purpose is two-fold. First, I hope that in sharing those events I can shed insight onto the experience of loss for any reader who is in the same situation. Secondly, the writing process is, in and of itself, a genuine method of grief-work. By modeling this behavior, I hope that the same methodology may prove useful to some of you.
I look forward to interacting with you in the near future.
Posted in: Bereavement and Grief
Thanks. One of your bloggers, Stav, shared this with me on my blog. I’ve been writing a bit about my mother’s decline with Alzheimer’s. Concerned about the appropriateness of sharing, but feeling the need to do so. http://www.sampost.com/2011/3048/waiting-for-a-parent-to-die— Sam / January 2nd, 2011 at 11:30 pm
Thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s so hard to understand what this kind of situation feels like until you’re in it yourself. I look forward to reading more about your personal experience and learning from your professional advice.— CSC / January 3rd, 2011 at 11:30 am
Hi Vinnie. It was indeed a sad yet a beautiful story to ponder on. It really isn’t easy to forget the person whom you’ve loved & cared for. As you’ve said, “one-day-at-a-time” is right..
I took care of your father for couple of months..With that span of time,I got to know your Father,your Mother & the whole family. It was so hard for everybody to accept it especially with your family. The only thing we can do for him is to PRAY! We have to move on with our lives & be inspired by the way your father lived in his time..a life of respect & full of love!:) May he rest in peace..— eva / March 17th, 2011 at 3:22 pm