I have been to three funerals in my life.
At those funerals, I was only concerned about superficial aspects; was my outfit look black enough? how close to stand in front of casket? what is the correct way to speak to family members? etc.
It never occurred to me how I would feel myself in those circumstances standing behind the caskets with their loved ones lying in them.
For all those years, I almost thought the death was some foreign idea that I never have to get familiar with. IT Had nothing to do with me or my life.
Subconsciously, I wanted to believe that if I don’t think about it, I would not experience it. Sort of like the phrase, no pain no gain. Except in this case, no thinking no experience.
However, the unthinkable experience happened to me at 3:20 AM on October 10, 2020.
My dad passed away…away from me, from us.
I consider myself as a clear-cut person with a definite/defined way of thinking and approaching life….until that moment.
My thoughts and emotions were all over the place; one moment, I was heartbroken and hopeless, and the other moments, anger, doubt, fear.
With many conflicting and incoherent thoughts and emotions started from the fateful day in October, I slowly gained insights I didn’t want.
You can never be ready for the END even with many warnings
Ever since my dad’s spinal cord injury accident back in 2015, his health has been deteriorating.
There were many medical complications that happened along the way, and some serious conditions resulted in a number of different hospital stays.
However, in the midst of those scary moments, there were many happy and upbeat times as well.
Especially after three years of him being away and us visiting him EVERYDAY at various hospitals/rehabs, our family decided to bring him home. After going through the house renovation to make the house wheelchair accessible, we were ready.
I remember the day when he came home and how happy he was…how happy all of us were.
Our happiness was short-lived. Our 24/7 care at home started in October 2018, and all of us family members became the main care givers with the help of community nurse / PSW’s (personal support workers) provided by Ontario health system.
While navigating through the health system, and dealing with many frustrations-not having PSW‘s at designated times or worse, not showing up al all without any notice, or some people with a cavalier attitude towards patient care,
I was slowly becoming the expert/ caregiver/ spoke person all rolled into one for my dad.
Then July this year, with decreased appetite/ unable to swallow his food, he was hospitalized for pneumonia…and then another one in August.
At the second hospital visit, the attending doctor uttered the words, palliative care.
Thankfully I knew the words…I also knew what it meant for my father’s care; it was the warning that his end was near. She was telling us to get ready for the day for him to leave us.
Not only I didn’t want to believe the possibility, but I also did not want the care since I believed it to be the end of ANY care my dad would receive. I did not want to say YES to anything that would diminish the quality of care he would receive.
Instead of acknowledging her palliative question, I asked for different treatment options, more medications etc.
She simply said,
You’re only prolonging time and his suffering…. he could have another aspiration pneumonia through feeding.
Although I desperately did not want to believe what she was saying, I also knew we had to face the possibility.
I had to accept the fact that his final day was coming… I could also see it on him, he was getting sicker each day; not able to speak and swallow. We could not feed him because of another potential pneumonia.
We were slowly accepting the reality while hoping for miracles.
However, when the unthinkable actually happened on Oct 10th early morning, I was in disbelief.
For some reason, I woke up around 3:00am and went downstairs to check up on him. He seemed to be like his usual self: weak, sleeping deeply.
Still to this day, why I decided to check up on his breathing is a mystery to me. I desperately put my ear to his nose to hear his breathing, some sort of sign indicating he is still with us.
With the oxygen tank making a hissing sound background, I could not be sure. I pulled out the oxygen tube from his nose and tried again.
There was no sound, nothing.
I could not wake him up like I used to do. He was gone, gone from us.
Angry and sad at the same time
After the initial shock, I contacted the palliative care doctor to come and see my dad. I did not trust myself. I told myself I could be wrong…I simply told the doctor, “I am not hearing any sound”
The doctor said that he can be at our house by 7 AM, therefore, we need to wait for a few hours. At that moment, I was so relieved to have my mom next to me… and she was with me.
My mom had not gone to bed at all… she stayed up all night and prayed for ending his pain and suffering from his struggle of breathing..
After the doctor’s visit and his statement, your dad passed away, I cannot describe the intensity of the grief I felt at that moment.
From that day on, I experienced many different and unexplainable emotions: sadness, grief, depression, even fear, sometimes all at the same time.
Out of all these bleak feelings, there was one I could not explain-anger.
I was angry… I was not even sure who my anger was directed to or what I was angry about. I even had a moment of anger towards the palliative care doctor for not warning me about the possibility that he could pass away this quickly after just implementing the care only a week ago.
I knew how absurd the logic was. I knew the words, Palliative Care. I was warned about the possibility…I just did not want to understand the words.
Even knowing this, I was angry; every doctor who treated him since his accident back in 2015, nurses and caregivers, even my dad and why he had the accident in the first place.
But most of all, I was angry at myself.
I doubted everything I did for his care at that moment. I regretted going to bed the night before and missed his final moment…or not being next to my mom when she needed my support the most.
My anger marathon continued for days. I was even angry at myself for the memory of frustration I had with his care in the past. Or, remembering why I did not talk to him more when he was able to talk. etc.
So many thoughts, regrets, why’s and wished I could just turn back the time to his pre-accident day.
Feeling of gratitude
After the initial shock which followed by anger and sadness, I was faced with another strange emotion: gratitude.
One day, my perspective changed. To be more precise, my perspective was corrected by mom.
While listening to my incoherent/ crying comment about how we could never see him again EVER, she calmly said;
Dad is not suffering anymore. Wouldn’t you want that more than having him around and see him in pain, and worse, him gasping for air?
At that moment, I realized how selfish I was or how I have been wrapped around my grief only. I was not seeing anyone else’s pain and suffering, not even my dad’s.
My mom’s question changed my perspective. I realized he no longer suffers and he is finally free from physical disability that came with the accident. I realized he can finally play his favourite sport, golf as much as he wants in heaven.
I cannot say I have been able to keep up with this newfound emotion, gratitude consistently since the conversation with mom. There were many conflicting moments of sadness, anger, doubt or fear and I still go through. However, I am certain about one thing; he is now free from pain, suffering, sickness….
For that, I am grateful.
Our time is coming
We talk about the idea, death with detachment.
IT happens to somebody, someone else, one day, someday… We talk about it as a concept, idea, theory, not something that we need to relate to.
I certainly have been one of those people.
From my dad’s passing and many difficult emotions, I started thinking of my own END.
It no longer feels like a sad and depressing idea I need to avoid, but rather it feels like a calm and peaceful state I can reflect on.
Until I see him again, I will treasure the happy moments I had with him. I particularly remember the time when I moved back from New York York City in 2007, and many happy memories I had of that time.
I just wish I knew how happy I was at that time.
It has been 83 days since his passing.
My sadness level fluctuates each day as it goes; one day, intense grief knowing that I would never see him again, and in another day, feeling of gratitude that he no longer suffers.
It is a constant struggle.
I don’t completely agree with the “ time heals pain” phrase.
However, with each day, my perspective changes. Knowing that our family truly cared for him and loved him EVERYDAY in those difficult five years gives me comfort.
One good (?) thing that came out of this experience is my attitude towards every day and its frustrations. After losing my dad, I don’t think I will ever look at those frustrating moments the same way again…
“I miss you dad. Enjoy playing your favourite sport, golf as much as you want until we all see each other again“