We lost my mom exactly 6 weeks after she entered the hospital with the diagnosis of leukemia. My sisters and I often spoke of the gift of those last 6 weeks, though difficult they were. It gave us a slight opening to get ready for the inevitable, but we did have hope up until the last day. After she passed, we talked about what was better: quick and sudden death or having a period of getting ready. These are the kinds of things people discuss when they are in the depths of grief, trying to make sense of something that almost everyone will experience yet is still so hard to fathom and so difficult to trudge through. My mom’s last day was ugly. She was scared and very, very much not ready to die at age 53. The fear that she experienced still haunts me. I think we like to imagine our loved ones having a good death — a death where they have accepted what is happening, made peace with it somehow, and are “ready.” I remember when my Grandpa Al was in the hospital on his last days, he told my dad that he was ready, that it was okay. I know this gave my dad a lot of comfort. I suppose it gave me comfort, too, and still does because I recall the conversation I had with my dad on the matter 30+ years later with the idea that Grandpa Al’s was a good death.
My own dad was not one to acquiesce to anything in life. He was unlike his own father in the acceptance department. My dad lived every minute of his life as he saw fit, and it seems he left this world with that same attitude. I would imagine that my dad could have lived to 100 and still not been ready to die, not ready to leave his family. In large part unable to accept the Parkinson’s diagnosis itself, my dad butted heads with the reality of his situation up until the end. I think sometimes we hope to have end-of-life discussions with loved ones wherein they share wisdom or some other sentiment to help the living continue on without them. My dad could not speak in the end, but it seemed he could listen until very close to his death. So he may not have given us nuggets of widsom to carry with us, it was evident that he was sad and scared and not ready to go. My brave sisters (all three of them: Chris, Stacey, and Wendy) and my stepmom all told him things and talked to him and told him it was okay to let go.
I was somehow unable to do this. In my heart, I wanted him to be free and I wanted his suffering (and ours, at least that part of it) to end. But I found it really hard to speak when near him, so I hoped that he could feel my feelings like I could feel his. One day after a visit there, I felt psychically connected to him. Is that real? I feel like it is, and I felt the same with my mom when she was dying. I felt I could feel my dad’s pain. And in that moment, I told him psychically that he should let go. I hope he heard me.
My dad’s passing took much longer than we all thought it would, and this was excruciating to watch as his state was for the most part the opposite of peaceful. I have to say that I am amazed by the strength of my stepmom and also Wendy; they have been watching him suffer for YEARS on a daily basis, and the grace and compassion they showed until his last breath is something I will always be grateful for. It’s amazing what people are capable of when they approach difficult or even impossible situations with love.
I think there is no easy road for the living. A quick death without warning is a shock and filled with what-ifs. A long, drawn-out illness tricks us into thinking we have prepared, but the ending of a person you love still feels like a shock and the pain is still just as acute. While the death of an “older” person (though I would say 75 isn’t THAT old these days) is not necessarily tragic, the void they leave in the world is still a huge one. I can’t imagine a world without my dad in it. I am unsure of my place in a world without my dad in it. Our relationship was complicated and unsatisfying at times, but I know the world was better with him than without him. And I know he loved me the best he could. I will not stop missing him, and I will not stop grieving for him, just like I’ve done for my mom for the past 21 years.
I may not have gleaned any words of wisdom from either of my parents before they passed, but I am wiser now than I was 21 years ago simply because I have already survived my mom’s death and I am older and more experienced. So I know that the road ahead of me is a long and winding one, but I am confident that I can handle it. Many, many thanks to those that have reached out to me on Facebook and via text or phone messages. It helps.