Death, loss and grieving. What I’ve learned over the last month…

A little over a month ago I lost my dad. On September 22, 2017 he took his last breath and went to be with the Lord. To say it is one of the hardest things to go through is an understatement. But I have learned so much and I want to share it with you in the hopes that one day it may make your loss a little more manageable.

First off, let me back up a few months. In the beginning of 2017 I decided to move my father closer to me and down to Southern California. A series of events lead us to this point and we all felt like it was the best thing. He lived in a Senior Community where he wouldn’t have to worry about preparing his meals, they would help with light housekeeping, there would be nurses on staff in case he needed help with anything or wasn’t feeling well, and he could flirt with all the little old ladies that he wanted. Yep, even at 73 my dad still had all the ladies wrapped around his finger.

When I picked him up in February, I quickly realized that his health was failing. I had known for a long time that he wasn’t doing well but this was a quick reality check into how bad he really was. While he continued to be positive and claim to be doing just fine, the nurse in me knew that his days were numbered. I thought that by knowing this, that somehow when the end came it would be easier. Let me tell you that it wasn’t. Instead there was just this understanding that every time I saw him, every conversation I had might be the last. And I still remember the last conversation we had.

Every time my phone rang over the 9 months he was close to me brought a quickening in my heart. Would this be the phone call? Would someone be calling me to tell me that he died? But instead it was a lot of falls, hospital visits, chest pain, and more. Or on his better days, it was my cheery dad calling to tell me about his goals, things he wanted to do, places he wanted to see, and how this time would be different. That he would somehow make some lifestyle changes and be stronger than ever. I always encouraged him and told him that I loved him and believed him, but deep down I knew that he didn’t have much time left. You see, the damage had already been done. The choices he made in his life in regards to his health had put him where he was and there really wasn’t much that could change this path that he was on.

On Wednesday, September 13, I got a phone call from my dad in the morning. He was telling me how he was just waiting to be transferred to another hospital for a higher level care and he was getting impatient. I assured him that the nurses and case managers were calling every day and that hopefully he would get transferred soon to get the next surgery he needed for his heart. I told him I loved him and that I would come see him soon. I reminded him to just be patient and to let me know if he needed anything or if they weren’t taking care of him. Again, he assured me that everyone was very nice and taking great care of him.

That would be the last conversation that I would have with my dad. Just 4 short hours later, a nurse would call me to tell me that his status had changed, his heart had stopped, and they had to revive him. He was now in the ICU, intubated, sedated, and on multiple meds. Being a nurse, I asked more questions about down time, CPR, how long, what meds were given and more. To my amazement no one could give me concrete answers. However, none of those answers could change the outcome at this point.

I rushed to the hospital to be by his side and once I got there I knew it wasn’t good. I’ll spare you the details, but with my nursing knowledge I knew that what I was seeing were not good signs. The downtime had been too long and the damage had been done. My family and I had to make the heart wrenching decision to take him off of life support one week later. And now I want to share with you what I learned and how you can maybe get through something like this better than I did.

  1. Please talk to your loved ones about your end of life wishes. Write out an advanced directive. Be specific! Ask lots of questions! If you aren’t sure what questions to ask then find someone in the medical field who can help you. Talk with your doctor and get this form filled out. Most states have them available to download and a couple witnesses will do for making it all legal.
  2. Please have life insurance or some type of burial plan in place and make your end of life wishes known here too. Don’t be afraid to be specific, have a plan written out, and find a way to prepare financially for it. Even cremation isn’t cheap and if it’s an unexpected cost then it can be even more stressful
  3. Set up a power of attorney. Designate someone to make decisions for you and let your family know who that person or persons are. This is not something you want to be a surprise. Luckily my father had done this and all his children had an understanding of who the decision makers were
  4. Find a place to store passwords, make sure you have beneficiaries set up where needed, and discuss any pensions, savings, bank accounts, etc. Even doing something simple like cancelling my fathers health insurance or trying get information on savings account became difficult because none of these things had been discussed or set up prior to his death. And even if you don’t have much to leave, set up a will and designate someone to handle your affairs after death. Because as I learned, a power of attorney is only valid while someone is alive.
  5. Take the time you need to grieve and grieve in your OWN way! Don’t let anyone tell you that you need more time or less time, you should grieve this way or that way. Cry, scream laugh, run, sleep, WHATEVER! Do what you need to do. I spent a lot of time crying, getting angry, feeling nothing, eating and drinking. It wasn’t easy. I may not have coped with it in the best way possible but it worked for me. A month later I still have my moments but it is getting better day by day.

**Here is my disclaimer to that though. If your grief starts to interfere with your every day life and your relationship and your ability to work or function then it may be time to seek professional help. It doesn’t make you weak or any less able to cope, it just means that you might need a little more help to get through this. I thought about it and I still think about it and it may be something that I look into in the future.

And finally, take some time for you. Draw a bath, read a book, do something mindless, anything to just feel like you again. Even if it means taking 10 minutes for yourself, just do it.

I don’t know that grief is ever something that fully goes away. My daddy is gone. I will never hug him again, hear his voice (other than the voicemail I can’t delete), feel his kiss on my cheek, or hold his hand. I’ll never see him hold my children, hear him the play the piano, or laugh at his not so silly jokes. But day by day I do my best to remember the good times, the better times, the loving times, and the healthier times. And every day I work to make him a little more proud of his best big girl!

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