Thursday, August 20, 2015

proud

i can't believe it's been almost a month since i've updated the blog. we arrived back in seattle on tuesday after being in minneapolis for the past 26 days (thatcher was there for about 8 days, split into two trips). it was a whirlwind of a trip. the kids and i arrived on july 23rd. my dad was in the hospital. none of us were really sure what kind of timing the future held for him. 

he passed away on august 1st. 

i have so much i want to write because it helps me to process things. there are parts of my dad's final days that i wish i could forget because they were so hard and there are parts that i never want to forget! so i guess i'll just....start. consider this your warning if you aren't into reading about this kind of topic. 

when the kids and i flew to minneapolis, my dad had been hospitalized for an infection. it had turned into sepsis, which is really dangerous for any one, but especially some one with a low white blood cell count. i went straight to the hospital and when i walked in the room he said "oh good, the last member of the team has arrived." that made me smile. he spent the next 2 days in the hospital, mostly so they could get his antibiotics sorted out. i don't understand how he was able to survive having sepsis, but he did. once he left the hospital, the plan for him was to start hospice care. we had always hoped to do home hospice when the time came, but unfortunately it wasn't possible with the tumor on his lower spine making him a paraplegic. so, my mom, brother and i set out to visit some hospice centers. at that time the palliative doctors were estimating he had about 1 month left to live. they remarked that he was "off the charts" for having survived stage 4 lung cancer for this long. we found a really nice multi-purpose care center in burnsville. we loved that they had hospice apartments for the patient + family to use, they were extremely accommodating, and it didn't feel sad or depressing there at all. my dad was discharged from the hospital on a saturday. he was mostly aware of what was happening, although there were some comments and questions from him that showed evidence of a bit of confusion, most likely from all the medications he was on. every person we encountered at hospice - from the nurses to the doctor to the social worker to the receptionist were all amazing. they really become part of your family and while they don't know your loved one personally, they are eager to see old pictures and hear stories about them. the compassion every one of them showed was truly a gift. 

my dad ended up being in hospice care for only one week. it was a life-altering week for all of us. at the beginning of the week my dad was not ready to die. it was heartbreaking to see him in a state of intense pain and fear and i desperately wished i could fix it for him. i had many "i can't handle this!" moments because it was so hard. but before our eyes, he gradually started to find peace with his fate. i spent a lot of time with him, just hanging out in his room. he didn't talk about leaving us. i think it was just too painful for him. i can't imagine what it would be like to be in his shoes. the hospice doctor visited mid week and told us he estimated somewhere between 2-5 more days. quite the change in less than a week! i think once my dad came to terms with the fact that there was absolutely nothing else that could be done, he turned his focus from fighting for his life to fighting for his death to be without suffering. as an aside, it made me think a lot about how letting some one die feels so surreal in the world we live in today. a world where you are told you can do anything you put your mind to and anything is possible. but death will always be the exception. we all have that in common. 

one morning, i went back to my parents' house alone to shower. knowing that my dad would never set foot in their house again was hard to swallow. i even walked around to every room looking for him in case there was some mistake and that very sick man laying in the bed back in hospice wasn't actually him. but of course that was not the case. grief does some weird things to your normally rational mind. 

by the 6th day in hospice, he was drifting into a peaceful, transitional state where he was only opening his eyes to acknowledge us, nod, give a one word answer, etc. we had been telling him all week "thatcher is coming on friday!" and i know he was waiting to see him one more time. i brought thatcher there straight from the airport and my dad acknowledged he was there. a while later, all of us were sitting in the living room and thatcher went into the bedroom to say goodbye before going to see the kids and he walked out and said to us "your dad just shook my hand." that is a moment i will never forget! it gave me goose bumps. my dad must have saved his energy all day to do that because he hadn't done much more than open his eyes that entire day. thatcher and my dad always had a special bond, something i am so grateful for. 

that evening, my parents' close friends keith and sue brought over pizza and wine to the apartment for my mom, brother, me, my aunt cindy, and my grandma's husband bob. we ate and drank and took turns going into my dad's room and sitting with him and talking to him. by this point he was not responding to us anymore, but the nurses told us that hearing is the last thing to go and that we should assume he can hear everything we say to him even if he isn't showing any response. i drank quite a bit of red wine from a paper cup that night while i held my dad's hand and talked to him and told him how much he means to me. it was such an honor to be with him. my mom, brother, and i stayed over night that night, knowing he could go at any time. but he didn't go that night. 

we spent the entire next day sitting at the apartment, crying, talking, waiting. at 6:23pm my mom was sitting with my dad when he took his final breath. my brother and i rushed in there. and just like that, it was all over. the first thing i felt (rather than sadness) was intense pride. i was so proud of him for conquering the scariest thing he had ever faced. even though he had died, i felt like he had won because he was no longer suffering. he freed himself. that feeling really helped get me through the first week. 

i will admit that feeling has waned a bit as time has gone on. instead of being incredibly grateful that he is no longer suffering (which of course i still am), i've found myself feeling daunted by the idea of never getting to see or talk with him again. even though we had almost 3 years to mentally prepare for this, you can never really be prepared. i look at pictures of him big and healthy from a few years ago and thinking "whoa! what just happened?" 

my dad had always told my mom he wanted to be cremated, which took away the pressure of having to do a funeral in a few short days. we opted to wait two weeks and do a memorial visitation and service. my dad grew up in new jersey and his whole family still lives there, so many of them flew in and we didn't want it to be such a financial burden. we also had family from georgia come and friends from oregon and michigan. i was blown away by the love that was shown to our family in those days. my dad was a retired firefighter of 28 years, so there was a big presence of both current and former fire fighters at his memorials. the grand finale of the weekend was a party at my aunt and uncle's beautiful home on a lake with delicious food, drinks, and sharing the company of our family and closest friends. i found it so comforting to be with those who love my dad as much as i do. 

it was tough leaving my mom and brother to come back to seattle, but i know everything will be okay. my dad spent his whole marriage to my mom preparing a stable, comfortable life for them. it's a gift that she will keep receiving every day even though he is no longer here. she also has a huge support network of friends and family. and she has already booked a trip out to visit us in mid september. i can't wait! as for me, i take comfort in what an amazing father he was to me. pictures and reminders of him make me smile and feel so thankful for the 31 years i got with him. as i told him in his last days, i hit the jackpot with him. and i will spend the rest of my life trying to love my kids as selflessly as he loved me. i'm not sure if anyone is still reading this crazy long post, but i've been wanting to write it for a while and now it's done. :) 





17 comments:

Leah said...

What a lovely post - I definitely teared up (at work, nonetheless). I'm so sorry for your loss but grateful you got to experience those last days. I hope as time passes, it gets easier for you and I'm glad you have such great memories to reflect upon. XO

Diana said...

I join Leah in shedding a few tears. I know you are proud of your dad, but I imagine he's proud of you for handling such a sad situation with such poise and grace. Please do keep writing because you are so good at putting such difficult concepts in to words!

Jackie and Tom said...

Melissa, my heart still aches for you and how hard this last month's especially has been. Reading this definitely brought many tears to my eyes as well. It's clear you are brave just as your dad was and hope your heart continues to feel peace as you grieve.

Brittany said...

I too teared up and of course while at work. It difficult as that week was it sounds like it was also comforting being surrounded by family and your dad spent his last week sharing love with you all.

Leah D said...

Don't mind me. I've just got an ugly cry going on. I could feel all your emotions through your words. I'm glad you were able to be there to tell him everything you wanted and needed to tell him before he passed. Still thinking of you always. Hugs.

Miss Jewells said...

Writing is like therapy for me, too. I'm so glad you were able to get these words down and share them with all of us. I cried reading them - I can feel the intense love and pride for your father, and the devastation of losing him. Grief is so unique, yet so familiar, and your words bring back so many emotions for me. In my opinion, grief never ends - it becomes a part of us in the same way the person we mourn was a part of us, too. I pray you continue to find peace and comfort on this journey and send hugs your way. Thinking of you and so sorry again for your loss!

Bridget said...

Bawling like a baby over here! I'm so glad you shared great moments with your dad in his final days here on earth. Know that he will be constantly with you in spirit. Talk to him often as I have heard amazing stories of people showing their presence after passing. Once again, so sorry for your loss!

Kris said...

Another set of wet eyes here! What a touching post, Melissa. These days must be so tough. Lots of love to you and yours.

lo @ crazy ever after said...

I'm still reading. Love you, friend. ❤️

Durant Imboden said...

Very moving post. You're a wonderful writer (also a great daughter, daughter-in-law, wife, and mother).

Sarah said...

I am so glad you were able to say your goodbyes and be with him during this! Just as you are so proud of him, I am sure he's just as proud of you! If you ever need to talk, I am here for you!

Emily Torgerson said...

Thanks for sharing. Your love and respect for your dad and family shines through in this post. Best wishes moving forward.

Hilary said...

Beautiful post, Melissa. Tears in my eyes.

Kelly B. said...

I started a new job and got insanely behind on blog reading. So of course I come across this post sitting at home alone with the cat and have all the feels. Ack. So much of my own experience seems so eerily similar to yours and yet so different. From shopping hospice centers (although we never made it out of the hospital) to being told "a month" and have it revised to a week. I will say, I'm so so glad you guys found a good place to spend that time- I just remember the places we looked being so depressing and gross and knowing we likely only had a week and wondering why they were insisting we go look and BLAH awful. I'm not sure what else to say... it'll be a long weird road and like someone else said.. it just changes who you are. I don't acutely feel that every day, but there are definitely moments I step back and assess and it's given me an innately unique perspective on life. Thinking of you guys.

Also, Sarah M recommended the Angel Catcher journal.. which I found helpful.

Paige said...

So sorry for your loss. I hope you enjoy the wonderful memories of your Dad and keep them alive in your children every day. xo

Faith said...

I'm in tears reading this because I know how you're feeling right now. The first few days I also was like, she is no longer in pain and that helped but now it's like, how is she not here? It was just one year of her fighting this cancer, how is she not here? How is it possible that I will never see her, hug her or talk to her ever again? Some days are really so much harder than others and I don't know how it will get easier but I know they will. I'm thinking of you and hope that you have some good days and that thoughts of him bring smiles vs. sadness. He was loved, you were loved and in life that is truly all that matters. xoxo

Sarah said...

i am just so thankful you were able to be here with him and your family. so sweet.
im so sorry for your loss beautiful friend.

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