Re-Adjusting: Resurrection and Transformation

looking back

Source: pexels.com

If you have ever experienced the death (or loss) of a loved one, you know that your life becomes a series of firsts. First birthday without them, first holiday, first year, and so on. So here I am in my first month without him.

These last 30-days have been a slow drip through the surreal. My emotions have ranged from acceptance to anger, but mostly I just want to be in silence. My hospice grief counselor says I am right on schedule for feeling all the feels. She mentions that after 2-3 weeks the shock usually wears off and the emotions begin to rise. This feels about right, because it has only been recently that I have felt more anger and irritability mixed in with the pre-existing sadness.

I wish I could go on retreat, somewhere in the hills or forest, and just be in silence with every emotion that arises. This feels like the ideal thing to do, but instead I go to work, and mostly it has been okay. After a full day I am exhausted and do nothing (and I am grateful for the ability to do nothing). Sometimes I get a burst of energy, but as quickly as it comes, it slips away (I guess that’s why it’s a burst).

Being in my grieving life, and “old life” has had it’s consequences. One day, I came home form work to suddenly feel a horribly paralyzing anxiety that left me feeling physically, emotionally, and mentally agitated for hours. I realized that being in both my grieving life and my “old routine” life felt like a schism, and that living in both worlds was/is probably too opposing for my psyche.

The flashbacks have been the hardest. At times I can’t stop thinking about my father’s last days. I remember the lightness of his thin body, his agitated body movements, the pained expressions on his face, and the sadness in his eyes. The inability for us to verbally communicate haunts me as I wonder if he was in more pain that we knew. I wonder if he was scared. I wonder if dying was scary for him.

Then there’s the wondering. Wondering if he really had dementia. Wondering if there was something else going on and that we could have helped him more. Everything happened so fast that we didn’t get a chance for a decent second option or tests. This helpless experience has made it easy to feel guilty for not doing more, especially before he became symptomatic.

On most days, it’s the experience of a routine that no longer is. I never realized how much my dad was on my mind. Like an idling car, he must have been a constant hum in my subconscious. I still wake with the thought of calling my dad to see how he is doing, or spontaneously have the desire to tell him what I saw that day. If I have a really good cup of coffee, I think of him and sending some to him. One afternoon I sat in a medical lab waiting for a blood draw. I imagined the many times he did the same. Even though he was relatively healthy, he had routine blood draws and doctor visits to monitor his health. I imagined how this must have been so tiresome for him.

Despite all this, I trust that both he and I are well. I trust that I will land in my new normal. I trust that dreams of him are our way of staying connected and I trust he is with me in my waking life.

With today being Easter, I find myself more aware of resurrection. It’s everywhere all the time! A resurrection is an awakening, and re-birthing, a renewal, and a transformation. On my dad’s final days, I was well aware that he was in his own transformational journey. It was intense to feel our lives changing and falling into deep stillness. At that time I wondered what both our resurrections would look like.

Today I still wonder, and yet know, that resurrection and transformation is happening in it’s own slow and gentle way everyday. Anxiety attacks and all.

Goodbye Part 10: Earthquakes

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Arna Baartz, “You Are Beautiful”

The next few days felt silent. I took things slowly and found comfort in the company of my sisters. We shared memories about our father and continued to ask questions out of confusion. I mean really, what just happened? It was all so fast, so confusing, and so severe. We continued to re-trace our steps, question and doubt out decisions, and remember that my father’s quality of life was at stake. How do we begin to make peace with all of this?

Leaving my father’s home was harder than expected. Each day I was there kept me tethered to the lingering essence of him. As long as I was there, I was still “with” him. But I can’t stay forever (or can I?), and at some point I must re-enter my altered life 3-hours West.

So I wandered into his bedroom, saying goodbye to it, to him, and trying to remember him here. Sitting on the bed’s edge with his pack of chihuahuas surrounding him, making it hard to get close to him.

I said goodbye to the house, and goodbye to “visits to see dad”.

It was Tuesday when I made the drive home. It went surprisingly fast despite feeling my past-life slip away with each mile. No more thinking of my next time back, or what I would bring with me next time I see him. No more calling him to let him know I arrived safely.

As I merged onto the 101 South, I took a deep breath and sighed. I could feel the difference between the dusty flat land, and green rolling coastal landscape.

Luckily my first stop was at my therapists office. I somehow managed to recount my last 2-weeks, and by the end could feel a slight sliver of my life returning. As I stepped out to my car, the warm weather felt intrusive, reminding my it was too soon to be outdoors.

Once home, I lost myself in the distraction of unpacking, vacuuming, having dinner, and laying on the couch watching mindless t.v. I slid into sleep and dreamt about earthquakes.

Saying Goodbye, Part 9: Silent Departure

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Marina Petro, “Phoenix Rising”

Friday morning came and I checked-in on my dad. His breathing was so peaceful and easy. He sounded like he was having the best sleep of his life, like he should be laying in the grass in the park on a late Sunday afternoon. I looked up at my sister who sat next to him and made a “wow, that’s great” face.

Since I was going to be there longer, I decided to mail out my rent check and pick up what I needed for the next few days. before leaving, I helped change my dad, reposition him, and gave him his medication. I hated leaving, but I knew I had to take care of these things if I was going to stay longer. Throughout this time I tried to stay with my dad as much as possible, so on those few occasions where I headed out I was antsy and anxious.

When I arrived home one of my sisters asked if I needed help. “No, I got it.” and I placed the bag of groceries on the kitchen table. I looked up to see my dad alone in the living room. “Why is he alone?” I thought. For the last two weeks someone has been by his side 24/7. Now he was there alone and it was so quiet. Too quiet. I quickly put the few cold items in the refrigerator and went to my dad’s side.

He seemed too still. I placed my hand on his chest, right above where his hands were folded. No movement. His mouth was open as I placed my hand under his nose. Nothing. “Dad. Dad…” I don’t know if it was a question or a statement, but I kept repeating “Dad” as I lightly shook him. No response. I looked down to see his belly sunken and his lips barely changing color.

I ran to my sister’s room to tell her dad wasn’t breathing. We stood next to him checking again to be sure. ” I swear” she said to me, “I checked on him 5 minutes ago, and he was breathing.” I ran to my other sister who was on the phone in another room, “Dad isn’t breathing” I told her. All three of us stood by him, each of us crying and trying to understand what just happened. There wasn’t a moment he was alone, and the one time we all tended to our responsibilities, he left. I felt flashes of guilt, inadequacy, and stupidity at my decision to leave that morning.

“This is what he wanted” one sister said. “He had said that he wanted to die in his sleep and to be found gone.” I had to believe this was true in order to keep my guilt at bay. But most importantly, my dad was gone.

We called his brother and when he arrived, we prayed, gave our words of gratitude, and bathed and oiled my father’s body. My sister played a recording of my father re-telling a story from his childhood. My father was a great storyteller, and hearing his lovely voice brought me to tears. The reality hit hard, that I would never have conversations with him, ask him how to do something, or ask him to tell me about the time when…

I made a final prayer before the cremation service took his body from his home and suddenly, it all felt so void.

Saying Goodbye, Part 8: Hospice Begins

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Jonathan Clark, “Gemini”

Sunday came and dad made it home. The admitting hospice nurse showed us how to care for our dad, and answered any questions we had. When she left I was nervous and anxious. It was up to us now, to make sure our dad was comfortable, safe, and cared for. At this point there were four of us, all sisters, rotating tasks and providing care.We rotated his position every 2-hours during the day, and every 3-hours throughout the night. Before each procedure I would tell him, “Okay dad, we are going to change you/move you/give you medication now. Is that okay?”

By now our father was less verbal. He could respond with head gestures or in the expression of his eyes. He still recognized family members, but couldn’t talk. As each day passed he became thinner and lighter. As his pain became more obvious, we had to decide between him being awake and in pain, or medicating his pain, which caused him to sleep. When you want to have as much time with your dying loved one, these are not great options, however the right decision was obvious.

One of our sisters left on Wednesday, and I felt her absence quite rapidly. She understood me most, and so with her gone, I felt alone to some degree.

On Thursday the nurse visited and helped us with concerns that arose along the way. She checked my dad’s vitals and informed us that his breathing and digestive noises were still good, and that his blood pressure was a little high. We talked about the changes in his breathing being an indicator that he was close to the end of life. It sounded like my dad might be around a bit longer, so we talked about how we could best stretch out our work leave in order to stay with him. We all decided to stay as long as we could and address any gaps in need if that time should come.

We knew that every person’s death was different, and that although there are similarities in process, you just don’t know what to expect. So we were prepared for a longer stay if that was what was needed.

 

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