Hello all! I want to start writing a chain of articles dealing with how we handle grief and bereavement in this crazy world today; it's an inevitable fact that as humans we will all die eventually. I'm sorry to be blunt, but it's just something that we will all have to deal with. When I was 20 years old, I was thrown into this select group of kids who have lost a parent before they're old enough to rent a car. No one tells you what it's going to be like after one or more of your parents leaves the planet, but if I can drive one thing home, it's that through death there is life. Death is a natural game changer in our lives, and there is truth in that through death there is rebirth, so I would like introduce myself by sharing my experience with death.
April 10th, 2016
Just a normal day; the weather was really nice; I lived in Florida at the time and it hadn't gotten too hot or muggy yet, and everyone was excited because the school year was almost finished. It was my junior year of university; I was in the most difficult part of my college experience—you're so close to finish line, but you still have one more year to go. I was feeling particularly proud of myself that day after having finished up a five hour study session in the library; so on my walk home I called my dad to tell him how I was feeling about my final exams coming up and how excited I was that I had all A's going into my exams. I loved calling my dad and just chatting about life in university. My parents lived in Wisconsin at the time, so phone calls to them felt like lifelines, and that phone call in particular was a really good one. We ended with me saying I'm going to go take a nap because I had a headache, and he said "Okay Bobo, good stuff today, I love you." He didn't say "I love you" too often. When he did, you knew he meant it. So after I hung up the phone, walked home and proceeded to drift into a well deserved afternoon slumber.
When I woke up, it was an hour away from The Walking Dead season finale, I was so excited, I pulled up the group chat I had with my sister and long time family friend and was all ready for the show to start. Through out the show my friend and I had been placing bets on who was going to be killed off and debated if the show was going down hill, because the zombie's were losing their stake in the show and it turned into just human on human violence. Something felt off about the conversation though; my sister hadn't chimed in once with some witty banter. The show continued, and the climax of the show was about to happen, someone was about to die, I got a text from my friend saying "who's it going to be?" and then my phone rings. It's my sister and she's at the hospital, she's asking me all of these questions about what is dad allergic too, when's his birthday, where's mom, can I get a hold of mom? So many things coming out of her at once, that she completely missed the telling me the reason for her and my dad being at the hospital. I finally answer all the questions and got her to calm down, and she says: "Dad's had a stroke, he asked me to drive him to hospital, he was lucid until we got here and then he just went limp, and then the doctors wheeled him off to [emergency brain] surgery." In that moment, I went into fight mode. I needed to get my sister situated so she wasn't alone, call my mom who was on a flight to Dallas and tell her husband is in brain surgery, and keep my shit together to answer more questions when needed. Finally, my aunt calls me and she says she's with my sister, my mom calls and has booked a flight home, and I got word that my dad was situated in the ICU and was still alive. All of this music to my ears, but when relief started to set in I knew the outcome of this isn't going to be good. (Just like the ending of The Walking Dead when I finally finished a couple months later.)
April 13th, 2016
For three days, I sat in my apartment in Florida trying to understand the magnitude of what had gone down a couple nights before, while also trying to get through finals. I stayed and finished my exams, while my dad went in and out of brain surgeries to try and get the swelling in his brain to go down and figure out what caused the stroke. I flew out a couple hours after my last exam. Walking off the plane felt like I was walking on the moon; I felt weightless and the world felt like it was spinning. My aunt and uncle were there to pick me up and take me directly to the hospital. The whole car ride was filled with conversation about how he's doing great, considering the circumstances, the doctors are optimistic, and they've stopped the brain bleed. When we got to the hospital, walking to the ICU felt like a maze of hallways and doors. We finally reached the door to his room, and walking into his room was one of the most painful things I've ever done. Once I could see him laying in the hospital bed with his head wrapped up in a bandage, every hospital tube and machine hooked up to his body; I broke in half. My knees when limp, and I just kneeled down and let the tears just rush out. After I picked myself and held his hand for a bit, it felt like the world started move in slow motion and the same unanswered questions just swirled in my head: How am I supposed to feel? How should I react? What do I say? What do I do? Do I pray? How did this happen? How did I get here? Where's the doctor? Where's my mom? Will he wake up? If he wakes up, what will he be like?
I had only seen this kind of things in movies and TV shows, and I just want to say unfortunately those examples aren't the most accurate... your body just goes numb in the midst of all the confusion and suddenly everything that's happened to you in the past, bad and good, don't matter. All that matters is that you're in standing in a hospital room, listening to the beeps of the machines, praying that you don't hear the line go flat.
April 14th-16th, 2016
By April 15th my mom, my sister, and I were exhausted. Those three days in the hospital were filled with doctor's meetings, surgery scheduling... you know, making life and death decisions on behalf of someone while trying to stay unbiased and maintaining a hopeful disposition. We were the liaisons between my father and the people making sure he stayed alive.
My dad had proven to the doctors that he was the healthiest sick man they have ever seen. He had made it through three brain surgeries and had successfully survived his stroke. The unanswered question was... how much of his brain had been damaged? The MRI's had shown us where his brain was damaged, but we didn't know to what extent to how damaged his brain was. So, the doctors provided us with the task to wake him up, which lead to my mom, my sister, and I to get creative. After three days of constant waiting and worrying we wanted to have some fun; so we simply turned the ICU into the party floor. We played my dad's favorite music, turned on his favorite movies, screamed at him, told him jokes, snuck beer into the ICU, we did everything to get him to join our not-so pity party.
He'd move around, making body adjustments in his bed, squeeze our hands, make slight moans, everything that could be seen as improvements. Eventually, we started to realize that through those body movements he was trying to communicate with us, we came up with the code that moving his left foot would be "yes" and no movement would be "no." We got on for about day like this, but he still couldn't open his eye or respond verbally. Eventually the hope that was restored started to dwindle, and by April 15th the improvements that we thought were being made plateaued, and a decision needed to be made. It was a choice between keeping my dad alive and praying for a miracle, or letting him go. Throughout the family we were pretty split on the decision, but then we realized that it wasn't our decision to make, so we asked my dad.
My mom went into the hospital room and grabbed my dad's hand and asked "do you want us to let you go?" and he slowly shook his left foot. So, that afternoon, my mom, my sister, and I scheduled a meeting with the palliative care specialists, and told the doctors that this was the end. Throughout the evening my dad held onto life long enough to make sure that everyone said their respective goodbyes, and at 4:30 AM, April 16th, 2016, he passed.
It's been just over three years since I've said "goodbye" to my dad. Everyone grieves differently; for me losing my dad was a reminder that I'm human, and that we are meant to have good time on this planet, just like he did. I feel the impact he's had on my life daily and I want to let him live through me. I have encountered a lot of scrutiny for taking this approach to grieving; I've heard from outsiders that I am being "disrespectful, insensitive, and unsympathetic," about my own father's death. What I'd like to respond back to them is "It's none of your business," and I honor my dad by relishing in the fact that our relationship was beautiful, and full of positivity, so why should my relationship with him after he's passed change in anyway. The relationship you have with someone who has passed is what you define it. There are no rules or expectations to how you respond to death.
Thank you for reading my story, and there will be more to come... :)