Over the last five years I’ve had a lot of time to sit alone with my dad with each of us in the hospital so much and four years ago daddy accompanying me to my radiation treatments two days a week for more than six weeks so he and I have had lots of time to sit and pass the time together in hospital rooms and oncology waiting rooms. It’s hard to be grateful for sickness, but I’m so grateful for all the time we got to spend together over the last five years.
Dear Old Dad is gone, he passed away just before one o’clock Tuesday afternoon. Rest in peace Dad, maybe the Phillies play better in heaven.
Brooke Gladstone wrote in beginning pages of her book, “The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media,” that she writes and reports to help herself understand things so she can help others understand them as well. Five years ago I wrote to help myself comprehend my cancer and all of the surgeries and treatments that went along with it and maybe also others on the same journey understand their own journey; so here I am again writing to make sense of what is going on in my life and work my way through what I’ve read described as anticipatory grief or grieving before death. I feel lost, and afraid, and helpless because I have no control over the inevitable.
Dad’s dying, there’s no two ways about it; last fall we learned he has stage 3 heart failure and stage 3 kidney failure and that there is nothing more to be done surgically or medically; basically, it is what is until it isn’t. During the same time period Dad’s primary care doc told my mother and brother, Dad could live five days or five years. Lately what is has been less and what isn’t has been more pronounced and it’s terrifying and sad and all too real.
Nine days ago in my last blog post I wrote about fearing that Dear Old Dad wouldn’t make it through the night. Well he made it through the night and went in to the hospital the next morning. He spent seven days there having blood transfusions to get his hemoglobin up to nine from a low of seven point five, receiving IV Lasix to reduce the fluid in his body that the oral meds just weren’t strong enough to remove, and being put on two liters of oxygen to keep his oxygen levels above ninety as opposed to the eighty-five they’ve been hovering around.
Because of the anemia the cardiology team took Dad off of his Effient, which is basically a blood thinner that helps keep plaque and blood clots from forming around the six or nine (I don’t remember the exact number) stents in Dad’s heart; so it’s a trade off to I suppose give him a little bit better quality of life and a little more strength and in all honesty he’s not much stronger after seven days in the hospital. We had him moved to the rehab he was in last September to hopefully get him stronger, but he had a bad day today with nausea and vomiting and confusion. I hope once he gets in the swing of the daily routine and gets a few days of therapy going he’ll feel better and more like himself and be able to come home feeling stronger.
The term the nurses in the hospital use to explain the confusion is sundown, which basically is exactly what is sounds like, elderly people get more confused as the day winds down; no one’s sure why. Dad is definitely better during the earlier part of the day although maybe not right as he’s waking up. I swore up and down that if Dear Old Dad would take his head out of his ass and just allow the heart failure monitoring service to put him on oxygen at home (he’s a stubborn one) he wouldn’t wake up so confused but he’s been on the oxygen for more than a week now and he still gets confused. I don’t think the confusion is going away.
So there it is, what is and what isn’t, and my attempt to wrap my head around the knowledge that Dad’s dying and me trying to come to terms with that fact. I honestly believe it’s harder to watch someone get old and die than it is when they finally pass from this mortal coil. Long, sad endings suck, you can quote me on that.
It’s almost 3am and I’m wide-awake and worried. My dad’s dying. Hopefully not tonight and hopefully not tomorrow, but dad’s dying. He has congestive heart failure, which he’s had for at least the last two years; maybe longer, I can’t remember. He had his first heart attack in 2003; he’s gotten progressively worse and gone from blockages and stents to congestive heart failure paired with kidney failure. He’s been getting weaker lately, even the blood transfusion he had a few weeks ago did nothing for the weakness. The upped dosage of Lasix hasn’t helped with the water weight gain and swollen feet. He’s not doing well. I’m scared. I’m afraid he won’t make it through the night. I can’t sleep because I’m afraid the phone will ring in the middle of the night.
At about twenty to eleven this evening I got a call from my sister-in-law telling me my brother was on his way over to my parents’ house because dad needed help getting up and in to bed. My brother has him settled in to his bed and as comfortable as he can be right now. If he makes it through the night and he’s not better by morning there will likely be another hospitalization.
So for tonight we wait and we wonder; is tonight the night, will he wake up better tomorrow like he sometimes does, will he be worse, is this another month in the hospital and rehab, is it time for him to move to a home, what will tomorrow bring?
I wasn’t prepared for this. I spent all year fearing my father would die. But I did not see this coming. Even though I knew Jenn wasn’t feeling well, even through I knew Jenn was in a lot of pain with a multitude of health problems I never thought Jenn would die. I still thought Jenn would get better and we’d go back to meeting for pizza.
Even when Jenn’s husband called me and I heard his voice on the other end of the phone I still believed he would tell me that Jenn had finally gone to the ER that they’d kept her. I heard him say the words, “Jenn died” and in the time it took to say those two words my world changed. I hung up the phone and went to pieces.
We spoke on an almost daily basis. Jenn was my breaking news friend; fires, floods, mass shootings, big storms, you name it; if it was breaking news she called. We’d discuss the incident and witness it together. The bad stuff doesn’t seem as bad or as frightening when you’ve got a familiar and friendly voice on the other end of the phone.
I still can’t believe I’m never going to hear Jenn’s voice again. I can’t believe she’s gone. We went to Jenn’s farewell ceremony last night and I couldn’t bring myself to touch the urn as we made our final pass and said our final goodbye. I can’t tell you why, but I just couldn’t.
I don’t know to feel. I had a big cry when I got off the phone with Jenn’s husband and I’ve had moments when I’ve filled up, but I’m oddly calm. That afternoon I called a friend to inform her that Jenn had died and we cried together and then that night I still had to go get dinner and then grocery shop. I called another friend to let her knew that Jenn had passed. I spoke to another friend the next morning and I did not cry along with her. I don’t know why.
I filled up in the car on the way home last night thinking how I’ll never hear Jenn’s voice again but I haven’t had that one big breakdown save for when I first found out. I always tell people that no one should tell them how to grieve and that they have to grieve in their own way and in their own time and yet I find myself thinking, “You’re doing it wrong. Why aren’t you more upset? Why aren’t you falling apart? What’s wrong with you?”
I’m sad and I definitely suffered from horrible anxiety all day yesterday desperately not wanting to go to Jenn’s farewell service wondering if I could live with myself if I did not at least make an appearance. I’m glad I did go. I didn’t sleep for the first four days after I learned Jenn died. I finally came home and took something to help me sleep and I got the first solid four hours of sleep I’ve had since Sunday.
So here I am, awake in the early morning and feeling more rested than I’ve been in the last five days, wondering, “Where do I go from here?” Jenn’s gone, our goodbyes have been said, and now all that is left is life without Jenn. I don’t know how to feel. I don’t know how to act. I’m grateful that she’s no longer in pain, I’m grateful she’s no longer suffering, but I hate that she’s no longer part of my daily life. Who’s going to call me when there’s breaking news? Why am I not more upset? I don’t understand. What’s wrong with me? My heart is broken. Is the epic meltdown to come? Could it be that some people never have epic meltdowns?
I’ve fiercely told anyone I’ve ever known who was grieving that there is no one way to grieve and that they shouldn’t allow anyone to place a timeline on their grieving or tell them how to grieve, but yet I can’t help thinking that I am doing it wrong. Is there a wrong way to grieve? Where do I go from here?