This week marked the 3rd anniversary of my Daddy's death. Because he had "beaten" cancer in 1991, and reached that all important 5 year, Cancer-free milestone, he, and we thought he was home free. When, in 2004, he began to have some back pains, he wrote it off to "old age." At 77, he had to expect some aches and pains, right? By the time he went to see the Dr. in July of 2004 because of bloody stools, the cancer had metastasized from his remaining kidney to his spine, stomach, liver,and lungs.
It was August before all the tumor typing and classing was done. That was when one resident finally gave us a prognosis, none of the Attendings would be that brutal. But this one Resident talked to one of my Stepbrothers and me. He wouldn't say anything in front of Daddy or my Stepmother, they had so much hope and faith, he just couldn't, I guess, or maybe the Attendings had told him not to say anything. But, we cornered him and just bluntly said, "Look, we're not like Mom and Daddy. WE know it's bad. Just give us a round number so we can start to prepare ourselves and the rest of the sibs, and our kids and nieces and nephews. They deserve that much. We'd like for them to be able to see him while he's still in good spirits, not when he's too weak or in too much pain to respond. " God Bless him, He took us at our word. "Well they want me to tell you a year. But I think that's way too optimistic, I don't see him lasting much past Thanksgiving, Christmas at the outside."
That knocked me for a loop. This was August. But I took a deep breath and gutted it up and thanks the Doc and shook his hand.
I went downstairs, cried for a few minutes and then I started calling. I called my kids, I called Daddy's closest out of town Cousins. I told them they didn't have to come that weekend, but they needed to come soon.
I also called members of his High School football team. The remaining members still got together for lunch once a month. I told them, honestly how serious it was. He was as close to these men and their wives as as he was to brothers. He loved them. And they came. The ones who lived close to the hospital came often and came to see him at home, too.
I am proud of that. I think it was a kindness and that it helped Daddy. I know it helped me and eased my mind to see him surrounded by all that love and affection.
As I was watching Daddy die, I was watching myself go through the classic stages of grief at the same time. Anger, Denial, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance, yeppers, went through all of them. Though not necessarily in that order and I went through some of them more than once. It was surrealistic at times because I'd get this detached, clinical feeling of watching myself from a distance, "yes, now I'm Angry." "OK, now I'm in the Bargaining Stage." "Look, Holly you're in Denial again, and you KNOW that's not productive!"
One of the most useful tools I learned when I was in training to be a Grief Counselor was to give the client permission to be ANGRY at the person who is dying/has died. I hear what you're thinking, "WHAT?!?! How can you be mad at someone for dying?" Simple, when you think of dying as abandonment. And, if you're honest with yourself, emotionally, death feels like being abandoned now doesn't it. When a friend lost her Mother and was going through a really bad bout of depression a couple of weeks after the loss, I went to visit her. I said, "You know, it's okay to be mad at her. After all, she DID abandon you." If you want to yell at her and get it off your chest, I won't tell anybody." For a couple of seconds she just looked at me with this shocked expression on her face. Then she was crying and grinning at the same time, "I am pissed off at her. She DID go off and LEAVE me here. How dare she do that to me? I've still got a family to take care of and problems to go through, and, and and..."
See what I mean? When you're given permission to feel an emotion that is somewhat shameful, it is liberating. It allows you to own that emotion and work through it instead of keeping it bottled up and having it fester inside. Emotions WILL find a way to express themselves if you don't do it verbally,trust me. Ever had a tension headache? Known someone with an ulcer? If they'd express those nasty old emotions...
Losing a parent is one of the most stressful events that an adult experiences. We expect to loose them at some point, but we dread it, too. Unless there was a history of horrible abuse, and sometimes even then, we hope for a final showdown or resolution before our parents leave us. But for the lucky among us, our parents death symbolizes the loss of a layer of "insulation" between us and the world. NO matter that we are functional, independent adults and our parents may have been the infirm of body and mind; we may have been the caretakers with them in the dependent role. We still have the illusion of our parent as Protector, as guardian from all things dark and menacing.
Losing that illusion is a blow. One that it takes time to heal. I have been granted that time by a loving and understanding family.
I hope that those of you who have lost or face losing a parent have been or will be comforted or in some helped by reading this entry. AS always, if you have questions or comments, you may leave them anonymously in the comments section or send me an email at the addy listed to your right.