Monday, May 30, 2022

Good Bye

Content warning: death, parental loss

Three days ago, my father died. Suddenly. He died shortly before midnight, on Friday, May 27th, as a result of a catastrophic brain hemorrhage. All that white on the CT scan (inside the bright white ring that is his skull) is blood - blood where where it should not be. And the dark, heart-shaped structure is supposed to be in the center of the skull. There was so much pressure, that structure was pushed over to the side. 

"Catastrophic" was the word the doctor at the Emergency Room used. We knew it was bad, when the Mackinac Island Medical Center told us the air ambulance was on its way. The true level of bad didn't become clear until the word "unsurvivable" entered the discussion once he'd arrived at the ER in Traverse City. Then we knew; my dad wouldn't be leaving the hospital.
I am dealing with this shock as you'd expect - waffling between tears, anger, and love for a man who greatly enriched my life. I find comfort in the knowledge that he chose to donate his body to Michigan State's Medical School. My dad taught high school science for over 30 years and his final act of teaching will be to help medical students learn human anatomy; it is so him. It may be morbid to think about, but my dad really would find joy at the thought of medical students taking him apart to learn. His only frustration would be being unable to watch it himself.
He fell off the porch on Tuesday. The Medical Examiner can't say for certain whether the fall caused the bleed, or if the bleed cause the fall. I suppose it doesn't matter, the end result is the same. He was aware when I made it to my mom's house - he knew me and said my name, but by the time the ambulance arrived he was speaking gibberish.  When we reached the Mackinac Island Medical Center his grip was unequal, as were his pupils. He spoke twice in the helicopter, but by the time he and my mom landed in Traverse City, he was gone. His body was still alive, but the person who was my father no longer existed.

Thankfully the hospital in Traverse City had a Hospice floor. My mom knew my dad wouldn't want any interventions so the nurses unplugged the heart monitor, removed the oxygen, started morphine and tried to make him comfortable. He was moved up to the Hospice floor and we waited...

It was awful. Waiting. Crying. Wishing. Watching. At first he just looked like he'd fallen asleep watching TV; my mom kept saying she expected him to open his eyes and ask why my brother had driven all the way up from ColumbusIt was a weird dichotomy of emotions: on one hand I wanted my dad to pass - I knew he didn't want to be kept alive if his life meant being severely brain damaged and unable to think, move, or care for himself. But at the same time, every single time I squeezed his hand, I ached for him to squeeze back. 

Watching someone you love die is horrific. It is, by far, the hardest thing I've ever done. All you can do is sit there so the person you love doesn't have to die alone. In between the tears my mom, brother and I told stories and relived memories. We reminded my dad that he was loved, and that, somehow, we would be OK. It took three days; three days for the pressure on his brainstem to build, cause his heart to stop beating and for him to be at peace.

So now, I'm trying to keep my word - I'm trying to be OK. It's unbelievably hard, but luckily I have lots of support. I try to find joy in little things, and I remind myself that this is how things are supposed to be; children are supposed to outlive their parents. Saying goodbye, as awful as it is, is part of life. I remind myself that my dad had 81 good years. He spent his last evening on Earth having a lovely dinner with his grandchildren, and when he went, it was fairly quick, he didn't suffer and he was surrounded by love. We should all be so lucky.

When I arrived home a few days after he died my daughter asked me, "Did Grandpa Jack believe in Heaven?"

"I think he did."

"Then, I really hope he gets there."

Me too, K. Me too...


Gwendolyn said...

I am so sorry to hear of your loss. 32 years ago at the age of 12 I lost my Dad in a very similar fashion. I try to remember that when someone you love becomes a memory. The memory becomes a treasure. Love to you and your family.

Carolyn said...

How heartbreaking. Your love for him will never end and will become a treasured memory. I can't imagine what you're going through. My prayers are with you and your family.

Bridget said...

I am so sorry. You have become one of us. the adults who have lost a parent. There is no going back to the family as you once were. Grief is funny and I still find myself crying for my dad but...Your dad sounds like a wonderful person and you can be glad that you are who you are because of him. I am so thankful for the dad I lost and the things he taught me about life that I have been able to teach to my children. I am willing to bet what you learned from your dad you have passed on to the children you teach. that is a good thing.

Jill said...

Oh Liz, my heart aches for you. I lost my dad 7.5 years ago. Isn’t a day I don’t still need his advice and wit. My thoughts are with you, may you find comfort in memories of a life well lived and deeply loved.

Liz said...

Gwendolyn, Carolyn, Bridget and Jill,

Thank you for your kids words of support. It means the world to me.


msumissa said...

I am so sorry for your loss. I am so happy he had the chance to have a great meal with his grandchildren. Peace be with you and your healing journey. How amazing that he is still teaching in death. I am sure it will lead to great doctors!