Losing a Parent
It's inevitable but still hurts like hell.
Almost everyone will go through life losing one parent or two. Sometimes the child dies before the parent, but in the natural order of things, the parent dies first.
Some of us are very lucky and have our parents for a very long time. I actually always knew I was lucky my parents were with me for so long, I have many friends who lost their parents at a young age.
My father recently died, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, a week before his 90th birthday. It’s likely too soon for me to be writing about it all as my grief and world views keep mutating as I work through my new reality. I’m still crying every single day, sometimes for hours.
But I’m a writer, and expressing myself through words is one of my coping mechanisms. Sharing experiences with others who go through similar journeys is another.
My Dad Suddenly Died
My father died in December. He went to the hospital emergency with a stomach ache. He’d had them for many months, but his doctor didn’t seem to think it was anything too serious. Prescriptions for antacids and laxatives were given. His heart was very weak by the time he was in the hospital. It couldn’t pump efficiently, his arteries were clogged again. His lungs, kidneys, and diaphragm were filled with fluid. However, about two hours before my dad died, it was discovered through testing that he had a terminal hole in his bowel. Once dad heard that he died about two hours later.
I was with my father when he suddenly died. His last two days were agony, his tongue swollen so much he couldn’t speak though he tried. Then they finally gave him pain medication. The nurses and I told him to sleep, to rest, and that his son and grandchildren were making plans to come to see him the next day. I even told him several times to just let go if he had to; it was okay. And then…he just…stopped. His pain was suddenly over. All the horrible decisions he was struggling with had now ended. I was devastated for my loss but was happy for him that he now didn’t have to worry anymore nor suffer the pain.
The worry…my mom. My dad stubbornly took care of my mom up until the end. It was tremendous luck that mom was in the hospital recovering from a broken hip when dad died. The timing couldn’t have been better. His death meant that I could organize bringing mom to the city where I lived to a long-term care home with a good reputation for Alzheimer’s care. It was a way less complicated procedure than if she was at home with him. I can’t even imagine how that would even have gone down. He likely would have dropped dead at home if she hadn’t been in the hospital. And then I would have had to move into their house in another city to deal with her and try to navigate red tape while dealing with an incontinent mother who wanders all night. So it was super lucky that she was already in the system when he died. I live in a tiny bachelor's apartment, so there’s no way to bring her here.
My dad had done everything for her. He didn’t want a nurse. He didn’t want me to come and help. He didn’t want any help on the one hand but wanted it on the other. While she was in the hospital, he had finally reconciled himself to the fact he couldn’t take care of her alone anymore.
I know it broke his heart.
In fact, seven years ago, he had “died” of a heart attack, but he came out of the coma and lived. Mom was already in a significant decline that he couldn’t see or face. He cared for her despite needing care himself, but he recovered quickly from his heart attack, and was back to working out every day and doing all the chores and yard work and so on. Plus did all the cooking, banking, cleaning and performed all the tasks that mom used to do.
He was a superman. My brother and I called him that all the time behind his back. I don’t think dad knew how much we looked up to him and admired him as superman. He had a strength we could barely fathom.
Mom fell a few times this past year. She was in and out of hospitals with a broken hip, so she was massively slowed down but still wouldn’t use a walker. My parents call ME stubborn but the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it?
This past summer, for three months, he somehow drove them to their beloved cabin in Maine for one last visit together. I knew it would be mom’s last visit; I didn’t know it would be dad’s.
With dad’s death, suddenly, we had to make huge decisions for mom. Neither my brother nor I are capable of providing the 24-hour watch that she needs. Dad wasn’t either, but he was stubborn until that last month.
When I went to the house, I saw that he had begun packing her clothes for her move to the home he was deciding on. We both had decided on a particular one not far from his house. In fact, I was on the phone with the staff learning about the place while I drove the two hours to see dad at the hospital.
Dad had put out clothes, underwear, pictures, and books for mom. Lovingly washed, folded, and laid out on her bed as he struggled with his grim reality. He was sewing a shirt with a sewing machine. He was ironing. He was composing a new piece, his handwritten score perched on the piano in his studio, he was a classical composer. I saw in his composing computer that he was working in the night, during early mornings, he couldn’t sleep. He had told me he couldn’t sleep because of his stomachache. He wrote his music right up until he died.
Did you know he wrote some of his music for mom, and she played those pieces in concert on the piano? They were an amazing couple in their prime.
He died before he had to move her. The day he went into the hospital was the day she was to be discharged to an interim hospital to wait for a space to open up in a home of his choice. He was going to do the paperwork that day, make the choice that day. Break his promise to her, that day. But he ended up in emergency instead.
Yes, his biggest issue was breaking his word to mom. Not his own health and safety. He had promised to never put her in a home. He struggled so hard with that promise even though we all lovingly told him for months, years, that her disease was beyond any of us, that she needed professional guidance in a place where they can watch her 24-7 for wandering and confusion. He finally acquiesced. He would allow her to move from the hospital where she was healing from the broken hip to somewhere that wasn’t his home.
But since he was dying, they didn’t move her. They didn’t move her for my comfort as I was able to see both of them.
I hadn’t seen her in the hospital because I’d been very ill myself for a few weeks. Then there was a covid lockdown. So the day I came that dad went into emergency was the first time I’d seen her in a few weeks. Or him. And I was worried I’d get kicked out of the hospital because I was still coughing (not covid or the flu but that other virus) and felt like I myself was going to have a heart attack.
The Double-Edged Sword of Alzheimer’s
In this case, Alzheimer’s is a blessing. It’s a very big blessing. I’ve still not told my mom that her husband is dead. Of course, she asks about him, once in a while. But not as often as she used to when he was sitting right in front of her.
The timing worked well as I was able to take over the duties that dad couldn’t face. He never had to break his promise.
I’m amazed at how fast the process of moving mom has gone. I believe dad must have helped from The Other Side. In only a couple of months, mom has landed in MY city in one of the best facilities in the city, perhaps the province, and bonus, I can walk there in twenty minutes if I want to walk.
I’ve instructed the staff not to tell her that dad is dead. They all comply.
Why don’t I want to tell her?
Those two were so pair-bonded. He did everything for her. She had done everything for him until she got sick. They were two bodies, one mind. They were crazy in love my entire life. I’ve never personally been able to find a love as strong as theirs, though I always wanted it. I think telling her he’s dead would kill her on the spot. Two months ago, I couldn’t bear the thought of two dead parents at once. Now, I’m used to the idea that we won’t ever tell her.
Is it cruel to tell her or not to tell her?
I don’t know.
I know that her disease has progressed so far that she’s out of the angry stage, so I’m able to sit with her now instead of her being angry at me all the time. She’s childlike and innocent. And very confused. I know that if we tell her about dad, that she’ll either drop dead on the spot, or she’ll take the news and then forget it ten seconds later. No matter how it goes, I can’t face it, so selfishly, I’m not telling her.
My heart breaks when I think about how she went into the hospital for a broken hip, and while she was there, her husband died. She was in two different hospitals over two months (with several covid lockdowns that meant No Visitors), then moved to a transitional home for a month and now is in her final home. She must be so confused, and it’s impossible to explain. She sometimes asks to “go home,” and there’s no home for her to go to as she imagines, her previous life, which is gone forever.
On Sunday, I had a difficult day. I went to see her, as I do pretty much every day now that she’s been in my city for almost two weeks. She was asking for my dad non-stop, to me, to the nurses, and so on. I almost told her then, but I didn’t. When I got home, I cried for hours, at how sad it all is, that her husband is dead. I cried to my father to please go see her, as I know he does anyway because there have been some “incidents” that I can’t explain.
On Monday, I went to see her. We were sitting and playing a game with some others. Suddenly she asked, “Where did your father go?”
I asked her what she meant, trying to feel her out.
She said, “He was just here, and now he’s left. Where did he go?”
I looked around. No one was moving around or coming and going. No one had moved at all. I asked, “Oh, he came to see you today?”
She angrily retorted, “Of course he did. He comes to see me every day.”
And she’s not asked for him since.
She asks for my brother, who went back home to his own province and life.
But this week, no more asking for her husband.
Is Anyone Ever Ready for Sudden Death?
My dad’s death really took me by surprise. I was fully prepared for my mom’s death. I was braced for a wandering death, found in a snowbank, or slipped and cracked her head open or something dire and dramatic. But not my dad at all.
For a few days, I worried that I myself would drop dead from a heart attack but I held myself together for my own children.
I'm getting through these difficult times. I’m grateful mom is now safe. Very safe and very well cared for and I can easily see her whenever I want.
I’m still not sure if I’ve lost one parent or two. My mom is here in the flesh, but she’s not really my mom anymore, hasn’t been for nearly ten years. But I can hug her and hold and tell her I love her, and that, I treasure very much.
I miss my dad, my superman. But I have to believe he’s helping me, helping mom, helping all of us get through this life here on this planet earth. His love for his family is still ever present.
I’m not the first to lose a parent. Pretty much every day on Facebook, someone is losing a parent. It’s the natural order of things.
But I’m still heartbroken and devastated. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over losing my dad.
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