On November 27, 2011 at 4am, my life changed forever. At that very moment, my beloved father took his last breath as I stroked the soft grey hair on the back of his head. My 2 sisters, my brother in law, my mother and I had been by his side for four days. We cried, prayed and told Dad that it was okay to let go.
Although Dad had been unconscious for some time, the instant he stopped breathing, everything changed. Suddenly it was no longer my Dad lying on the hospital bed. Somehow, in that one instant, it was something I felt. I just felt that my Dad had left us forever. Although we had been telling Dad to let go, to end the suffering, suddenly it was irreversible. Dad was gone forever and he would never come back.
On the 6 month anniversary of my father’s passing, my two sisters, my mother and I spent the day together. We enjoyed many of Dad’s favorite food and drinks. We shared happy memories of him, and retold old stories. Still, all I could think was, “And then there were four.” Dad will always be missing and he will always be missed, forever.
My father battled against cancer for 4 years. Throughout that time, I watched him fight, persevere and inevitably, suffer. None of my friends have ever lost a parent so I have been traveling along this journey in quite a solitary way. On the 6 month anniversary of his death, a huge milestone for me, not one of my friends or extended family members acknowledged or even realized the date. This did upset me and lead me to think of all the other things that have upset me and still do upset me during my journey of loss.
1. People telling me they know how I feel and then comparing the loss of my father to the loss of a grandparent. My grandmother died 4 weeks after we lost Dad. Of course it was a very sad experience. I’m not seeking to downplay my dear grandmother’s death in the slightest. But it really did not compare in any way to the loss of my father. Dad never became a grandfather. Dad will never walk me down the aisle. Dad will never travel the world during his retirement with my mother like he always planned. Dad was the closest man to me in the whole world. He was always there. He wasn’t just a parent to me. Dad was someone I spoke to about career advice and relationship advice. He was a friend. I enjoyed spending time with him and doing things. Dad was my rock.
2. Well meaning friends who tell me I am doing really well and I look “fabulous”. It is easy to put on makeup and nice clothes everyday and go to school or work. This does not mean I am doing well or coping. Every single night I am haunted by that horrible moment when Dad took his last breath and died in front of my eyes. Just because I manage to leave the house every day and I don’t fall apart every minute, it does not mean that I am fine. There also seems to be a misconception that because some time has passed, I am over it. No one seems to realize or even consider that I am in pain every second of the day. I walk around every day on auto pilot as my heart aches with pain.
3. People who tell me that Dad is always with me. Before I lost Dad, I uttered these very same words to people who had lost someone. At the time, I mistakenly thought my words were providing comfort. Now I see how empty that reassurance is. I have heard others talk about “feeling” a lost love one around them all the time. In my experience, Dad is just gone. I can’t feel him, I can’t see him, and I can’t talk to him. There is no way to contact him. I can’t call him or email him. Whenever I go to my parents’ house, Dad is not there. Dad has just vanished from my life and I can never see him again.
4. Uninformed people who tell me that I was lucky to have known Dad was going to die because it gave us an opportunity to plan things and spend time together. Anybody who has ever watched someone they love die of cancer, would not find comfort in that statement. It was excruciating to watch the physical and psychological effects of Dad’s illness. My heart broke for Dad as I watched him deal with the knowledge of his impending death. Dad didn’t deserve to be given a death sentence. I cannot imagine how it must have felt for Dad to wake up every morning knowing that he was going to die. Cancer’s deterioration of the body is such a slow death. It was cruel that Dad had to wait for death. Dad mentioned, with sadness, one day that he didn’t see the point of following his favorite soccer teams or politics anymore because he wouldn’t be around to see how anything turned out. After Dad’s passing, we found “Handover Notes” that he had written for Mum. These notes included instructions relating to his affairs and various passwords for internet banking etc. It makes me so sad to think of my father sitting at his desk in the study writing down these instructions, preparing for his death.
5. Friends who continue to call me and text me with their everyday, mindless problems. It astounds me that people can be so inconsiderate and selfish to say things to me like, “Today has been the worst day of my life” after a bad day. I have experienced 3 worst days of my life. 1)The day Dad made the decision that it was time to go into hospital to die. I will never forget my sisters and I lying on the bed with Dad whilst we waited for the ambulance to collect him. Dad was smiling and putting on a brave face for us. The whole time, Dad knew that once the ambulance came to take him, he would never be coming home. 2) 4 days later when Dad passed away in front of us. We were completely powerless as he slipped away in front of our eyes. 3) The day of my Dad’s funeral. I remembered being forced to stare at Dad’s coffin for a full hour as the service took place around me. I am pretty sure that no matter how bad a day any of my friends could be having, it could not compare to any of my worst days.
6. Friends who tell me that I need to be positive and take comfort in the fact that Dad is no longer suffering. I will never be able to see any positiveness from Dad’s death. I don’t understand why I have only been given those two choices: Dad alive and suffering or Dad gone. Why can’t there be a third option of Dad never getting cancer?
Dad may have suffered with cancer for 4 years but he never allowed the disease to control how he lived his life. Even though Dad was ill, he worked until he retired. Dad tried every single treatment he could no matter how ill it made him. Dad showered, dressed and shaved every day until the day he died. Dad traveled back to Italy in between treatments. 6 weeks before Dad died, he walked my sister down the aisle at her wedding and gave a beautiful speech. Dad was in the worst situation ever but he still did whatever he could to be strong and get through it.
Every day is hard for me. The first thing I think about every morning when I wake up is Dad. He is the last thing on my mind every night. It is so difficult to get out of bed every day and continue to live my life. But no matter how much it hurts and how hard it is, I can’t give up. Dad had every excuse in the world to give up but he never did. And that is the one thought that gets me through every single day. Like Dad, I know that no matter how hard things get, I’ll never give up either. It’s the least I can do for Dad.
Special thanks to guest author Sarita Zanazzi for sharing this post with us.