“Grief is the last act of love we have to give those we loved. Where there is deep grief, there was deep love”
The hospital room is where my dad and I began and ended our story together.
I was born on a late May night in a hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Growing up, I always loved the one picture of my dad holding me, moments after I was born. I was his first, and the look on his face says it all. You can tell he’s beyond smitten and in love with me, and probably nervous as hell about being a first-time dad.
It is the correct order in life for a parent to go before a child, but no matter how old you are, you’re never fully prepared for that loss. Losing a parent “means a loss of childhood, of innocence, and a part of oneself. No other bond exists like the one with a parent.” (Allpsych..)
Watching a parent die is even worse. It’s a huge juxtaposition. You want to be there for them in their final moments, yet at the same time, you want to run away so fast pretending it’s all a dream. Because that’s exactly what it feels like; a horrible nightmare that you can’t wake up from.
The nightmare actually began a few months before that agonizing September evening. I had called my mom, which I do about daily, to chat about everything and nothing. The conversation began with me telling her how excited her one granddaughter was about me signing her up for dance class. She then nonchalantly mentioned how my dad was unusually tired after their past weekend trip, and they were going to discuss it with the doctor at his regular appointment the next day. I remember listening to her and thinking it wasn’t probably a big deal. Maybe he just had a flu-like virus. I told her to call me after his appointment and I remained positive for the rest of the day.
The next day that positivity was squashed as she messaged my brothers and me about him getting admitted into the hospital after the doctor had concerns, and two days after that, I sobbed on the phone as my one brother told me that the doctors at the hospital suspected Leukemia.
Pretty soon after that phone call, he was transferred to a better hospital for cancer treatments. It was the same hospital that 38 years earlier he had become a father for the first time. 38 years earlier, he arrived at that hospital with my mom for my birth and to start a new chapter in his life, and now he was going back in an ambulance to fight for his life.
That Saturday July morning my brother called me, I got on the worst roller coaster of emotions I had ever been on and had no idea that the ride would only last about eight weeks.
Eight weeks of first hearing a scary diagnosis, smiling during the days of hope, crying during the days of hopelessness, and ending those eight weeks with the hardest goodbye.
How do you say goodbye to a parent? I was called on that September morning by my brother and mom, telling me that I had to go up because it was time. The doctors had gone in earlier and told my parents that they had tried everything possible, but the hope we were all holding so tightly on to was gone. At that point, it wasn’t even the Leukemia that was the biggest problem. It was the pneumonia that wouldn’t be defeated. How do you say goodbye to a person you had up on the highest pedestal your whole life? I thought about that the entire four hours up to the hospital. Flashes of memories with him filled my mind during the drive. Memories of running into his arms when he came home from work. Memories of him building forts with us and taking me fishing. Memories of him walking me down the aisle and watching him be a grandfather for the first time. The memories continued like a movie playing on a loop while the tears fell as I drove.
When I walked into that hospital room, I collapsed in his arms and sobbed. They had started the medicine but at a low dose so he could talk to us after waiting to see me and my other brother who was traveling up from Texas. I’m so thankful I was able to have that time with him. I got to feel him hug me back and tell me that he loved me. The following morning when my brothers and I went back, he was not able to talk to us any longer but I know he was aware of us there with him.
A hospital room is where my dad and I began and ended our story together. When it was close to the end, we all stood around him and I held his hand. I kissed him on the head and told him I loved him. I thanked him for being the best dad I could have ever had. I asked him to be with his three grandchildren who loved him so much. Just as he watched me, years ago, take my first breath in another room, close to his, I watched him take his last.
Life somewhat stops at that moment despite the world still turning. We waited an hour before leaving. The silence in that room, after the machines that had helped him to breathe had been turned off, was so loud. We all held one another and looked down at the shell of a great man, who had put up a tough fight, like the strong former Marine he had been. I was the last one to leave as we all exited that room. I turned around to look at him once more, not quite believing that I’d never see him again. I whispered “I love you” and then willed my body to turn around and leave for good. We had been a family of five, but left just the four of us, and it was surreal to be leaving our rock behind in that room.
The loss of a close loved one creates a hole in your heart that never truly heals. In the days and weeks that followed, I went from feeling depressed to angry, feeling as if I got robbed of time. He was only 69 and I still had so many more memories to make with him. There were so many more milestones he had to see my children reach. With the support of family, friends, and a therapist, I was able to let that anger and traumatic thoughts go. You learn to live a new normal with that hole, and some days it creates more pain than others, but you try to look for the signs and think of the happy times which filled you with so much happiness and love…
Love and miss you always, Dad. I’ll end this with the Irish blessing that he read during his speech, as the father of the bride, at my wedding:
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm on your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
May God be with you and bless you,
May you see your children’s children.
May you be poor misfortune,
Rich in blessings,
May you know nothing but happiness From this day forward.
May the road rise to meet you
May the wind always be at your back,
May the warm rays of sun fall upon your home,
And may the hand of a friend always be near.
May green be the grass you walk on,
May blue be the sky above you,
May pure be the joys that surround you,
May true be the hears that love you.