Friday, April 14, 2023

Rosey's Diary: A Post About Dying: Grief, Relief, and The Complicated Feelings Of Loss.

Me, Mom, and Dad, Christmas 2021

It has been a long time since I've taken the time to write. I have this crazy long zoo post that I started over a year ago that I've yet to post. In it, I talk about how several of the animal daddies (hippo, orangutan, siamang, lion, mandrill) were dying, and it it was helping me come to grips with the reality that soon, I would lose my own. And now I have and I needed to write. So maybe I'll post that zoo one on another day, but for now, a diary post about losing my dad. (TW: death, dying)

Since I found out that my sister-in-law, Melissa, died, I've been meaning to write. And then I traveled to New Mexico and then I was back and it was my parents' anniversary. They were devastated by the loss, and broken hearted for my now widowed brother and his three kids, and feeling guilt for not being able to travel. But I was still working and doing life and we were still living life at 100 mph and I never really sat with the grief and the fear and the dread. The last thing I wanted was to be on my laptop for one second longer than I needed. 

We were still helping at that point. For the past several months, maybe over a year? Longer? Three years? Helping meant going to my parents' house anywhere from 3 to 7 times a week to assist in moving my dad with an electric lift from a home hospital bed to a chair or from the chair to his hospital bed. Sometimes it was in the daytime, but mostly our shifts were Thursday-Saturday at my dad's bedtime. If you'd noticed I wasn't going to shows for a long time, besides COVID, this is part of that explanation. My sisters would shift or cover when we had to work, or Darren would go alone, or Nova and I would go, but over that final week, it was a three person job. My dad was so weak, his body was quitting, and we could tell something was gonna give, though in hindsight I guess I still thought they'd take him back in at the VA, to drain the fluids accumulating around his organs and he'd carry on a few more weeks or months. 

My dad, throughout all of his illnesses, was coherent. Sometimes his medication would make him a little scrambled, but for the most part we were having normal day-to-day conversations with him -- about sports or the news or sharing my experiences at the zoo or Darren's days at work or Nova's accomplishments in school and music. In another post I mention how on my parents' anniversary we were squabbling because he was watching Hannity nonsense about TFG's indictments. I would change the channel, he would change it back. I would mute it, he would blast it. He thought it was funny to torture me. He never lost his sense of humor. But QABut all week, for several weeks, he was in pain, which he mostly tried to hide, but we could tell when he wanted the visits cut short that he was in agony. That last half of the week though, we knew he was slipping mentally, too. 

So naturally my feelings have been complicated. When I was in high school and my grandpa died in his eighties, I was devastated, but it was expected. When my first cat was hit by a car when I was in my twenties; I had never cried like that before or since. But getting older brings some emotional maturity -- I've lost friends to cancer or drugs or suicide and I grieved. Recently it feels like we've lost so many friends "suddenly" and I don't know if that is Long-COVID rearing its head or just that we all got so much older during the pandemic or that socially I just know so many more people or that our lives are all lived more openly on social media. Whatever the case may be, it feels like a lot. Melissa wasn't well, but I've only known people to survive breast cancer. I didn't expect her to die from this and the gaslighting from her doctors may have taken her life. And my dad, sick for so long we knew there would come a time, but we'd been through the close calls and the hospice/not-hospice over the course of years, so we didn't know this would be the last. 


And there's so much to say about my dad, but this isn't an obituary. I'm not really emotionally ready to reminisce and talk about his life and our life and what he meant to me and my family and everyone whose life he touched. This is just about this week. The grief. The relief. And the very weird and gross business of dying. 

So obviously there's the grief. Should we all have sat vigil for the final three days or do we allow ourselves grace that we had to keep on living? On Friday afternoon, my mom had urged us to come over to say goodbye, but after a nurse visited and he was moved to his chair, we believed he'd make it through the weekend when the doctors and nurses would return on Monday for tests. My dad told us to go to Sea World that Friday, for us kids to be together. When we were called on Saturday that he was "not good", should we have known it was really the end? On Sunday as we watched a movie with my mom or my sister left to hang out with friends, or I left to get my daily walk in at the zoo, that he would take his final breath while I'm hanging out with a gorilla? I'm going with grace. Because in seeing his body deteriorate so quickly, late Friday but especially on Saturday and Sunday, that was no longer my dad. His body remained, and oxygen pumping kept things going a little longer, but who he was - call it his spirit or his soul or his energy or his life force - was already gone. In those final 48 hours, the time we did spend was less for my dad and more for my mom and each other.

And that's how it has been now that he's gone. We stayed late into the night on Sunday while a nurse "declared" him. We sat with his body for a few hours, as my mom caressed his face and his hair and felt the warmth leaving. We waited while two people from a funeral home came and wrapped him and took his body away. (If you're ever in this position, do not watch this part.) There's been a lot of grief. 

But then there's relief. My mom says she prayed that he be taken on Easter. That she, too, knew he was already gone and was both giving him permission to go and mentally preparing for her new life. A life where she has a life. Where her entire existence isn't wrapped around his medicines and cleaning him and feeding him and the unspoken duties a wife takes on as a caretaker. When my brother decided to come back on Monday after he was halfway back home, it felt right and just and appropriate to have a big dinner out. And then a big takeout dinner at the house on Tuesday. And in the days since, friends and family have swirled in and out, checking on my mom or calling or offering food or helping with tasks and the grief vacillates with the relief and back again. Nobody is glad he's gone, but everyone is relieved he's no longer suffering. We can hold many complicated feelings all at once. 

I kept going back to this post that Gabs shared after losing O. 


You lose them over and over, 

sometimes in the same day.

When the loss, momentarily forgotten,

creeps up,

and attacks you from behind.

Fresh waves of grief as the realisation hits home,

they are gone.


You don’t just lose someone once,

you lose them every time you open your eyes to a new dawn,

and as you awaken,

so does your memory,

so does the jolting bolt of lightning that rips into your heart,

they are gone.


Losing someone is a journey,

not a one-off.

There is no end to the loss,

there is only a learned skill on how to stay afloat,

when it washes over.

Be kind to those who are sailing this stormy sea,

they have a journey ahead of them,

and a daily shock to the system each time they realise,

they are gone,


You don’t just lose someone once,

you lose them every day,

for a lifetime.

Credit: Donna Ashworth

I can't say that every waking moment I think about Melissa or my Dad or O or Dustin or any of the many we've lost both recently nor those long before. But they hit in waves. And losing someone now reminds me of losing someone before. Of Mikey and Justin and Tata and no, pets aren't the same as people, but the loss is loss all the same and I think about Pascha and Kiwi and Monkey and Sydney and Sugar and PA and wow, my dad loved PA and Sugar and Pascha so much. And when we'd go to move him at night, we would call the house and ask if they were ready for us and Ficus would perk up because she loved the drive to their house and smelling if my sisters' dogs Roxy and Ghost had been there, if they left any food behind, and jumping on the couch because we let her but not the others and she'd sit and she'd go sniff my dad or lick his hand or let him give little scratches on her forehead and then we'd finish the task and she was ready to go. At night now, she doesn't understand why we're not going for a ride to grandma and grampa's anymore. But maybe she does. 

So yeah. There's grief. A lot of it. But there's relief. And then there's the really, really gross part which is the business of death. Thankfully my parents had most of their stuff in order because the hawks start circling right away. So many people make money off of death, in it for the upsell. We're trying to buy keepsake urns for ashes for each of us kids to have and it hasn't been easy to find something relatively inexpensive but also not completely tacky or cheaply produced. We were looking at necklaces but OMG they are so tacky. I've already warned my mom about scammers trying to spoof or scam her after Jen made a warning post after Dustin's death, to only answer known numbers and never give any information to anyone she doesn't know. Even here, I'm scared to write anything that might give any bait for scumbags to seize upon. 

October 2022

As if just the dying alone part isn't already hard or sad or exhausting or expensive enough. You don't think about the unexpected travel. The ordering take-out because nobody wants to grocery shop or cook or clean up afterwards. The trips back and forth to the house. The missed work, or the catching up with work until 4am when everyone else is asleep. The calls. The planning. The figuring out what to keep, what to sell, what to give away. Going through decades of photos and trying to find that one thing - the document misplaced or the file on a drive or remember that one picture we had? Why can't I find it? Hours and hours of this. Sifting through files and folders, getting caught up on one photo or moment then all of the sudden you've spent an hour. Three hours. The crying. So much crying. At nothing. A song. A memory. A trigger. And being short-tempered. The emotional whiplash of finding complete joy in a moment to breaking down in tears the next. And another exhaustion...of being a non-believer in a world of believers...I can't even start with that part right now. I'm not supposed to say that part out loud, and certainly not supposed to write it.    

I know I have thought about what all this means for my mom and it is my goal to always call, to always be available, to check in. But we're in the first week. How do I make sure when the news fades for everyone else that I continue to engage her and when she's ready, to get her out of the house and to do all the things she hasn't been able to do for years? And at the same time, how do I show gratitude and love and appreciation to my Darren and Nova who are also experiencing the grief and relief and sadness of losing my dad but also in trying to know how to comfort me? And offer the same for my siblings? And all the grandkids? I don't know any answers. I just know I will find a rhythm, that I have to work hard to keep the rhythm I'd been creating and pay extra attention. To feel the feelings when I feel them. The only around it is through it. 


On Wednesday, Darren got called off from work and we took a day trip to Palm Desert and it was the most we'd been alone together in ages. And it was amazing and beautiful and I was touched by how thoughtful it was that that he initiated the plan and did the Googling and made it happen. I was able to get away, to both be in my own head and out of it, that we experienced something new together while also catching up with each other at times and being content in our silence at others.  I'd like to do that more. And I know I will. And in time, my mom will begin to heal, to be ready to experience the world she hasn't really seen in far too long. Grief. And relief.

For those interested, services will be held for my Dad on Friday, May 12th. Tentatively a mass at 11am at St. Pius X in Chula Vista and a 1pm memorial at Miramar Air Base. 

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