I visited my Dad on Monday because I knew he only had days or weeks to live. He then passed Tuesday morning. He had cancer for years of the face that came back strong in recent months. I keep thinking of a few things that are bothering me, I was hoping to get some advice from anyone who knows about end of life and who has perhaps dealt with losing a loved one.
1. Did he die so suddenly after my visit because he was "waiting" to see us? I've been told this and hope he wasn't holding on in pain if that was the case. It makes me feel guilt. I did expect him to live longer than a day, because when I saw him, he was still able to understand and sign for "I want water" and stuff like that. I guess I just don't understand how the body works and how it goes so quickly without ALL the death signs like being unresponsive for DAYS.
2. When I saw him it was a worse scene visually than I thought. He was so thin and out of it and the cancer was visible in ways that I didn't imagine. I felt so horrible and can't get the image out of my mind? How do I move past that?
2. I didn't know what to say to him because I didn't want to say things that would make him think that he was dying or that would upset him (for example I didn't say "you were such an amazing dad and I am going to miss you"). I was just kind of there with him. I held his hand. When I left he was in a deep sleep and I whispered "bye Dad, I love you". That was about as mushy as I got, and I thought there is no way he would hear it because I said it very quietly and he was in a deep morphine sleep, but he did twinge very slightly when I said it. Not sure if that was a coincidence.
3. When I was there, he got the most energy when my husband was in the room alone with him (his "buddy"). My Dad went from being unable to really move, to getting a burst of energy when he was along with him. He reached out his arm for my husband to come closer. My dad then magically pulled himself up and sat on the side of the bed and tried to stand up. My husband had to stop him from getting up because he would fall. My husband kind of put his arms around him like a hug to keep him from getting up. Then my Mom came in to assist. When they were trying to convince him not to get up, I heard him whimper a phrase, and to me it sound like "I love you". That's the only time I heard him speak with the exception of him telling my husband "get me out of here" when he first tried to get up. I feel bad because amongst the chaos of him trying to get up, no one else heard it and so no one said it back. This is my biggest heart ache. What if he was just trying to get up because he wanted a hug and to say "I love you". I don't know how to get past that moment and feeling horrible for him that he possibly did not get his point across. My mom said it was the first time he sat up in about 5 days.
Another thought reminds me of the Dragonfly story. It may help you understand how your dad wanted so much to be back with you all, but his earthly body just would not let him. Hospice uses this story a lot to help those who remain here on earth to “understand”. I hope it helps you.
Be at peace knowing your dad heard you and wanted to be with you.
Once, in a little pond, in the muddy water under the lily pads, there lived a little water beetle in a community of water beetles. They lived a simple and comfortable life in the pond with few disturbances and interruptions.
Once in a while, sadness would come to the community when one of their fellow beetles would climb the stem of a lily pad and would never be seen again. They knew when this happened; their friend was dead, gone forever.
Then, one day, one little water beetle felt an irresistible urge to climb up that stem. However, he was determined that he would not leave forever. He would come back and tell his friends what he had found at the top.
When he reached the top and climbed out of the water onto the surface of the lily pad, he was so tired, and the sun felt so warm, that he decided he must take a nap. As he slept, his body changed and when he woke up, he had turned into a beautiful blue-tailed dragonfly with broad wings and a slender body designed for flying.
So, fly he did! And, as he soared he saw the beauty of a whole new world and a far superior way of life to what he had never known existed. Then he remembered his beetle friends and how they were thinking by now he was dead. He wanted to go back to tell them, and explain to them that he was now more alive than he had ever been before. His life had been fulfilled rather than ended.
But, his new body would not go down into the water. He could not get back to tell his friends the good news. Then he understood that their time would come, when they, too, would know what he now knew. So, he raised his wings and flew off into his joyous new life!”
Of more direct relevance to the general subject of this string, I suspect that one can never know whether a particular death after a family visit was the result of a conscious "decision" or coincidence (unless, perhaps, if the dying person makes a comment to that effect). My mother was in a nursing home when a lockdown due to COVID was enforced, so we were unable to visit her for the last month of her life. Other than sending a letter, my sister and I had no contact. Before then, one or the other of us would visit most days of the week. However, we finally decided that perhaps the staff could help us find a way such that she could see and hear us (she was very hard of hearing), so we were able to contact her one afternoon--and she died that evening. I believe the lack of contact meant that we couldn't help her with meals and bring foods and snacks she liked, and therefore probably shortened her life somewhat, I'm not convinced that her death the day we called was anything other than coincidence.
I hope liz1983 can keep in mind that she did her best for her father, and recall the good times together while realizing that her father knew she loved him. One shouldn't feel guilty about something one can't control, but liz1983 should realize her presence made her father happy and be thankful for that final opportunity (as opposed to having arrived after his death).
I think I can empathize with what you're going through. I also have images of the last day of my mom's life that are hard to get out of my head, They still bother me sometimes, but I can say honestly that time is helping to heal that wound.
I want to reassure you that your dad knows how much you love him. *If* he was "holding on" to see you, then be sure that seeing you did give him comfort at the end. If dad was using hospice services, then I'm sure they made sure he wasn't in pain; that's their mission and they excel at it.
You can still talk to dad; I have a 2 family home and my mom lived (and died) in my apartment. I still talk to her whenever I go in there: "hey, mom, can I use your bathroom?" "Hey, mom, I'm just gonna throw something in your fridge" - things along those lines. It's made the transition a little easier when I go up into what I still consider "her space".
Time will help the healing process. If you find yourself unable to function, please find a grief support group to join, even if you need to do it virtually. It helps, talking to people who have gone through similar circumstances.
Again, I'm so sorry for your loss. (((hugs)))
I don't think anyone could write a handbook for how to do this correctly because I don't think there is a right or wrong way. You are in the midst of a gamut of emotions and do what you think is best at the time. I doubt that your Father was thinking that you or anyone else was doing anything wrong. He was experiencing his own gamut of emotions.
Rest easy and try to not be so hard on yourself. I'm so sorry for your loss.
Everything you wrote I've experienced both personally and many times as a hospice nurse and a vigil volunteer in two hospice organizations. On my last visit with my dear friend who was clearly close to death and barely responsive, when I took her hand, told her it was me, said, "J. Keep me going". She was hanging on until her son, son in law and childhood friend arrived. She died peacefully with the circle 7 hours later.
My Dad did a 'rally before the final crash'. I've seen many patients over the years do that as well. It's a last burst of energy to say or do what they feel that they must.
Do NOT for a second believe that your beloved dad didn't know that you loved him. He knew your heart. All you have described is part of the normal process.
Go in peace
I wish you peace, Liz, in the coming days, weeks, months, and years. All of it's ok; all of it's hard. Your dad knew he was loved and that's why you guys were all there for him. Don't feel guilty for any "mistakes." Or at least understand that it's part of the dying process, and we don't have a timer counting down, so we do what we think is best at the moment. Condolences to you and your family on the loss.
Did your dad have hospice care? If he did, the hospice chaplain is still there for the family for up to a year after the death. If that is something he had then you can call and ask to talk to him or her about your feelings. Or talk to your own pastor or rabbi or a licensed therapist. It is helpful to talk with ones who have experience in this area of grief.
please know many of us have doubts like this...process it, talk to someone until you can put it in the rear view mirror. Hugs.
Your whispered "Bye dad. I love you" was the perfect thing to say and just being there was the perfect thing to do.
Your dad's last "rally" is common in the dying process. If your dad was "waiting for you," that was what he wanted to do. Cry when you feel terrible and cry again when you remember again. The pain softens the more times you let yourself feel it.
It takes at least many months, maybe longer, but it does not need to consume your whole day. You will begin to find yourself smiling at something or appreciating a sunrise or remembering funny things your dad said or did when he was well.
Remember that you did what seemed right at the time it was happening. Carry your father's memory in your heart.
As for what to say/do for those in their last days, it really doesn't matter as long as it is loving or kind. Your words/actions were how you express love. Your husband's words/actions were how he expressed love. Both are appropriate. The fact that your dad passed soon after indicates that those words and actions were what he was waiting for.
As for death process. Most people with chronic disease that pass into death have a slow decline. They will sleep more, eat and drink less, and be less focused. The goal is to provide comfort and allow interaction with family and friends. His cancer may have altered his appearance as did his weight loss and possible dehydration. If it had been awhile since you had seen him, the change can be a shock - naturally. Try to think about the changes in light of his cancer and his body systems slowly shutting down.
May I suggest that you get some help to process your grief. Grief groups are composed of people processing the loss of a loved one. Some are led by professional counsellors and others are led by other experienced group members. I like GriefShare. If groups seem intimidating, please consider meeting regularly with a counsellor. Your doctor or community of faith can direct you to local grief groups or qualified counsellors.
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