Reflecting on the Death of My Father

Reflecting on the Death of My Father

It has been exactly 9 months…

It was Sunday afternoon, October 26th. It was a moment I had played in my mind over and over…

How would I react? Where would I be? Would it be instant or prolonged?

It was around 4pm. It was a lazy Sunday – I was on my 3rd hour of watching the NFL Redzone channel. My fantasy team was getting smoked.

I left the living room for a moment.

Returning to the TV, I noticed I had a missed call. It was my mom.

Even though I have lived on my own for almost 10 years, I still spoke with my parents daily. I hadn’t spoken with her yet that day, so I thought nothing of it. I looked down and had a voicemail…

What happened next was what I had always feared. Only this time, it had actually happened.

She was hysterical, but I could make out what she was saying. It was my dad. He had suffered a heart attack. It wasn’t good.

In that moment, my heart dropped.

I called her back, and she was hysterical. He was on his way to the hospital, but she didn’t know his condition. I instantly ran out of my house and dove into my car.

I live an hour from my parents house…

That drive home, my head overwhelmed with uncertainty, was the most surreal moment of my life up to that point.

26 years older than my mom; it never felt like I had an “old dad.”

As a kid, he did things with me that every kid did with their dads. We went on family trips, played catch, watched movies, etc. His trade was construction. There was nothing he couldn’t or hadn’t built. An old-school, Italian who worked with his hands. He never complained, never argued, never drank alcohol, and never smoked.

However, I was always aware of his age.

It was into my 20’s that I saw my dad start to slow down big time. In only a few years, he had lost a lot of mobility and struggled to do daily tasks, never mind the physical work he enjoyed so much.

I cherished our moments, because I knew I wouldn’t have him late into my adulthood, as most children usually experience..

I arrived at my parent’s house to find my mom alone.

The police officer who responded suggested she wait for me before heading to the hospital.

What happened I asked?

He was sitting across from her, like any other day. My dad said he felt dizzy. A few seconds later, he started convulsing.

His eyes rolled back, and he went limp.

Within minutes, firefighters had arrived. CPR was performed. The ambulance came. He had no oxygen for several minutes.

We arrived at the hospital.

We met with several people. culminating with the doctor on call. It wasn’t a good situation. He was unconscious, hooked up to all the machines you see on TV and in movies, never expecting to see them hooked up to a parent.

They tried cooling his body for 36 hours, hoping it would cool down his organs after the shock of the heart attack.

One of two things would happen after those 36 hours:

  1. He would slowly come back to consciousness, and be able to respond to cues and commands.
  2. He would stay unconscious and suffer a fit of seizures.

It was the second scenario that occurred.

Thursday, October 30th – 5pm

I rewrote the questions we had for the doctors.

Almost 4 days since his heart attack; my dad was still unconscious and in a dire state.

We were frustrated.

I told my mom we needed to write out our questions and concerns. We needed to get everyone in a room and on the same page. I had had enough of waiting around, watching my father’s unconscious body in the hospital bed.

We succeeded in scheduling a meeting for 6pm that night with the whole team – neurologists, cardiologists, general physician, and nurse…..

It hit me like a punch to the head.

“Based on my observations, and the scans/tests we have conducted; there is no chance he comes out of this as the man you knew him.”

In other words, my dad was in a vegetative state. 

We had known that the situation was bleak from the interactions we had with all the nurses and physicians during the week. Yet it doesn’t stop you from holding out the slimmest of hope, even when told of overwhelming odds.

It was an easy decision. At the same time, it was the hardest thing I had ever taken part in.

My mother addressed the room; “he would never want to live that way. I want him taken off life support tonight.”

I nodded my approval.

The doctors left the room, and it was just us.

We cried, naturally.

It was an out-of-body experience…

It was several months back, when he had a conversation with my mom. They never spoke of death, or planning for it, as my dad hated the subject. However, the topic of resuscitation came up.

My dad was unsure what he would want in the event that something happened. After my mom made it clear that she needed to know what he wanted; he ultimately decided that he would want them to do everything within reason to keep him alive.

There must have been 15 people in the room.

Family from both sides saying their last goodbyes. It was about 9-10pm when the night nurse began to remove all his tubes. It was a process that felt like it took forever. Finally finished, we sat down to wait.

It was my mother and I, plus 3 other relatives.

I was sitting in a chair on the side of the hospital bed. I could hear him breath, watching his chest move up and down. My mother was at the foot of the bed, engaging in some simple banter with my relatives. Several hours had passed.

It was now Halloween. October 31st, 2014.

I was numb, but alert.

Sleep had been hard to come by for the 96+ hours since I arrived back home.

I had planned to come into town the next morning (Friday), as I had an annual Halloween party with friends from high school on Halloween night. I was going to spend the day with my dad, hanging out, talking sports; enjoying each others company.

That never happened.

Instead, here I was – focused on my dad’s chest.

Up, down.

Up, down.

death of my father 2

It was a little before 1AM. 

I heard a slight gasp. 

I watched my dad’s chest rise for the last time. 

He was gone.

He was 83 years old.

I wrote an article about the loss on November 10th. There wasn’t enough time to truly reflect on the death of my father.

However, in the 9 months since; I’ve had a lot of time to look back on things.

Those 4.5 days in the hospital were brutal. I wouldn’t wish that experience on my most hated enemy, if I had one. 

The decision to let him pass; although clear-cut, was gut wrenching. 

However, witnessing his last breath was soul crushing.

It is not lost on me that the natural order of life is that we bury our parents. I have several close friends who have lost a parent prematurely. I know know what they went through.

I always imagined getting that call from my mom, telling me something bad had happened. Night after night, it never came – just a call to talk about things. Until October 26th, 2014.

Nothing can prepare you for this experience.

You always want more time.

A parent could live to 130, and you would still want more time.

As I sit here 9 months later, I’m proud.

Proud to have had such a wonderful role model, companion, leader, and admirer.

I could do no wrong in my father’s eyes.

And although my future children will never get to meet this great man; I take the utmost sanctification in knowing that I am a walking embodiment of his values and morals. I will continue to grind hard and will never lose the fire of life that he bestowed on me.

So long Dad.