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Death of a Parent: Remembering My Father

Jaynie is a published author. She is an award-winning poet & has completed two full novels and an anthology. And she is terrified of sharks!


Death of a Parent

Remembering My Father

My father was a larger than life man both literally and figuratively. My parents divorced when I was only two, so I never had any recollection of having lived with my father. I do recall struggling with the divorce as I grew up and began to think that perhaps my father was lonely. My sister and I visited him every other weekend, and he and I were very close. Over the years, my worry for him began to transform into guilt as I realized that there were times that I preferred the company of my teenage friends to weekend visitations. I rarely gave up the visits, but when I did, he took it in stride and accepted my need to grow up and discover who I was and what I wanted from life.

Eventually, I moved off to college and rarely saw him, though he wrote me letters and visited occasionally, making the four hour trip from Milwaukee to Bloomington, Illinois. He approved of all my friends and my boyfriend, whom I had followed to college and eventually married.

Even though we were living several hours apart, I had always taken for granted that he would always be there. Then came the devastating call during my sophomore year from my mother. “Your father had a heart attack,” she informed me. “He’s alive, but in intensive care.” He had been at the clinic across the street from the hospital having a stress test when he collapsed. A flurry of medical personnel worked on reviving him, using a defibrillator to jump-start his heart, and raced him across the street to the hospital. Had he not been in the right place at the right time, he would have been gone.

Over the next two years, he lived life at his usual breakneck speed, sleeping little, eating all the wrong things and smoking way too much.

When I was in my senior year of college I had my first and only experience with a psychic connection. At least that’s what I think it was. I’m not sure what else you would call it. I remember walking across campus toward the student union for lunch when a strange sensation washed over me. Out of nowhere and for no apparent reason, I started to wonder, “What would I do if something ever happened to my father?” I immediately felt a sense of crushing melancholy that I didn’t understand. It passed quickly as I kept on toward the cafeteria.

Later that evening I was in my dorm room when I received another call from my mother. This time dad had had a massive stroke and was clinging to life in a Milwaukee hospital. He was only 48 years old. I was devastated and panicked as I drove home, hoping that he would not die before I could get to him. He didn’t. The walk from my car to his room was the longest walk of my life. I had no idea what I would find there, but I sensed that life as he had known it was irrevocably altered, and I was right. I arrived to find him slightly slumped in his geri-chair, the entire right side of his body numb and lifeless. He could not speak.

“Daddy,” my voice dribbled out in a thin whisper. I had no idea what to say as I fell to my knees at the side of his chair. All he could do was use his one good arm to pat my back for comfort. I thought that I was crying as hard as I was capable of crying, until I returned home later that evening and fell into chest heaving sobs that sounded as if they were coming from someone or something else.

I graduated from college several months later and married the love of my life. We spent a year driving between our home in Madison and my father's home in Milwaukee, where his elderly mother looked after him. We visited on weekends, shopped for them and tried to provide some measure of a social life. I called my grandmother regularly to check on them both when I couldn’t be there. One night when I called, grandma couldn’t speak. The tone of her voice sounded chipper, but she was not formulating words. She was babbling and making no sense. My husband and I drove to Milwaukee immediately and took her to the emergency room. She had had a stroke. Now the caregiver needed care. Over the next year dad and grandma both spent time in convalescent homes and at home with live-in caregivers, but neither arrangement was ideal and they were not happy.

We moved them both to Madison and became their primary caretakers. My grandmother was not happy about this as it meant that we had to sell her home. She informed me that she would rather see me dead than let me sell her house, but I did what needed to be done at the time in order to care for them both.

I arranged for adult day care while I worked and then returned home to cook their meals, do their shopping, and set up their medications. I did their laundry, took care of their pets and made sure that they were bathed. It was a lot of responsibility for a young married couple, yet I never regretted it, but to put it bluntly, it was a burden. Don’t get me wrong, I’d do it again and I never resented it. It’s just that it was a lot of work. I was up and coming in my career and when my ten to twelve hour days ended, I returned home to cook, clean and entertain my ailing family members. I was exhausted. This went on for five years and then our first daughter was born. Now the level of work was even more intense, but the joy that our infant daughter brought to my dad and grandmother was amazing. I really believe that the quality of their lives was enhanced immeasurably after Kelsey was born. They adored her and the dynamic that existed between the three of them was incredible to behold. We were a happy family unit for two years and then dad suffered another stroke.

This time he was unable to live alone and he knew it. I was willing to try hiring additional help but he chose to enter a nursing home. I know he did that to spare me and my husband from having more work thrust upon us. It was a completely selfless decision, and it was his to make. A few weeks later, grandma joined him because without his help, she could no longer live alone.

I worked weekdays as a healthcare executive and then volunteered with my daughter on evenings and weekends at the nursing home so we could see my family. This went on for three years, during which time I gave birth to another daughter. When Ashleigh was only two months old, my father had another stroke. His third. This one was the most massive yet. His body was shutting down. He remained bed bound, unable to eat or drink. He had advance medical directives in place which expressed his desire to forego tube feeding or other heroic measures. Nine years after his first stroke and losing his ability to walk and speak, he was dying. I moved into his room with my infant daughter, trying in vain to nurse her, but the stress of my father’s impending death dried up my breast milk. I felt like I was failing my child yet for the first time I realized that I was a child too. His child. A child about to lose her parent. I remained at his bedside for six days. On the final day, his breathing changed. He began the death rattle. My daughter had been sleeping in her carrier, but for some inexplicable reason, she awoke at the start of the dying process, crying inconsolably, as if she sensed my pain and cried the tears that I couldn’t seem to find at that moment.

I wanted to let her cry, but my maternal instincts kicked in as I lifted her from her carrier and we sat together on the side of dad’s bed. I took his hand in my free hand and talked to him. My face was the last face he saw in this world. My voice was the last thing he heard. Ironically, despite the sadness of the situation, it was also a magical, blessing, to be the one that was there to usher him into the next realm. I told him that it was going to be okay. His parents and twin brother were waiting for him, but this time, his life with them would be full of joy and love, not angst and abuse. It was time to go, without fear. And so he went.

I sat for a few seconds, considering what to do next, before slowly shuffling to the nurses’ station to tell them that dad had passed.

On the surface, this story may seem tragic; a young man, living eleven years of his life in a disabled and dependent state. But it is really a story about how a father and daughter really came to know and appreciate one another. We hadn’t lived together since I was two years old, but his dependence on me altered the state of our relationship. We became friends. We spent quality time together on a daily basis that made up for years of being separated. He got to know and love my children and my husband. He was able to see first hand that I had grown into an independent, strong and resilient young woman that was going to be successful and happy in life even when my dad was gone. He was able to die knowing that he didn’t have to worry about me. And I was able to let him go, believing with all my heart that I had brought him joy and happiness throughout the last decade of his life. On his last night of life, I think we both knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that we loved each other, and that is the greatest gift of all.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2010 Jaynie2000

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Jaynie2000 (author) on September 19, 2012:

Thank you so much. I appreciate your kind words. I'm sorry for anyone that has lived through a similar experience, but especially for our parents, who certainly lived through the worst of it. I'm just happy that we each found our blessing amidst the chaotic turn that our lives temporarily took. Peace.

Linda Crist from Central Virginia on September 18, 2012:

Jaynie2000 - I am so touched by your story. I love stories that are derived from raw human emotion and when I write from that place, I feel it is my best work. But, what I really want to say is how proud I am of you. My mother suffered a massive stroke in 1999. Ours had always been a difficult relationship, although we certainly loved each other. I am blessed to still have Mom, although she is quite limited in her abilities. We have had thirteen extra years since her stroke that could have taken her and we have mended so many hurts in that time together. I too am grateful.

To hear that you appreciate the years you had taking care of your father speaks volumes for the person you are. I too am saddened by your loss but I know you were a gift to your father in his most difficult days. A beautiful tribute! Voted up and awesome.

Jaynie2000 (author) on June 17, 2011:

As I am for yours. But you're right, death is a part of life and I think that we are fortunate to celebrate the time that we did share. So many people don't have the close connections with their parents, children, or other loved ones and that's a lost connection even before death occurs. In many ways, that is sadder than losing someone with whom you were close. You know what they say, "better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

J Beadle from Wisconsin on June 17, 2011:

I lost my father 33 years ago today - June 17. I was 15. I envy stories like this but the pain you describe remains the same whether we lost a parent as a child or an adult. It's a lost connection, a very important one. I thought it would be easier with my mother who lived on for more than 30 years and we we're very close but it's just as hard, harder actually but it's more recent. I keep telling myself that death is a part of life and some days that helps some but mostly the healing just comes in spurts with time. I'm so sorry for your loss.

Jaynie2000 (author) on January 05, 2011:

Joesy, I'm so sorry to hear about your dad. Death of a parent is a very sad, heavy experience, but it definitely does get better with the passage of time. It's always sad, and you'll always miss him, but the feelings change from raw pain to fond memories, leaving you with a bittersweetness that is actually pleasant. You'll get there. I think we were both lucky to have our wonderful fathers for as long as we did. Thanks for sharing your story too.

Joesy Shmoesy from New England on January 05, 2011:

I would like to thank you for that wonderful story. I lost my dad one month ago today and have needed a really good cry for myself. I cried a lot while he was sick, and right when he passed but then I just seemed to stop. I have felt it building, and hiding inside of me for weeks. I don't get much time alone to say the least. So here I sit, alone for a few hours and I find your Hub. And I cried, and still cry as I write to you. I needed this sad, but amazingly happy story and for that I thank you. I am so happy that you had your time with your dad.

Jaynie2000 (author) on December 27, 2010:

Thank you Amy. You seem like a really great person and I appreciate your insightful comments.

Jaynie2000 (author) on December 27, 2010:

Thank you. It truly was a great gift. He was a great man. And I think he thought I was pretty great too!

Sweetsusieg from Michigan on December 27, 2010:

Awesome Hub! How wonderful that you were able to get to know your father and come to love him. That is truly the greatest gift.

Thank you for sharing

Amy Becherer from St. Louis, MO on December 26, 2010:

You are very welcome, Jaynie2000. My father, also a wonderful, sweet, humble and generous man, was struck down by a massive brain bleed at his brainstem. He, however, was 79 years young. He was in great shape and did all the yardwork, errands and driving. He died within 24 hours of his stroke and I had the honor to be there with him. He was in a coma, but I talked to him and held his hand the whole time. My daughter came to the hospital to see him. He opened his eyes when she got there, trying with all his might to focus and see us. So, even in a state of coma, he heard me. I can't imagine the trauma of watching your dad, a young man, lose the power of speech. I am grateful that my father did not suffer through years of disabilities. He would have suffered the most in feeling he was a burden.

You are the embodiment of an "angel on earth". I hope you, like I have been, are privy to the miracle of visits from you father. Those visits have provided me with great comfort and proof that my dad is now able to take care of and watch over me...there is no doubt for me that this is true. You will know, dear Jaynie2000, when he speaks to you.

Jaynie2000 (author) on December 25, 2010:

Amy, thank you so much for your kind comments. I really appreciate hearing that, not because it validates my efforts, but because through such comments I hope I can also catch of glimpse of what my dad must have felt as well. It's important to me because after his first stroke at 48 years old, he never spoke again, so he could not verbally express such things, but I believe that he felt them too. Thanks again!

Amy Becherer from St. Louis, MO on December 25, 2010:

I don't know your dad, but I do know he managed to create someone very wonderful in you...making him a great man, too. In reading your beautiful story, I was struck by your dedication, loyalty, energy and ability to be so much to so many. You have a rare gift of a super human strength of sheer will and the tenacity to see the near impossible to the end. With your workload and the ardous task of raising two children, combined with taking on the unrelenting chores in taking care of two family members with disabling illnesses, to say it was a burden in an understatement. Your father and grandmother were two very lucky individuals as even with love, yours was a mission few would take on, much less see through to completion. Your piece is a extremely well written, informative, story about a tragic set of circumstances that you handled with unwavering courage and love. It is a beautiful, inspirational piece that illustrates herculaneum efforts and the power of love. Thank you for sharing your story.

Jaynie2000 (author) on December 20, 2010:

You are so right. It's amazing how special things come from what might seem like tragic circumstances. Sorry to hear about your father, but it sounds as if you also had quite a special relationship. So despite our losses, we are still far more fortunate than some. Peace.

arb from oregon on December 20, 2010:

Hello Jaynie! This is truly a wonderful story. I wrote a hub about my dad also, who I lost at a young age. Still, hardly the week goes by that I don't spend a few minutes with him. Funny thing about relationships, they are made right in the singleness of a moment if that moment is born in love. So it was with yours. Congradulations.

Jaynie2000 (author) on December 19, 2010:

Thank you so much for your kind words. I think in many ways we were both lucky. It was a great, if unconventional relationship. Happy holidays.

Maggie Griess from Ontario, Canada on December 19, 2010:

Awesome and touching! There is so much you have to say in this Hub. Sometimes this type of situation does have a remarkably loving aspect. Voted up and awesome for a heartfelt and beautiful Hub! Your dad was also blessed to have you in his life!

Jaynie2000 (author) on December 18, 2010:

Thanks ghome..and mwatkins. I appreciate your comments. Dads are definitely special people.

mwatkins from Portland, Oregon & Vancouver BC on December 18, 2010:

I can't say in words what this hub means to me. I lost the most amazing father when he was only 52 and I was 27 years old to a massive heart attack also. He wasn't just my hero, he was my brother. mom, grandma, his own brother and sisters, and grandkids hero too. 32 years later I still miss him. I hear his voice though, guiding me still. You got something special with your dad that too few people don't reach out for. I applaud your spirit and your tenacity. And thank you for a beautiful hub!

ghomefitness from Chicago,IL on December 18, 2010:

Wow what a powerful story! Thanks for sharing.

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