death

Part of the Solution or the Problem?

colorado, autumn

Autumn in Colorado

When my father was diagnosed with leukemia, we could have denied his illness, kept a happy face, and asked him to take endless rounds of chemotherapy that made life increasingly more difficult to endure. Instead, we accepted that the illness and the treatment were equally difficult to handle. It took courage to face death, but it also required courage to undergo chemotherapy which sickened him and threatened his life in a different way. We stopped requiring him to portray a cheery outlook when there was but one way for everything to end. Rather than endless false optimism, we asked him how he wanted his last months to be lived.

Tree silhouettes

tree in sun's spotlightWe all had to accept that he was going to die whether we liked it or not. We had to accept that our refusal to act like he wasn’t sick didn’t work in the face of his symptoms and prognosis. So we asked how he wanted things to go. Were there small ways to make his time more enjoyable? Would his favorite music ease his stress? Would the backyard garden fill his need for nature? Would a cuddly dog give him companionship when other people were just too much to handle? Would silence be easier than the stress of conversation some days? When he was still able to eat, what yummy meal did he want? These were small things, but they eased his path until nothing was left that could help, except drugs to ease his suffering. And then we gave that too.

I’ve heard hospice workers tell me that dysfunctional families only get worse when someone is placed in hospice for care. They never learned to work together so competition and strife run rampant. I’m happy to say that my family handled that better than I expected. We acknowledged that it was a time to be a part of the solution or go away. It wasn’t the time to argue and create a greater problem.

autumn treesDuring the last year or so, my father’s appetite waned and he struggled to maintain adequate weight. After over 60 years married to my mother, it was rumored that he was no longer tempted by her meals. My sister gave up six months to move to be close to my parents to prepare meals for my father. I have no doubt that this did a lot to extend the length and quality of his life. I couldn’t do something like that, but when he entered hospice, I partnered with my mother to take care of him the last week of his life, when things were the toughest. I worked with the hospice nurses and shared in care-taking. And when that time was over, I waited with my mother until his body could be picked up by the mortuary and helped her make funeral arrangements.

My father's path took a turn, but the journey continues.

My father’s path took a turn, but the journey continues.

Our family hasn’t always been close, and we are still quite different in our habits, beliefs, outlooks, and personalities. But coming together to assist my father was one thing we were able to do well enough. Perhaps that was what my father’s soul was trying to orchestrate, after all. I’m not suggesting that my father became sick intentionally or that his earthly body had any control over the situation. Yet on a much higher level, I suspect that his soul chose to exit life through an illness that gave him time to say goodbye and a chance to bring the family together.

When it’s your family’s time, think about what you can do to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

rainbows

21 replies »

  1. Only just found this post. So beautiful and yes, I agree, your father gave you and your family a gift in allowing you to find ways to come together and care for his body and spirit during the final part of this incarnation.
    Saying goodbye and fare well to those we love is one of the greatest challenges we face in life. Be proud that you did it so well and can see the wider picture.
    Blessings, Jan x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a beautiful and insightful post. I’m sorry for your loss. When a friend of my mother’s recently went through cancer, she got very tired of all the platitudes, like “be strong, you got this!” Sometimes she wanted to be able to say, “This really sucks,” and have the listener agree.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sometimes being strong is overrated. Sometimes, being weak and being held is OK. When they admit the pain, caretakers often feel helpless. We expect too much of our sick ones because it makes us feel better when they’re strong.

      Like

  3. My deepest sympathies. My grandmother recently passed away unexpectedly almost 2 weeks ago. For the first week I couldn’t believe she was gone even though I knew it. It sank in after the burial which took place on my mom’s bday. My mom and uncle haven’t been speaking to each other for years. It’s actually been nice seeing them being civil to each other. We aren’t a close family and pretty high up there when it comes to dysfunction. We have been hunting for the will since grandma was a hoarder. I’m freaked things will get less civil if it’s not found but so far so good. I hope it stays this way. If the will isn’t found and things stay civil it will be nice that my assumptions are wrong. It’s funny, I never realized I would miss her so much. She couldn’t speak English and I can’t speak Chinese. So my occasional phone call was, “Hello! How are you?” Dinner?” Then I’d have to call my mom and have her make arrangements.When I moved to Brooklyn from Manhattan 10 years ago, I started taking her for regular dinners about every other month or sometimes more. She was a very busy lady and had to fit me in. Now that she’s gone, I realized that that was our thing and I’m happy we had it. Hugs to you and I’m so sorry about your Dad.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well said. I was very proud of the way each of you contributed what you could and did it with no prodding or request. Silent teamwork. You were the rock for me and such a comfort to your dad. Thank you. Your dad died so bravely. During all the months of his illness, he kept his pleasant disposition. He helped me plan for the best way to take care of business so it would be easier for me to be left behind. But I can tell you, it is still hard as Hell!

    Than you for being part of the team and solution. You really stepped up to the plate.

    Mom

    Liked by 2 people

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