Jun 22 2012

Grief Journey Continued and My Father

Grief Continued.

It’s Friday night and that’s when this subject seems to get interest. So here’s the next part. I hope continuing this is really helpful to you and me. I’ve talked about my brother and a few friends I’ve lost along the way. Now for the toughest one. It’s no big secret. It just feels that way because…NO ONE EVER WANTS TO TALK ABOUT IT! I’m doing it. I’m sure everyone has their story. I think it’s crucual to tell yours. It has made all the difference in the world to me just writing it all out.

I have to leave a  big gap in the story of the events that happened just prior to this. I said before I’ve only told all of the details to one person. I will probably send the gap to my brother. He is a thinker like me and it will probably tie a few loose ends together as to why I grieved in my particular way and not so well at times. My friend died just days before my father. The details cannot be shared out of respect for his family. Although it impacted my life greatly, I am concerned that it would too hard for his children to read should they ever find this page. I remember every single detail, it is imprinted in my brain. It took me the longest time to work through it myself and left me ill prepared for the days that would soon follow.

October 29th,

All I can say is  I was due to wake up early the next morning to go to my friends funeral.  I had barely slept in three days. I was not in the best of shape.  When the phone rang at 7am, I thought for certain my friend’s family needed something again. Maybe some dress pants needed hemming or maybe the hem fell out of the one I had done the night before.

I heard my husband speaking for a moment to whomever was on the phone and then I heard him put the phone down and then there was silence. I waited a second or two, my stomach starting to whirl again. I called out to my husband asking who was on the phone and he did not reply. I was quick to anger in my exhaustion and again shouted out to him. He still did not answer. Annoyed beyond my limit, I sprang out of bed and marched to the family room where my husband was sitting quietly and calmly in front of the television. Sports news was on and he really didn’t even look up at me as I walked in. I asked again who was on the phone and he still didn’t answer. He just stared at me. I began to shake, sensing that something was up. “What is it?” I yelled. “What now?” “It was your sister, your Dad has taken a turn for the worst” he said.

What the hell are you talking about? I asked. Turn for the worst! What are they talking about it? Who did you hear this from? He told me that one of my sisters had called. I was immediately enraged. . I wasn’t going to call her back. The stories were always inconsistent and incomplete and  family feuds had broken out over misinformation and interpretation.before.Of course there was nothing wrong with my father, He was simply having a scope done, it had been done. All was well and he was coming home today. In fact I had planned on stopping in to see him this evening after the funeral.  I decided to put any concern or question out of my mind and to call the hospital instead. It was early but a quick communication with his nurse would alleviate any remote concern that I had. I dialled the number quick and a computer message prompted me to say the extension that I wanted. “Neurology unit”, I said.

One of my sisters worked on the unit as a nurse. My father coincidentally was placed on her floor for his overnight stay due to lack of beds on other floors. He was well but in some pain and had been passing some blood. This was not unusual after such a scope. They had also found some scar tissue that had been building up and they had cut it to perhaps make his passing of urine easier. I was fully expecting to hear that he indeed was fine and my plan was to get this information from the source myself and have a word with my other sister when I stopped in to see him that evening at his house.

The nurse picked up the phone and greeted me with “Neurology unit”. I noticed it was very loud in the background, I wondered if they were in the middle of changing shifts as I spoke to her. “Hello! I said, “I received a call about my father this morning. He had a scope done the other day and I was told he had taken a turn for the worst, I’m just calling to find out what , if anything is going on” “Who am I speaking to?” she asked rather nervously. Still the noise in the background sounded like quite a ruckus. I thought it was strange so early in the morning to be so loud on that floor. I told her my name and that I was his daughter. She said this, “Yes your father has taken a turn, he has coded. They are working on him right now”.


I am no more than 3 or 4 years old. I must have fallen asleep in the living room. I remember waking up in the arms of my father, my head resting over his shoulder as he carries me and climbs the staircase that led to my bedroom upstairs. My father’s arms are strong, I feel comforted and safe as he holds me close taking one step at a time, quietly climbing higher and higher. I could stay in his arms forever. I feel safe and I feel like I belong. I am awake now but I pretend that I am still sleeping so that I can stay here. I am put into bed and into cold sheets. I feel so separate. I think about being held by my father.

This memory stays with me for the rest of my life.


The two days at the hospital are a roller coaster ride of hope and despair. I was happy to be with family but at the same time wanted them as far away from me as possible. Each of us was already starting our journey. Each of us was already going on our separate ways.

My father had what is called a bilateral pontine infarct. He also had a rare thing called “Locked In Syndrome.” He could see, he could hear, his thought processes and intellect were intact. He could not move voluntarily: he was paralyzed from the cheekbone down.

He had had multiple strokes and had one large clot sitting at the base of his brainstem. Apparently he was getting ready to head home that morning and had showered and dressed. He buzzed the nurse that he was feeling dizzy. Then he coded. My sister was getting off the elevator heading into work on her floor seconds after my father coded. They were getting ready to intubate him when she walked in to his room, 818. She held his hand the whole time.


The moments spent with him were brief. There were too many of us for any one of us to stay with him too long although I’ll bet each one wanted to selfishly keep him to themselves as I did. I had two ten minute periods with him. He opened his eyes for me and when the neurologist came I was eager to show him that he could open his eyes. The reports I had received from the family when I first arrived were grave. There didn’t seem to be much hope but I would not hear of it. The neurologist stood over him calling to him and on command my father opened his eyes. He looked up for yes and down for no and answered each one of the doctor’s questions in that manner. I said, “Isn’t it wonderful? The doctor said, “For us it is, for him it is not” He went on to say what an interesting and rare case this was and whatever else he said. I tuned him out at that point and didn’t notice when he left the room. I was focused on my father. He opened his eyes again and I asked if he was in pain, He looked down. I asked if he was ok, he looked up. I told him that I loved him and he looked up. Tears started welling up in his eyes and were rolling down his cheeks; I wiped them with the sleeve of my pink sweatshirt.


It’s strange when you look back on things like this. Strange to remember how it all played out. The things at the time that seemed so important and charged just don’t retain the importance you gave them then. Other things stick out like giant red markers. Things that didn’t seem to have impact at all, things you hardly noticed in the moment that now seem so significant.


As children we didn’t often celebrate Halloween like the other kids in the neighbourhood. Not much time or attention was given to that day. Yes we gave out candy and talked about our costumes that we might wear with all the other kids at school. Sometimes we wore our costumes to school if teacher allowed the class a party if everyone behaved accordingly. Once my father bought me a snow white costume complete with a waterproof tie on sort of smock with a plastic mask I could barely breathe through. Most times I was a bum and wore one of my father’s old shirts and smeared my mothers mascara all over my cheeks as whiskers. Aside from the snow white costume, the bum outfit was always impromptu. My mother was never a fan of the day and most times she did not allow us to go out. Instead, we sat at home or stood at the door waiting to give out Halloween candy to the trick or treaters who included many of our friends and classmates. We sometimes begged to go out and pleaded, waiting for a last minute ok to do so. On the rare occasion we were allowed, we would scramble to get a costume together. The years we were allowed to go was generally if and when my father was home. My father loved Halloween. As I got older, the day seemed much less important. I never enjoyed the parties or Halloween inspired events. I enjoyed it a little more when I had my own children and prepared their costumes well in advance. I was more excited by their excitement but I took no real interest or pleasure in the day. I did not like the decorations that people put up outside of their homes. I did not like any of it. My sisters and I all felt uncomfortable with the day. My mother clearly did not like that day. My father loved that day. My father died two days after his stroke, in room 260; on Halloween.


I was not there at the hospital when my father died. I have no regrets. I did not see him go. I did not need to see him go. I felt him go just short of 5 am. I had received a call about 4:30 that his time was coming and to head over to the hospital to be there with him. My brother had stayed with him all night. The eldest son, my fathers first child held him in his arms and snuggled into bed beside him as my father had done for him some 49 years before. It was their time to be together and I honoured that. My husband encouraged me to get up, to get dressed and head back to the hospital. Instead I stayed in the quiet and just waited. That is when I felt him go, like an electrical current the strength of the gentlest breeze, I felt him say goodbye. Minutes later the phone rang again to tell me he had just passed. “I know”, I said, “I felt him.”


Morning brought the sun and a long list of tasks to carry out. I listened to music of an earlier time at loud volume and it comforted me.

The funeral was planned in a matter of an hour or two. The funeral directors were expert at pulling out the finest of details and honing in on the needs of the family. He laughed when he used humour in our shock, he sat patient as we cried, seeming to feel our pain and bewilderment. He managed to guide us through a well planned goodbye in a short period of time without any impatience. I wondered how he could immerse himself in this, on a daily basis.

I still wanted to be alone with my father although I never went more than 3 feet near his coffin. My father was not laying there. I saw his new suit and his bright blue dress shirt he had worn to my nieces wedding the year before. I did not recognize the man in the coffin as my Dad. I did not recognize him without his spirit inside of this body. I did not know where my father had gone but he was not here inside this suit inside this box and I was relieved.


I think I needed things to slow down at this point. I needed days to grasp all of this but life just doesn’t work that way. I cycled through wanting to be connected to family to desperately wanting them all to just leave me alone.


The wake was at my house. We spent the morning of the funeral cooking and prepping food for the menu and receiving items at the door that were dropped off by friends and a couple of neighbours. The ride back to the house after we left my father’s body in the middle of a graveyard seemed very bizarre to me. We rushed to get home to unlock the door to the house to let the waiting guests inside. A few seemed annoyed to have had to wait outside in the sunshine for the 20 minutes it took for us to drive home. I wondered how they had gotten to the house so quick and was annoyed at their annoyance. Some people just can’t see beyond their own time schedules or need for their own comfort.  I wanted to cry; to really feel everything but someone needed her drink and someone remarked that I had left all the price tags on my paintings on the walls; I had been preparing for a show the week prior. .There was speculation that  I had done it deliberately to make a sale.  Someone else remarked on the lack of silverware that I had and yet another remarked on having a dog in the house while people were eating. I said nothing.  I got this someone a drink, rewashed a couple of forks and spoons and placed them back on the counter. I handed both of my dogs a piece of lunchmeat from the deli tray and then sold a small painting to the someone who needed the drink, in front of the other who remarked on my marketing strategy.

I didn’t care.

I considered at the time what stage of grief this was. Empty was not on the list.

Click here to see the continuation: Grief Journey Continued

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  1. Maureen

    The absolute worst days of my life. Losing Dad made me realize the true meaning and feeling of “aching” and “longing”. I love and miss our amazing Dad more than words could ever say!!!!

  2. Tim Stewart

    Look forward to reading the “gap” Connie. I’m very much enjoying reading your thoughts.

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