You think you know how you’ll feel, but you don’t. When someone close to you dies, sometimes you react differently than expected. When my father passed last Sunday, I was ready to feel one way. But surprisingly, 5 unexpected emotions tugged at me.
Happiness for him – My 82 year-old father was released from an existence that no longer worked. Late-stage Parkinson’s Disease had robbed him, leaving his body immobile and frozen, paralyzed. He couldn’t talk. He couldn’t swallow. He couldn’t do the smallest task. I saw constant sadness and frustration in his eyes.
Watching him die was like waving goodbye to a loved one at the airport. You don’t want them to leave. You want them to stay. And yet you know they must return home. They must take that journey.
Relief for my mother – She worked ceaselessly the past three years, every day, giving my Dad a good life. She kept him out of the nursing home. She kept him as comfortable as she could. She oversaw constant, round-the-clock care. She had much-needed aides and helpers come into her home all day, every day. Parkinson’s Disease robbed her as well.
Now she can re-focus on her own life without regrets. She did her best. And yet my mother’s emotional journey has just begun. She’ll grieve the man she spent the last 60 years with. She’ll miss her beloved husband. My mother has many adjustments ahead. But she’s found a new strength she never knew she had.
I believe she’ll be okay, but I’ll be watching.
Contentment – Strangely, the image I have now of my father is smiling and happy, almost exhilarated, like when I was a kid and we tobogganed down winter hills. I picture him zooming around the universe, free of his body, giving hugs and kisses to my Swedish grandparents, greeting friends who’ve passed and even petting a beloved dog or two.
I picture my father relieved he made it to the other side. He was both awed and frightened of death like us all. And yet he made that crossing, having arrived at the most exotic of destinations. I can’t help wonder, what’s it like, Dad? Can you hear me?
I listen, but of course, there’s only silence.
I don’t fully feel it yet – I know people who lost their Dads decades ago and still can’t talk about it. I’ve realized these past few days it’s going to take a long while to process my father’s passing. Pinpricks of this new reality break in from time to time.
I’ll catch myself wondering if he and Mom saw that television show last night. Is he enjoying the sight of this sunny morning from his bedroom window? The other day I went to wish him “Happy Birthday” when I had to stop myself. Dad almost made it to 83, days shy.
Full grief bides its time – The day’s coming when the weight of never seeing my father again will hit me. It’ll come on holidays like Thanksgiving where I spent 58 turkey days with this man.
It’ll come when I see a father teaching his children to swim or proudly walking a daughter down the aisle. It’ll come when I see a grandfather holding a new baby or anything Swedish or a man relishing a bite of blueberry pie or wearing a blue Yankees cap.
I’ll think of my Dad when I cross the Sagamore Bridge onto Cape Cod, where my parents met 60 years ago, where there’s so many family memories. The grief will come.
But for now I feel mostly gratitude. I had the gift of a wonderful father, something not everything can claim.
And thank God, he’s finally free.
Have you lost a loved one? How did you cope? Comments are always welcome and if you like, please share. Thank you.