There is no place on earth where we can hide to get away from the reality of our suffering after the loss of a loved one. There is nothing people can say, nothing anyone can do. When your loved one dies, you feel helpless grief, and no one can do anything about it. This is especially true the first few weeks. I know this because my Papi just died seventeen days ago, and I am changed by his death.
When someone you love dies, your life is different. The way you see life is changed. You realize you can and will lose people. It’s as if someone threw a cold glass of water in your face, and all of a sudden you are awake to the fact that this is not the last time you will feel this way. You are going to feel this pain over and over again because the longer you live, the more people you will lose. This is almost too much for the human mind to take. I can see how people become depressed. It is a depressing thought. It is the thought of mortality.
Many have heard of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This article is not going to be about that; although I have already experienced them all and they fluctuate between each other. Sometimes I find I am revisiting the stages all over again. I know I have heard people say everyone experiences grief differently, but I am not going to talk about the five stages of grief. I need to talk about my grief.
My own grief had started days before my Papi took his actual last breath. My father was still technically alive, but incapacitated, and already gone to us. While Papi was intubated, I knew he would not come back from this. I was crying a lot, and emotionally distraught. My mother would say “but your Papi is not gone, there is still a chance.” She and others still had hope that some miracle would happen. My father was a strong man with a strong will to live. He had been back from the brink of death a few times. Being the realist I am, and because of my recent encounter with my mother-in-law’s passing, I knew better.
The day came when we had to decide to lower the meds which were keeping his blood pressure up. His hands and feet were turning black. To keep him on those medicines meant risking amputation of his feet and hands within a day or so. The way those medicines work is by taking all the blood flow from the extremities of the body and pouring it into the core of the body. It is how his heart, lungs, and brain were being sustained.
We were not going to start chopping off his hands and feet. The thought of that alone was enough to break my heart. They were talking about chopping up my sweet, wonderful Papi, but they could not guarantee he would live. As a matter of fact, the doctors and surgeons all agreed even after we amputated his extremities that he would die.
We lowered those medicines, and the color came back to his fingers, but his blood pressure never came back. I wanted desperately for some sign that my Papi was still in there. I took my iPhone and found a violin player playing the song ‘La Malaguena’ and ‘Hungarian Dance #5 by Brahms’ which were music pieces my sister used to play on her violin to him. His blood pressure, heart rate, and other vital signs spiked. He was there. My Papi was there. He knew we were by his bedside. That was both wonderful, and awful at the same time. Wonderful because it meant he could hear us, but awful because it meant he knew he was dying.
How sad he must have been for us. He knew how much we had all fought, and been by his side. He knew how devastating it would be for my mother.
I whispered to him, “I love you, Papi,” as was my custom whenever I left him, and he would always respond, “I love you too,” but this time there would be no audible response. Although I think he did respond in his head. I had heard you should give your loved one permission to die, so they don’t feel bad about leaving, so I said, “and you can go with the Lord. I will take care of Mom.” I did not get any sign he heard me, but I believe he did.
Soon after that, my mother who had spent days talking to him asked, “John do you want me to take that tube out of your mouth? Do you want to try to breathe on your own?” To everyone’s surprise, my father seemed to nod his head. According to all present, he did nod his head yes twice. I saw him nod, but I couldn’t believe it, so I asked him again, and again, and he nodded “yes.”
We ordered the tube taken out; we had decided as a family if he breathes on his own or not, it was all in God’s hands. It was His will. At that moment, he took two breaths, and he was gone.
I am in the middle of my grief, and I will write about this more tomorrow.