Column: Losing a parent has deeper roots than anticipated
October 29, 2009
Last week, life threw me a curve ball. My father unexpectedly suffered a stroke that put him in a coma from which he never awoke. After two days of labored breathing, he sighed a couple of times and slipped away. My brother and mother were in the room talking and they described the moment as peaceful.
When the doctors described the life he would have if he recovered from his stroke, it was an easy decision to take him off the dialysis treatments and allow nature to take its course. We knew he would not want the life we were told he would endure, and we allowed him to start enjoying the eternal comfort he said he had longed for. He was at peace with his God. One of his primary motivations for continuing to endure the rigors of dialysis had been his concern for the well-being of his wife and our mother.
Those two days allowed me to start a journey which has yet to end. It was comforting to me to see him alive, even though he was unresponsive to outside stimuli. It allowed me an opportunity to verbally express my love and appreciation to him.
Those were not topics we openly discussed while I grew up farming by his side. We knew of our mutual admiration and respect but verbalizing affection wasn’t a conversation this German Mennonite boy had with his father. It was important for me to tell him that I loved him.
After his passing, my mom, my two brothers and two sisters started to make immediate plans for the memorial and funeral and longer range plans for my mother’s well being. As a group, I don’t believe we have ever been closer. We inherited many things from our parents, including a wry and sly sense of humor. The twinkle in our eyes and the grins that play at the corner of our mouths are vintage dad. Not everybody appreciates our humor, but we think we are hilarious. At the funeral I mentioned that I thought the five of us could accomplish almost anything. I believe that to be true because we all inherited an optimism and a tremendous work ethic from dad as well as from mom.
Speaking of my mother, she has been an absolute rock. This isn’t to say she is in denial or that she isn’t grieving. There have been many, many tears and expressions of grief. In fact, I think she is going through this life transition in a very healthy manner
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From the moment I arrived at the hospice, I watched as she cared for dad and tended to his comfort. He didn’t appear to be in pain, but she could read stress in the lines on his forehead and mouth and she asked the hospice nurses for more pain killer. She wasn’t at his side when he suffered the stroke, but his last discernible response was a squeeze of her hand when she reached his side in the emergency room and said that she loved him. That squeeze will likely get her through some difficult times.
My sister-in-law heard her tell my dad that even though they had been married for 62 years, there were a lot of things that she still wanted to talk to him about. As the days progressed, she was always cognizant of dad’s wishes in all of our planning.
The days have now stretched into a couple of weeks. There has been an incredible amount of decision-making. My dad wasn’t a verbal man, but he left us enough information to help make those decisions easier. All of the surprises have been good surprises. His care and concern for his wife and his family are evident even in the way his records were kept. They were filed by the priority in which they needed to be tended. It can be overwhelming, at times, to comprehend what needs to be done. There are fairly simple things, like changing the listing in the phone book, to more involved decisions like what to do about the farm. I am so thankful to have brothers and sisters who are committed to doing what is best for my mom.
My brother-in-law indicated in one of his prayers that our family unit remain strong. I hope that prayer is answered.
For me personally, it has been 18 days since my brother called me with the news of the stroke. Every day brings its share of tears, but there is also joy. As I mentioned before, our family is as close as it has been in years. I talk to my mom almost every day. We laugh and we cry and we celebrate small victories, like the location of a lost item.
I scold her about climbing on chairs to change batteries in clocks and she assures me she will be OK. The texts, e-mails and phone calls from my brothers and sisters are treasured. I have found comfort from friends as well as fresh perspectives on living and on dying. What I have found mostly is that I underestimated the connection that we have with our parents. The loss of a parent has much deeper roots than I was prepared for.
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