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Category Archives: watching a loved one suffer

As many of you know, I was a Moderator on a Grief Board for quite awhile, and the one thing I am sure of, is that we all feel deeply the loss of loved ones and friends. Many will disagree with this, but I feel that regardless of who we lost, we should never try to compare our grief. We are simply heartbroken, and that is universal.

I’ve been reading the blog of a sensitive, wonderful writer, who is writing a book about the death of his wife, Jenny, from breast cancer. He is telling the story as he felt it then, and I have been very moved by his writing. I can so relate to the heartache of watching a loved one suffer. His website is: http://thepriceoflove.net/2007/08/09/prologue/

You will cry, but you will know that what you are reading is honest, and poignant.

Since experiencing the illness, and subsequent death of my dad, in a horrible way in the hospital, I can tell you that when you have faced death, nothing will ever matter as much. No hurt can ever be as deep, no mourning or sense of loss over anything else, as painful…until you experience another loss of someone you love. You learn quickly what is important, and what is not. Sometimes you still forget that small things don’t matter, but mostly you remember, because you can’t help but think that if you have actually survived your worst nightmare, nothing can devastate you as much. And devastation is the only word for watching death rob you of your loved one.

One day when I walked into my dad’s hospital room, I found him as I always did-yellow, swollen, gasping for breath on a respirator, and unresponsive. But this day was different. I was looking into the face of death. I cannot explain it to you, unless you have have experienced it yourself. If you have, then you know what I’m describing. In fact, it was so different from the other days, that when my mom came into the room, she immediately sensed it also. We tried to talk to him as we always did, but what we were looking at was frightening, and we knew it, and she ran from the room saying, “I can’t do this today.” I followed close behind, leaving my poor precious husband to look at the face of death alone, as he prayed.

As much as I prayed for my dad’s healing, I had an understanding inside that he was going to die. And looking at him that day, I realized that I would not want him to continue to suffer that way. I have always been a strong pro-life individual, and definitely against assisted suicide or euthanasia, but I can tell you that when it is someone you love, watching them suffer will test those beliefs. It will test your faith in God, and in life, because you hurt so badly, that you can’t make sense of any of it. You feel angry, depressed, grief-stricken, shocked, crazy, and every other emotion, because in your deepest imaginations, you never realized that life could be so cruel.

I remember when our family was given 24 hours to consider whether to take him off life support. We decided that if there was any chance that he could survive, we would give him the chance to fight for his life, for he was indeed a fighter. My mom had been on life support previously, and wasn’t expected to live either, so we knew that miracles did happen. But it was so painful to endure, for him and for us. He did take a turn for the better, right before he died, and that gave us a momentary false hope.

Somehow I think my knowing that he was going to die was a protection. It was just a little time to try to get used to the idea, because I never dreamed that he would go first. He had retired to take care of my mom, who had been at death’s door several times. Then he had ongoing shortness of breath, and it was discovered that he needed a triple bypass. He came through the surgery well, but got pneumonia, staph and serratia–all hospital acquired infections. Also, they sent him home too soon after the surgery, and his potassium dropped so low that even the doctors were astounded. He fell once at home, and then passed out on the floor of his bedroom. We called 911, and they took him out on a stretcher, and that was the last time he would ever be home. They had him in ICU for awhile, and then later sent him to physical therapy. He could not even sit up in the bed. He could not eat. He was incontinent, and so very, very sick. But he got up (with their help) and went where they told him to every day. And they let him die, despite our pleas. And we had to watch. And I had to watch my mom go through watching him get worse, with each passing day. He ended up in Critical Care for over 2 weeks on life support.

He came off the respirator for about a day or so, (it took him a couple of days to even start to wake up, because he was so sedated) and he managed to weakly mouth the words “I Love You” to my mom. It was all that she got, but we will always be eternally grateful. He took a turn for the worse after that, and had to go back on the ventilator. And not long after, he died.

I remember earlier when our family was given 24 hours to consider whether to take him off life support. We decided that if there was any chance that he could survive, we would give him the chance to fight for his life, for he was indeed a fighter. My mom had been on life support previously, and wasn’t expected to live, so we knew that miracles did happen. But it was so painful to endure, for him and for us. He did take a turn for the better, right before he died, and that gave us a momentary false hope. It was the last cruel trick of death.

One morning I called, as I always did, to see how he made it through the night, and the nurse said, “Are you coming today?” And I explained that we would be there in the afternoon as usual. (My mom was not well, and mornings were really rough for her, so we always went to the hospital in the afternoon.) Sadly, there was nothing we could do, but be there–but we wanted to do that faithfully. She never missed a day, as sick as she was. I sensed some hesitation on the part of the nurse, and I said, “We can come sooner if you think we should.”

What she said next shocked me completely. She said, “I don’t think he’ll make it through the day.”

I guess that all the days of watching him die, still didn’t prepare us for his actual death. All I could think was how to break it to my mom in a way that she would understand that we needed to go immediately, but also taking care not to give her a heart attack. I called her and said that Sam had a very bad night, and that the nurse said we needed to come sooner than we had planned.

I called my brother, and he got off work, and met us at the hospital.

Standing there by his bed, the tears were spilling down my cheeks, and I said, “I love you, Sam.” (He was my step-dad since I was 7, and I called him Sam.) He gave me away at my wedding, even though my biological dad attended. He was my dad.

I kept thinking that I knew he was going to die today, and wondering if my mother grasped that. Just like each day previously, there was no response from him. We couldn’t even touch him without wearing gloves because of the staph infection, and we felt so cheated. Of course, we would hold his hand, or touch his arm, but it was so impersonal with the gloves. It was maddening to have to be afraid of catching something, when we just wanted to throw our arms around him, and kiss his face over and over again. But we were not able to even do that.

So after awhile, we left. We took my mom home, and she said that she wouldn’t be able to go back again that day, and she was going to lie down. She was so exhausted. We all were.

It seems so strange, and I’ve never told anyone but my husband, but I stopped in a store at the mall to get a black jacket for my dad’s funeral. I was leaving the store, when I got a call from my brother. He said that after he left, he had a feeling to go back–like my dad was calling him. So he did. He was in the room with Sam, when suddenly the machines went crazy, and they rushed him out. A nurse told him that his organs were shutting down. We debated over the phone whether to go get my mom, but decided that it would be too much for her.  So, I drove straight to the hspital. About halfway there, I got another call from my brother, and with anguish he said, “He’s gone.”

I had to pull over, because I was crying so hard that I couldn’t see the road. My brother was crying also.

I raced into the hospital, and found him in one of those “family rooms” where they give you bad news. We hugged each other and cried. A nurse stopped in, to ask us if we wanted to see him, after they had bathed him. We said we would ask my mom, and do whatever she wanted. My brother’s son was there, and his wife joined him, and my husband also came to the hospital. Through our tears, we decided to all go together to tell our mom. The ride to her house in the van seemed like an eternity.

(I will tell the rest tomorrow as this is getting too long for one post.)

But I can tell you that what we had planned was not at all the way it worked out. (You will not believe what happened.)

Saying goodbye was the saddest thing that I have ever experienced, and I was sure that my heart would break right there in his hospital room…

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