When a death impacts more than the family
I study life, death and the afterlife, and yet I’ve only lost a few close relatives at this stage in my life. But, recently, I attended a funeral for a family friend. I was sad to see the pain and grief of the family who had lost a husband, father and grandfather. Religiously Catholic and Christian, they talked about him being in a better place. And still, their pain was too raw, too real. His death seemed too much for them in that moment.
Another family friend spoke during the eulogy and mentioned my dad, who had passed in July of 2006. I really began to think about how I felt when he passed. We were told in March of that year that there were no other chemotherapy medications that would help keep his leukemia at bay (he had been through every possibility that worked for his specific cancer at this point). His oncologist said we needed to make peace with what was happening. To give us a little hope to hold on to, or, more accurately, time to get used to the idea, he suggested we try Norris Cancer Institute and see if there were any meds in clinical trial. We walked out of the office and my father began to cry. He said he was not ready to die.
Now, at the time I responded in kind and told him we would figure something out. But I called my sister and told her the prognosis and when she asked, “He’s going to be all right though isn’t he?” I was so angry at her complete denial that I hung up on her.
How my dad came to terms with dying
Dad always fought the hard fight. His health had been poor for most of his adult life; diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attack, congestive heart failure, and leukemia. The Christmas before he passed I had a party and I recall my aunt coming to me upset. She said, “Tell your dad to stop it.” She explained she had asked him how he was doing and he responded, “I’m circling the drain.” With a smile on his face and twinkle in his eye, he told the truth. He spent his last years of active employment working in a hospital pharmacy; circling the drain is a term we use. Most people who work outside the health care arena find that kind of humor morose, but we don’t.
Summer of 2005, Dad needed a quintuple bypass and his cardiologist told him he was too frail and too sick to make it through the operation. We got to the hospital expecting to have to cheer him up, but he greeted us with smiles and a true sense of joy. Confusing, to say the least. He explained that he spoke with another cardiac surgeon he’d known from his days working there and said he wanted to fight; that surgeon agreed to the bypass. Dad intended to go out fighting. I was on board with whatever he wanted. I knew he might not make it. Hell, the odds were against it. But he surprised us and recovered in record time as well. He was giving us more time.
In March of 2006 we went to Norris and I knew that even if they had a drug in testing, Dad would most likely not qualify for testing. I was resigned to accepting his days were coming to an end. Someone suggested a faith healer, but I was skeptical, even with all my experience. I called and spoke with Dad and explained I had met her and had had a profound personal experience. I was sure that even if he was not granted a miracle of healing, he would find the peace to pass well.
The gift of death
In April of 2006 we went to see Tiffany; she asked him if he wanted to be cured of the leukemia. He said yes and she did a Reiki treatment on him. On completion she declared he was cured of his leukemia. We left and I have to say we were quite irreverent on our drive to lunch (I had 20 years in health care, dad had 10 and we both wanted him to be healed, but our conscious, ego-based minds could not accept it). We tried to hold onto faith and knew time was short.
Dad continued to have weekly complete blood counts to monitor his “decline” and twice monthly oncology visits. In May he saw the oncologist who was stunned to report Dad’s white blood count had spontaneously returned to normal. He said, “It’s as if a miracle has taken place.” Dad said nothing, but later I asked why he didn’t tell the doctor about the healing and he said, “I didn’t want him to think I was crazy.”
We spent the last eight weeks of Dad’s life enjoying him. He got to visit with family and friends, and his sole surviving sister came out from Nebraska. We all said goodbye. He had quality of life to the last day.
Then on July 6, 2006 he collapsed. With a DNR, he prepared for his death. And even still, Mom called 9-1-1. He was taken to the hospital. He’d had a cerebral hemorrhage that left him brain dead. We asked to have him taken off life support. We were all there when he passed; his wife, his daughters, his sons-in-law and his best friend telling him to go, telling him to wait for us on the other side. We laughed, we cried, we held him, we held each other.
Sometimes the healing is passing peacefully
Ultimately he passed well. Dad died with no clinical trace of the leukemia he had battled for years. He had been cured. He passed because it was his time. All the other crises prepared us for his death. They got us used to the idea of losing him. The ER nurses and doctors thanked us for being so gracious about his passing. They said we gave him dignity and they saw the peace in us.
To this day I cannot say I am sorry my dad died; it is as it should be. I do miss him, I do see him and talk to him, and it is different. He fought hard and well, he was tired and it was his time. He is free of the body that finally failed him, and in response to my sister’s insightful question, “He’s going to be alright though, isn’t he?” — well, he’s actually better than alright now.
His death released him from this world. Not his soul or his soul’s growth, contracts or experiences. And that story is for another day. Meanwhile, if you’d like help with your grief HealMyPast.com is a good place to start.
Your turn… Have you experienced the passing of a loved one? What helped you through the process? Did you experience them after their passing?