Before the doctors mentioned the H word, there were options for my father.
There was additional treatment and a possible move closer to my family where he’d spend his final years. There was a chance for a miracle—in a tiny experimental pill. There was hope for a turn of events that anyone waiting the final verdict must pray has in his cards. There was faith, that is, until the H bomb dropped.
The eternal optimist in me, the one that always says, “everything works out in the end,” died that day. She lurks her head around my neck of the woods from time to time but I wish she would have accompanied me in the moment I heard this word in relation to my father. Everything does work out in the end, just not how one imagines.
I am no expert on this topic. This was my first walk beside death. I didn’t really know what it meant to be put in hospice or what hospice looked like or what hospice felt like. I thought it was a place I’d never see or experience. But now I can say I approached it with childlike eyes and a certain naïveté, and by doing so I experienced all I was meant to at my father’s side.
If faced with this experience, I encourage a few things:
Stay as long as you can by your loved one. Stay nights and days. Your loved one knows you are there, even if he/she cannot acknowledge you.
I watched the process of my father transitioning from one world to the next and thought of it in same way as when I was pregnant and held my belly in my arms—I know you are in there, I know you hear me, I am here for you.
Put your wishes aside.
I had to bite my tongue. I had to hold back anger. I had to fight back tears.
My father did not want a funeral or an obituary or any type of ceremony. If it was up to him, he would have just disappeared. In fact, he said, “I want to drift away,” and I knew what he meant. “Please let me disappear so I will no longer burden you, my daughter.” But life had other plans. I tried to follow his wishes and put my wishes aside. This taught me a lot about life and love.
Read about the grieving process.
I had no idea how to grieve or what I would feel. Many times I went from acceptance to anger to finding moments of joy in the memories we shared to wanting to run far away from everyone and everything.
Grieving is a lonely experience and everyone grieves differently. Everyone takes a different amount of time. No one has the same exact relationship so no one shares all the memories or all the loss. It is a path to be walked slowly, mindfully and, if possible, with courage.
Write down the important stuff.
My father said some amazing things in the final days of his life. He told me a story about watching cowboy shows on a black and white TV when he first immigrated to the United States. He told me about his first love. He told me about his final wishes. He told me to kiss him six times.
Build up your support system.
The days leading up to the final day and the first days following are especially hard. Support may come in different forms from different places.
A friend who I had not been in touch with for years, lost her father on the same day ten years prior. Her words of encouragement had a great impact on me and I knew that somehow she understood. I could share pictures of my father on his final day with her and she was not scared—she welcomed the intimacy. It was refreshing.
Don’t be scared of death.
This is a huge statement. I was terrified of “the end” before I went through this process with my father. The truth is, parts of us die little by little throughout our lifetime—however, every new day we have another chance to live vibrantly and fully. Not being afraid of death has spurred me to take risks, speak up for what I want and fight for the life I want to live.
I now know what it means to live each day as if it were my last.
Author: Ashley Martinez
Editor: Katarina Tavčar