Watching someone die is one of the most surreal and agonizing experiences that one has to go through in life – for me, it was like someone ripped open my chest with their bare hands and yanked my heart out of my body.
This faceless cold beast held my beating heart in its hands for three months as I watched my dad die.
When you love someone fighting a disease whether it’s MS like my father, cancer, hell diabetes you go through life with a cloud hanging over your head. Each set-back your loved one takes that cloud gets darker.
My family and I lived with that cloud over our heads for over 40 long years. Slowly, painfully, and deliberately while MS ripped through my dad and stripped him of his health. One year he lost his ability to walk on his own, the next year he graduated to a walker, the next year after that chair lift was installed in our home, the following year our dad could no longer walk. And so the story goes.
The cloud got darker.
Eventually on December 14th 2013 the cloud got really dark. This was the day that my father entered the hospital. From the very first moment I saw my dad laying in that cold white hospital bed, was the day that any optimism I had about my father’s health slipped from my grasp like water through my hands. This was the day that I started to wonder when the cloud would get pitch black and my father would be whisked from my life forever.
As each day passed, the clouds transformed from a pure white to a muddy grey to a dark cold black.
I can’t speak about the experience of dying from my dad’s point of view. But as a bystander death is painful, it’s relentless, it’s deliberate, it’s desperate and it’s …
- Endless days at the hospital that feel like spiders are clawing at your skin and stealing pieces of your soul.
- Screaming and crying as loud as you can in your car on the daily.
- Living in constant fear that today is the day, the day he’ll die.
- Hugging the crap out of your children because you never want them to have to feel this pain but knowing that you can’t protect them from death.
- Ranking hospital cafeterias according to their fro-yo, coffee and food choices –for real – name any hospital on Long Island and I can tell you what food choices they have and if they are any good.
- The fifteen pounds you pack on (that you clearly cannot afford to carry) because of that hospital food.
- Praying for him to pass peacefully, to experience no pain, and in the same breath hoping to God that there is a miracle.
- Trying to convince yourself that “he had a long good life” when you really feel that his MS robbed him of his best years, his time with his grandchildren, his career.
- Deep wells of sadness, depression and a pain so raw that it knocks you on your ass every single time.
- The constant roulette wheel of ‘what if’s’ that you play with yourself with outcomes that don’t end with his passing.
- Trying to comfort your mom or sisters when you don’t have a shred of anything left.
- The 64 texts you get in one hour documenting if dad had a good or bad day.
- The rapid arrival of new health issues as the disease slowly and fastidiously marches through the body.
- The realization of how many lives your dad has impacted and finding comfort in his endless source of kindness, grace, humor and being to face adversity with such dignity.
- Denial again.
- The phone calls to your friends who get it and crying is all you need to do.
- The memories that suddenly come flooding through your brain at any given minute of the day giving you something to hold onto.
- Saying I love you to everyone you love and meaning it – Every. Single. Time.
- Praying. Now I pray a lot. It’s become habit. I pray so much sometimes I don’t realize I’m praying until the Hail Mary, my father’s favorite prayer and saint, has come to its end.
- Explaining to your children what death is. I don’t even know what death is. That. Is. Not. Easy.
As each day passed, death loomed closer and closer.
During those three months each and every time I had the honor of being in my dad’s presence I would take a moment and look directly into my dad’s beautiful Caribbean blue eyes and speak to him with no words just a loving stare. Whenever I looked deep into his eyes I felt like he was trying to tell me something or perhaps he was waiting for me, or any of us to tell him that it was ok to leave us.
Selfishly I never did.
I was a fucking mess. Dying is a fucking mess. And the grieving is fucking messier.