Reminder to Self and Reminder to You

Be brave. Do it scared. Refer to the sections “Scary, Scary, Scary” (page 12), “Defending Your Weakness” (page 16), “Fear Is Boring” (page 19), “The Fear You Need and the Fear You Don’t Need” (page 22), and “The Road Trip” (page 24) in Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

I Want To Talk About My Dad Dying

Disclaimer: If you’ve recently lost a loved one or have a loved one who is sick and may be dying, be warned. I am talking about my father dying young from cancer, and I do get into some detail about his dead body.

My dad died two weeks and two days ago once it is 8:30 A.M. Central Standard Time on Saturday, June 16, 2018. He was forty-eight years old young (12/06/1969) and believed by four doctors to beat cancer and be cured. He didn’t experience a Father’s Day since he was diagnosed, died on his dead dad’s seventy-second birthday, died two days before his first-born son’s twenty-second birthday, was diagnosed four months after his dad died of two different forms of cancer both of which were different from the type of cancer he died of, and died two days after his dead mother-in-law’s birthday, this week will suck for the rest of our lives

I chose to watch my dad's body be put into a body bag and chose to help get his body into the body bag. It helped with closure and probably on some hand being useful and staying busy and also just interesting because I had never done it before (and probably for good reason) and was very curious, and I may have regret never finding out if I hadn't. I think it being my dad's body being put into a body bag actually made it easier. I think if it would have been even one of my grandpas' bodies, I wouldn't have been able to separate body from spirit and would have just been weirded out and creeped out and maybe a little traumatized because even seeing my great-grandpa's body being covered in our bedsheets that he had been lying on once he came home on hospice and just seeing the outline of his body under the sheet be put into the back of the hearse was unsettling and scary and almost traumatizing but not quite. I think I needed that shock of being exposed to that for the first time and with someone other than my dad in order to be able to remain as hands-on as I wanted without it traumatizing me.

Bear with me with the next sentence: The body bag smelled good. Allow me to explain: It smelled like new plastic like a cheap swimming pool or pool toys. It made me happy. In that moment, the process of putting my dad’s dead body in a body bag made me happy, excited, smile. What even? And in that moment I was teetering between daughter and student nurse because I wanted to look at the pattern of his blood pooling in his back due to gravity. I was constantly checking for individual signs of death as he was in the process of dying before he died.

His funeral was weird. I thought I would be more emotional at his funeral and burial than I was at my great-grandpa and grandpa’s, but I wasn’t. My grandpas were sick with cancer but both were also expected to recover and died very fast and to me, seemingly without any warning. I think there were two days between my great-grandpa being sent home on hospice and dying, and my grandpa died in a matter of two to three hours. I was probably blind to the signs of it all and was naïve. But with my dad, especially having gone through the deaths of my great-grandpa and grandpa only three years ago, it was unexpected but also not surprising once I accepted it. It all made so much sense, and I was also much more present for his death than my grandpas’. My dad was sent to the ER as a last try before hospice on a Monday, admitted to inpatient hospice on Tuesday, and died Thursday morning. So it was almost as quick as my great-grandpa, but I was so much more involved and present and experienced (unfortunately) that it made my dad’s death so much more peaceful and relieving. I hate to say that my dad’s death was a relief, but it was. Of course, I much rather him be alive and me feeling like it’s killing me to keep him alive for him to go into remission and ultimately be cured, but him not making it is also relieving. The outcome is worse, but I get a break. Caregiver burn out is real, and I’ve also been told about PTSD from caregiving (By someone retired from the Army so please don’t come at me with “You don’t know anything about military PTSD to be comparing caregiver burnout to it.”). But that tangent was meant to describe how weird my dad’s funeral was to me emotionally. I think being so present and involved in my dad’s death (Barf because my dad shouldn’t even be dead at forty-eight years old.) made the funeral easier. And the fact that I’m still exploring my spiritual beliefs and questioning everything I’ve ever heard about spirituality also made it easier because when he was sick before we knew he was dying and then even more when we did know he was dying, I thought very much about the spirit and the body. I learned much about that topic this past semester as well because I took a philosophy course not realizing it was going to provide me with tools to help me cope with my dad’s death. In fact, I e-mailed my professor about my dad dying and how his course helped me cope with his death. But we learned about spirit versus body, which is credit to Rene Descartes as the mind-body-split or the Cartesian split. And I had moments where I just knew my dad “wasn’t himself” anymore while he was dying, and I truly believe that his spirit was separate from him physical body/vessel (Some philosopher—I can’t remember who—described this as the ghost in the machine.). There were moments when I felt like he was hovering over his body or elsewhere in his hospital room with us separate from his body. I’ve been pretty well composed throughout writing this (and even reading a book of kids’ writings titled “Me and My Dad” the day before my first Father’s Day without my dad), but this one vision—the same one that made me most emotional at his funeral—made me cry. It’s imagining my father as an angel. He is such a beautiful angel. I never realized how physically beautiful as a human he was until he died. What a freaking sentence to write? I almost hate that sentence because it makes me realize that I never realized his true beauty until twenty-three years later and when he was dead. Although, I do believe he is with all of us on earth in spirit and is now omniscient and knows that I feel this way now and will for at least the rest of my earthly life. I also almost hate that sentence because writing it means that my dad is dead. Yes, I’ve made much peace with the fact that he died and is dead, but I am still angry sometimes that he is dead and straight up just wish he didn’t have to died. But I’ve had this vision of him as an angel at least twice, and because I’m still wrapping my head around this idea, it feels like a memory instead of realizing that he is still an angel and is still around me and the rest of us all the time if we want. But my dad was a beautiful angel. He had wings in my vision, and he was wearing a gown. I think he was wearing one of his nightshirts my mom bought him his last Christmas that he said was very comfortable and useful at times while he was fighting cancer. Finally, he looked like himself when he had cancer. I’m almost mad at myself that that is how I remember him. I don’t know if it’s how I will always remember him, but these past ten and a half months have felt like so long that when he was fat and had hair doesn’t feel real. It’s such a weird thing to feel and somewhat hard to describe. Less than a year ago, that’s how he was, but it doesn’t feel like he was ever anything else but skinny and bald except for maybe two years ago. Far enough in the past that it feels like a dream but close enough that it’s vivid and you know and feel like once upon a time it was real. So I’m mad at myself for remembering him sick. I know that that’s how I saw him last, so yes, it probably makes sense, but it doesn’t feel right. I feel like I should remember him from the best of times, especially since it was only eleven and twelve months ago. It sucks. Sorry if sucks is a bad word to you. And I still haven’t finished discussing what I wanted to about his funeral and his body and his spirit. I remember feeling at my grandpas’ funerals like they were only obituaries, funeral programs, prayer cards, and ashes after they died, and that made me so emotional. And while the obituaries, funeral programs, and prayer cards for my dad did make me cry when I picked them up from the funeral home, they did not affect me at the funeral like they did for my grandpas. Every time I started to feel like my dad was only paper and ashes now, another voice stepped in and said something along the lines of, “He was never paper. He is not in that urn or in those ashes either. The ashes in the urn are simply what is left of the body that once held his soul. You saw that he soul was no longer in that body when you helped bag his body (which was such a beautiful experience for you), and you a couple days before he died that his soul had already left his body.” And those feelings made the funeral so much easier than I expected. It was just to remember him, and yes, I definitely did cry but nowhere near as much as I expected. I was able to deliver his eulogy without crying. Thankfully, I gave myself a break and didn’t do an additional reading for his funeral like I did for both my grandpas’ funerals (on top of doing my grandpa’s eulogy as well) because maybe then I would have cried like I did when I read one of the readings for my grandpa’s funeral. Putting the urn of my father’s ashes was a little emotional but again, not as much as I expected. It still didn’t feel like my dad was being buried because I believe that while he was alive, because his soul was in his body, he was partly his body, but once he died, I believed he was all soul and no body. I feel like I know in my heart of hearts that my dad is not in that urn. He is not in those ashes, and therefore, he was never and will never be buried. His remains were buried. That’s it, and that is a big, profound distinction for me and is so emotionally charged—important to say the least and powerful to begin to scratch the surface of describing what that distinction means to me. I love my daddy. I always have, even on my darkest, most bitter days (because those do happen when you are the primary caregiver), and I always will. I will miss you so much, and I think I always will. I will forever wish that things could have been different and you could have provided us the comfort of staying on earth with us a lot longer, but I am thankful for every moment I’ve had with you, good and bad. I don’t think that words can ever completely describe my feelings for you. This post feels more like burying you and saying goodbye than the funeral did. But this is definitely not goodbye. This is expressing myself online. It just feels like goodbye because it’s the end—the end of the post, one of the last big expressions of these feelings, and the end of this night before I lie down and go to bed to fall asleep before a new day tomorrow. It’s just all symbolically ending and beginning again. This is the hardest post to end. I love you.


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