How Do You Say Goodbye?

Over Memorial Day weekend, I was memorializing my father who passed away a week ago. At age 90 with multiple conditions, I knew when I got the call he was in the hospital again, this could be the end of a chapter. I packed my bags and flew out the next day, filled with fear I may not see him one more time.

Right before I left the airport, I pulled a tarot card. Unfortunately, I knew which one I would get– the Death card.

Of course this is a confronting card to choose, but it also symbolizes a
positive transformation after the initial forms of suffering have passed.

I could barely sleep that night and made it to the hospital right when visiting hours opened. There he was– frail and not very reactive. But the nurses did tell us he was different– a bit more responsive when we arrived. I spent hours in the hospital each day. I was so happy being in his presence. I leaned over to take a photo of us and he leaned over to give me a kiss. Even with extreme dementia, there was so much love he still wanted to share.

How do you say goodbye to your father?

I haven’t lost a lot of people in my life. I haven’t been to a hospital when someone was dying. It all felt really new.

Another hard aspect is processing it all with the family. They felt a glimmer of hope that dad would pull through this. So we tried everything. Talked with all the doctors and nurses about what could be possible. Antibiotics. X-Rays. Anything! We tried feeding him but he shut his mouth tight. So we even tried a feeding tube. After days of this, he still wasn’t getting better.

We didn’t want to lose him. We didn’t want to lose the memories. Perhaps we didn’t want to face the inevitable.

When we saw him gasping for air, everyone agreed this was it. We made the decision to move him to hospice.

Were we finally ready? Was he? How do you know?

They said hours to days. Apparently there are trained to say that. I heard HOURS. So I didn’t leave his side from that moment forward. My sister and I even slept on an air mattress in the room. We seriously had no idea we would be there for five days. We didn’t go outside. We were too afraid to leave him and wanted to be there when he passed. We didn’t want him to die alone.

With each breath, we will filled with fear. Would it be his last?

We tried to stay well and strong– work out videos in the room and my mom would bring us food. Lots of visits from family, nurses and other support staff. They would check in on dad– but I think they were also checking in on us. Were we OK? Not many families spend 24/7 in the hospice room like we did!

The nurses were so kind-hearted and handled him and us with so much love and care. They also shared their personal stories of people they lost in their lives. We are all so human.

We asked dozens of nurses the same obvious yet impossible question: how long? Hours to days they kept repeating. So we sat, and sat and sat, talked, watched movies and listened to dad’s favorite music. There were moments when he squeezed my hand, but the more medication they gave him to make him comfortable, the less responsive he was.

We could barely sleep. The nurses would come in every few hours. His breathing was like our lullaby. But we would wake up abruptly if he breathing got too loud or if we couldn’t hear it. We were so afraid of the uncertainty of it all and not knowing when or how it would happen.

My mom gave me this ring for my birthday last year. I just found out it was actually my dad’s ring. I loved holding his hand throughout the process.

On day five at hospice, his breathing got really weird– it was a different tempo and shorter on the inhale. Sis and I looked at each other. We knew it was time. I held his hand while she touched his head. We played his favorite swing music and told him how much we loved him. I thanked him for loving me so much and everything he provided me. I am who I am because of him– passionate, hard-working, explorer and strong.

We stayed by his side sending so much love while he eventually took his last breath.

I could still feel his spirit in the room. I still feel him with me now.

We light candles as a remembrance of the departed soul. The soul derives joy from the candle’s light.

I am still processing this experience but I have so many powerful takeaways:

♥️ Letting go of control is so freeing. Once we stopped resisting the inevitable, we were more free and at peace. I continue to learn and practice spiritual surrender in all areas of my life.

♥️ Losing someone I love always teaches me unconditional love. It truly is the most beautiful way to live. I want to always remember to be kind to people. We never really know what people are dealing with at any given moment.

♥️ I can do hard things and I step up when needed. I am stronger than I think.

♥️ The Universe provides so many blessings in the darkness. My family came together like never before. My cousin from the east coast even flew out. We hadn’t seen him in over 15 years.

♥️ I have a deeper appreciation and awareness of my breath. Like when I hold it when I’m scared or when I’m breathing heavy while working out or when it’s more relaxed when I’m on the river. There are so many chapters of life to enjoy and our breath is our life force and compass.

We will never be the same as we were before this loss, but are ever so much better for having had something so great to lose. -Leigh Standley

Alex Grey’s piece from Meow Wolf exhibit in Las Vegas.

You can never be lost.
When have you ever been apart from me?
You can never depart and never return.
For we are continuous, indistinguishable.

-Alex Grey

To learn a little bit about my dad’s incredible life, check out his tribute page here.

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