I have had many traumatic things happen in my life. I have seen a woman get shot and watched her die. I almost died giving birth to my daughter, and she almost died as well. I cared for my grandmother until she died and it left me homeless for a few months. Nothing, however, has been as traumatic as caring for my parents and watching them slowly die.
Grief and What Comes with It
When your parents get sick with a long-term illness, you start grieving. Fear of what will happen, along with the reality your loved one really won't be there one day sets in. Daddy was a Vietnam Vet exposed to Agent Orange. In 2011, his heart was starting to give out from an illness that stemmed from AO. It was determined that he would need open heart surgery, and he would need it soon.
His doctor told us he had a 25 percent chance of surviving the surgery a few weeks before he was scheduled to go in. My heart sunk and I felt so sick because I knew what was to come. In the weeks as he waited, we celebrated Christmas and New Years. It was the first mom and daddy had stayed up for in many years. Everything changed January third when he went in for surgery.
His heart was so bad he actually died the second he was put on the table. They were able to save him and finish the surgery. He stayed in a coma for the next two weeks. Every day I went to sit with him, hold his hand, talk to him, and just watch him breathe on the vent. I felt so helpless. My daddy, my hero, my best friend, was hanging on by a thread.
He finally woke up after a few close calls in February. I was elated to see his smile. He couldn't talk, but he could wink and smile. He struggled for the next nine months. Several times he asked us to let him die, and several times he was thankful we didn't. We had so many wonderful moments and many that were so traumatic it will forever be burned in my brain. The ride had just started.
In May we received the unfortunate news that mom had stage 4 HER-2 + breast cancer. Her prognosis was grim as it had spread everywhere. She decided to do chemo and try to beat it. She wanted to get better to take care of daddy, and he to take care of her. In July, they saw each other for the last time. Chemo had crushed mom. She could barely walk. I spent my eight hours at work, then would go to the hospital to see daddy. On Fridays I would leave the hospital and drive straight to mom's to care for her on the weekend.
In August, almost every weekend something would happen with daddy that would pull me from mom's to the hospital. I lost my job due to having to leave work so much, and on September fifth, I got my final call from the hospital. Daddy was dying and there was nothing they could do. I spent the next two days with daddy. I called family and let them say goodbye. The worst call was to mom. Before they hung up she said, "Wait for me Jim, I'll be right behind you." That was when the reality of it all hit. I was fixing to be orphaned.
Daddy died on the seventh. It was his 70th birthday. His last words to me were "I love you and I'll always be with you." I guess I didn't want to believe it was really going to happen. I was too young. He was too young. This couldn't happen. It did, and it wasn't fair. The next nine months, I had no time to grieve because I had to take care of mom. I wanted so badly to break down and cry daily, but I had to hold momma when she cried. I had to be there for my kids when they were upset. I had to be the strong one.
In May the next year, we finally had to face the fact that Hospice needed to come in for mom. It was four of the most horrid weeks of my life. From cleaning her to changing her urine bag, it was something I never thought I would have to do. At 4:30 the morning of June 20th, loud and clear, like mom sounded when she was healthy, we heard through the baby monitor, "Keleigh I need you to come in here." Shocked, thinking she was maybe feeling better, I walked into her room to find her barely breathing. She was in the final phase. For the next four hours, I sat with her and held her hand as she drifted out of this world.
I was distraught. It was like stepping into an abyss of fear and doubt. I had to again tell my kids, who were so very close to them. Another loss. Plan a funeral, take care of the music, spread the ashes, take care of her house, how do I do this? The next few months were filled with tears. I couldn't keep myself busy enough to get away from what was going to slap me in the face.... Grief.