Years ago, or even as recently as earlier this year, I thought it would be easier to deal with the death of a loved one if you actually had a chance to say goodbye - as opposed to arriving home from Mass to find your mother dead on the floor. The shock of something like that is just so crazy...and the guilt of a 12 year old girl who didn't kiss her mother goodbye is a pretty hard thing to handle.
I was wrong, though. Maybe I was not wrong about the goodbye part - it is good to be able to say a sort of goodbye - but I am not sure anything makes it easier to deal with the death of a loved one. I think the sadness, and the loss, and even the shock are ALL still there, even if you sort of had a clue that the death was coming, and even if there is a small window for a goodbye.
Even though my Dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in late January, and I spent much of February in a haze of research, and pain (2 kinds - I had a surgery of my own in January, and another in February...and then there was the emotional pain of my Dad's diagnosis ), I was still not ready for his death in August. I don't think ANY of us were. I know I was at least expecting there to be some sort of lengthy decline, some chance to spend time with him, to take care of him, and to say things people might say to each other when they are about to be separated forever.
My Dad had other plans...or maybe he just didn't know what was happening...or maybe larger things were happening over which he had little control...but my expectations were totally off. We went from a June filled with a random surgery, an infection, a Dad who was mad at me for babying him (at least a little - he didn't want to spend a minute in the hospital and so all of my efforts to make him comfortable and to help him to have a better time only bothered him), to a July where he was too busy to see me at all - even for my birthday - (though we did run into each other in our oncologist's office), to the end of July when he got word that his pancreatic cancer had metastasized...to August 5th. It was as if we were fast forwarding through his end-of-life scenes, and all of the scenes were condensed into about two.
I know my family members were all shocked by the speed of his decline - not to mention his coworkers and friends. I wasn't even sure when I made the call to my aunts that it really WAS nearing the end - I was just afraid to have his brothers miss out on it if it was, and went with a gut instinct. I even feel guilty - like how could I have surprised them like that! - but then I remember that even I had absolutely NO IDEA what was happening, so this guilt doesn't belong to me.
Then I feel guilty like I should have KNOWN...how does a daughter have no idea that her Dad might be dying in less than a month? And I need to remind myself that I wasn't even given access into his life for that month, really. He was running, running, running...doing things that I thought were so absolutely and totally stupid - croquet club, and his dumb cottage, and travel for his f$*&ing job, and never paying really good attention to his situation, and refusing to let me be the one to pay attention to it. He refused to let me go to chemo with him. He was a total snot when I tried to help him when he was in the hospital from his ridiculous surgery. He couldn't be in town for even my own birthday, his stupid social life was so important to him (while the rest of us had to change all of our plans around for his birthday, every year).
OR was it? I think of what I read in the book hospice gave us (really, gave my Dad and Nancy...I only had a chance to sneak a glance). There was a distinct part in it which noted that the dying tend to withdraw from the world 2-3 months before death. So maybe it wasn't his fault, or my fault, that I wasn't able to be around him, and to take care of him more. Maybe it was just the way it was meant to be.
But HOW could that be the way it was supposed to be? No one wants to watch her father starve to death...which is what essentially happened. The problem is, I had really no choice. I was given no access to the situation when there was something I could do, and then when I tried to help, I was also pushed away, and then it was too late. My sisters and I were on the phone for days and days in June and July, trying to figure out what was going on...but we had no real access, and so it took all of us by surprise.
Worse than all of these things, to me, is the question that remains to me. Did this take my Dad by surprise, too? If so, how horrible! How horrible to not be able to say all of the things that you might want to say, before you leave your family! And if not, if this wasn't such a big surprise - then HOW HORRIBLE! How horrible that he had nothing that he wanted to say to us!
And I feel guilty either way - either I should have forced access, so that I could have figured out what was going on and TOLD him, and MADE him talk to me (I should not have taken my cues from him, I should have forced my own way) OR, I feel guilty that I was not the type of daughter that deserved a goodbye.
And so, if it was at all possible, I'm left feeling JUST AS BAD from the death of my father as I was from the death of my mother. Can that just mean that death is horrible, all the way around, or can it be that there is a better way to do it?
All I can say is this: I WILL NOT leave my family without some sort of knowledge about how much they meant to me...my children AS WELL AS MY HUSBAND. If I have even a slight warning that the reaper is coming my way, I'm going to shower them with my memories, notes of my love, and wishes for their future. If my sibling asks, "Is there anything you want us to say to your children?" I won't say, "The Lord will take care of me"...I will say, "Tell them I loved them, and will love them, endlessly. And the pile of notes I wrote to them is in this storage facility...because I didn't have enough room in my house for the thoughts I wanted to share with them."
I do hope that my Dad finished things how he wanted to finish them...and I know that we made his last moments as special as we could. It is just a little heartbreaking when you feel such unreciprocated feelings...and when the conversation is unequivocably over between a daughter and her father, before it was ever even started.