My Dad died surrounded by family. Sadly, I wasn’t one of them.
Warning: This article contains descriptions of death, particularly cancer-related death. If these may be triggering for you, please do not read, thankyou.
One of the hardest parts of grief is what you do during the final days and the days between the loss and the funeral. Do you spend it with them? Do you let someone else fill in? Do you visit them in the funeral home or Chapels of Rest? What do you do? Sadly, nobody can make that decision for you, but you.
I wanted to write about my experience of loss and bereavement because I felt probably like many people, I was unsure of what to do in those final days and the days after. Sadly, there is a lot of unhelpful pressure, like “paying your last respects” and “it’s about them, not you”.
These are unhelpful, and I personally believe, quite cruel.
When my grandmother died, I wasn’t with her at the end. It was 4am and my mother was at her bedside, I hadn’t even been told that the end was that near. I’d already said goodbye to her, I’d said goodbye to a frail old lady who was curled up and very thin, almost completely unrecognisable. Before my Dad died, I’d said goodbye to a man who looked nothing like my Dad, gasping for breath, staring into the distance with congealed blood all around his mouth and teeth. Blood coursed up and down tubes stemming between a line in his chest and a dialysis machine, his heartbeat was tracked by an ECG and his breathing was regulated by a CPAP machine.
When we got the prognosis that Dad would have six months with intensive treatment at best, we made the difficult decision to let go. My Dad did not only have leukaemia, he had aggressive Multiple Myeloma, renal failure, pneumonia and sepsis. That six months wasn’t six happy months, that was six months of intensive chemotherapy, dialysis and hospice care. It might have been six more months, but there would be very little quality of life and a lot of pain and suffering, during which my Dad may never fully gain consciousness again. The alternative was to withdraw all of the invasive treatment and let nature take its course. We made the monumentally difficult decision, and 7 hours later my beautiful Dad died in my mother’s arms.
I made the decision not to be there at the end. I made that decision not because I was scared, but I knew that when I did get scared (I’ve never witnessed death before), I would need someone to support me to prevent me from becoming hysterical. When someone dies, the last thing they want or need with them is someone who is anxious about the end and when my anxiety creeps in and gets a stronghold, I’m not just a bit nervous, I have a tendency to go full-scale public liability. I felt that my mother and brother should be there to comfort and support my dying Dad, not me.
I felt awful because, at the beginning of my days, my Dad believed in me. He believed in me as I fought pneumonia and sepsis. The doctors had told them to prepare for the worst, and there I was tearing out my IVs yet, at the end of his days, I couldn’t be there for him. Not because I didn’t want to be, but because I felt it was best for him if I wasn’t. Let that sink in for a moment, that’s a pretty damning and difficult decision to have to make.
After his passing, he was moved to the Chapels of Rest. I knew that I could go and see him there, but I chose not to, not because I didn’t love him, didn’t respect him, but because there was nothing to say to him that I couldn’t say out loud.
My belief is that when we die, we are with our loved ones in their hearts. Somehow, the message still gets through, wherever we are. I could visit the Chapels of Rest and talk to him, or I could sit by the pond and talk to him, I could go to his favourite park and talk to him,
I could be here today, writing this for you, and doing it for him.
One of the things that nobody tells you about the Chapels of Rest is that they aren’t for your loved ones’ benefit. Your loved one is dead. They are for your benefit, a chance to say anything to them that you hadn’t said before, a chance to wipe the slate clean before they are committed to the ground or sea.
I had said everything I wanted to say before, I told my Dad that I loved him, I told him that he was my rock and my world. I told him that he was a role model, MY role model, and I told him that I wished I’d told him I love him more times than I’d wound him up, that somehow I’d balanced it out. I thanked him for teaching me how to fish and how to do DIY, there was nothing that I didn’t leave unsaid. Nothing that I hadn’t told him that I regretted not telling him.
When my Nan died, Dad talked me into visiting her at the Chapels of Rest, convincing me that it would help me. All it did was create the last mental image I have of her, When my Dad died, my attitude changed. I realised to myself that Dad was gone, Dad is wherever he is now, free as a spirit. All that’s left is his body, the vehicle that his spirit was transported in. I wouldn’t be saying goodbye to Dad, I’d be talking to the vehicle that made him in physical form. Dad was gone, Dad’s memory is in me, as he is in all of us who knew him.
Of course, now that the coffin has been closed, I do partially regret not saying goodbye properly and yet, I’ve never said goodbye and I never will say goodbye. My Dad lives in my heart, in my thoughts and in my mind. For as long as I keep him alive in my mind, he will live for eternity.
So if you’re feeling pressured to attend the Chapels of Rest (particularly if you are young and reading this), don’t. The Chapels of Rest are there if you want to visit them, but for so long as you remember your loved one, you tell them all that you wanted to tell them and you remember all of the happy memories that you both created, that’s all that really matters in the end.