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Dispatches from a month out

A little over a month ago, my dad passed away. I’ve documented here how his then-imminent death would be a blessing, and in many ways, it was. He suffered. He would not have chosen to live or die in the way that he did. I wish that he could still be here, but such a longing feels cruel; as the grasp of his disease tightened, his life shrunk to that of an old man who was addled, frustrated, lost. I’m sorry that this happened–not just his death, but that vascular dementia was the culprit and that he had to go through it, that my mother had to be his caretaker, things things couldn’t have been different. But he is at peace. And now I feel more at peace.

One positive thing–really, one thing–is that with a terminal illness, especially dementia, the opportunity to grieve presents itself to loved ones well before the person dies. With the inevitable finality ahead, the physical being may be all that remains of the one with dementia, save a word or two from the slack mouth or a blip of recognition in the eyes. The person of your memories resides in the still and in-motion images of your mind, recalled on purpose or at random, but whoever is in front of you is not him. The shell that housed this man now slumps in a wheelchair or falls slack on a nursing home bed. Your father is gone–why not grieve?

I’ve learned–through therapy and reflection and muddling through the past several months–that the process of grieving conjures up what feels like every single emotion that humans are capable of feeling. At least for me. Rage, frustration–at him for things long ago and not so long ago, and at the disease, at why things had to happen this way. Boredom and impatience as I sat beside his nursing home bed, listening to the hum of the oxygen machine, watching the clock, wondering when his time would come. Sadness when the hospice nurse finally removed his oxygen mask, unnecessary all of a sudden. Giddiness upon hearing a story long-forgotten that reminded me of him and his quirks. Vulnerable that only one parent stands between me and orphanhood. Guilt for not doing more to help my mom. Thankful for the staff at his nursing home. Fear that my fate would be the same as his. Curiosity as to whether or not God was present in the nursing home room when it appeared to be the end. Self-conscious that I wasn’t showing the obvious signs of grief, and then self-conscious of my tears when they came. Nostalgia for when I was young, when he was someone still on a pedestal to me in that delightful, warped reality of childhood. Wistful when encountering an idea that he’d laugh at and remembering–confirming to myself–that he won’t be able to hear it.

I thought I knew what these things felt like before he became sick. I understand them as different now; for that, I am grateful.

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