On Death, Dying, and Saying Goodbye

I had a conversation with my sister today that has made me think about death and dying, and saying goodbye.  She told me she listens to this song below and it never fails to remind her of our grandmother.  So, I’d like to share this video with you, as it has really touched me to my core.  The song is Supermarket Flowers, by Ed Sheeran.

Remembering my Grandma and Grandma Helen

My best friend back in Boston is basically a younger sister to me.  Her family treated me as one of them, and they were the hardest thing for me to leave behind in Boston.  Her grandmother died last week.  She was 98.  When I heard that she was expected to only live for about a week, it brought me back to the last week of my grandmother’s life.  Both of them, I think, made up their minds when they were ready to go.  For my grandmother, it was that she had a DNR, and didn’t want to be kept alive on a feeding tube after her major heart attack and stroke.

For Sarita’s grandmother, she refused to take antibiotics again.  Sarita told me that lately she had gone from being sick, taking antibiotics and getting better, to needing them again, and it was just a cycle over and over.  Sarita thinks she had had enough and was ready to go be with her grandpa.  I am very grateful that when Grandma Helen died, it was peaceful and in her sleep.  That was best for her and her family.  Sarita had lived with her for the past six years.  I envy her for that time she was able to spend with her, even if at times, she did drive her crazy.  The people we love have a tendency to do that, don’t they?  I think I used to surprise Grandma Helen when I would go to hug her before I would leave, but it just felt natural to do it.  So,  I did.

I know my grandma was ready at the end.  I also firmly believe I was not the only presence in the room with her during those last 24 hours.  My sister was also there for a good portion of the time, and had my (now 17) nephew with her.   My grandma slept a lot for those last few days, but I do remember this moment when my sister put Sean onto my grandmother’s lap.  He was just shy of his first birthday at the time.

Sean reached out and touched my grandma’s hand, and she reacted back to him. It’s hard to put into words how I felt, seeing that.  It was like something other worldly took place in that exchange.  She had been asleep before that.  But I remember the look of peace on both of their faces.  My nephew, of course, doesn’t remember it, but I do.  And I always will.  I know how proud my grandma was of him.  He was her first great-grandchild.  I’m so sad that she was never able to meet Jack and Katie, but something tells me that she knows of them now.   I know her heart would burst with pride if she could see how all of them are turning out.

There were moments during those last twenty-four hours when I know she was looking over my head at someone or something.  Her eyes were quite focused, and she tried to speak.  I knew then and now that she wasn’t talking to me.  And that was okay with me then and it is now.   I know at the very end, her eyes were focused on me.  I know she heard me when I told her that if she needed to go, she should just go.  I knew she would be at peace.  And I know she understood me, that I was saying she should go be with my grandpa and her family, especially her sister Helen who had died so many years before.  (There’s that name again.  Helen.)

My Dad

My dad is in the Boston area now.   He’s 81.  He’s never taken good care of his body, so he has some liver issues, Parkinson’s, skin cancer issues in the past, and dementia or Alzheimer’s.

I was primarily raised by my mom since I was eight.  My parents split.  I’m not angry at either of them.  It’s just I don’t really feel much toward my dad.  He’s not a bad person.  We just have never had much of a relationship.  I don’t blame him.  I don’t blame me.  It is what it is.

My older brother  Eric has been his primary caretaker for the past few years.  He handles his finances and everything. It also takes a toll on my sister-in-law, Judi.  Eric emailed all of us with an update on our dad, and it involves him being moved to a long-term care facility.  He said he’s lost a lot of weight, and that it has been decided to put him on comfort care.  Without him even having to say it, I know what this means.  It’s probably not long, although my dad being as stubborn as a mule, he might just surprise us all and live for a lot longer.  (Even when my parents were together, doctors were saying if he continued living, eating and smoking as he did, he wouldn’t live another ten years.  Well, I’m 45 now, so you do the math.  They were clearly wrong.)  My brother said he could understand if we didn’t come, but that if we wanted to, this might be a good time.

It’s weird but I don’t feel much when hearing all of this.  I’m not sad, or regretful or angry.  It just is what it is.  Unlike my siblings, I have never really yearned for a relationship with my dad.  I’ve never felt like I missed anything, other than when I hear my friends like Sarita talk about their dads.

My dad is not a bad person.  He wasn’t perfect then or now, but no one is.   I just know that if I will  head back to Boston at some point, it will be when he’s gone.  And I will go because of my siblings.  I know they will need the support.

Maybe a part of me is dead inside, but it’s how I feel.  I didn’t say goodbye to my dad, really, when I left Boston 2 1/2 years ago.  I figured with his mental acuity diminishing at that time, he might not even realize I was gone.  Possibly I tell myself this because it makes me feel less guilty for not having acted like a better daughter in that way.  But it’s also in the past and there’s nothing I can do to change that.

Do I fear I will regret not going home now to say goodbye?  I don’t think so.  Maybe I will get his number at the new facility and give him a call.  If I do, I know it will be awkward and strained.  Somewhat forced, like in a way, I am talking to a stranger, because even though we are related by blood, we don’t really know each other well, and never really have, when it comes down to it. Again, I’m not assigning blame.  Just saying it like it is.

Lily and Stinky

It is hard to explain the pit that I feel in my heart when an animal dies, either in a documentary, or in a story I’ve just read (such as the short story, “Meat,” by C.S. Malerich, in Among Animals, a compilation of short stories published by Ashland Creek Press.)  It brings tears to my eyes.  I have a tightness in my throat. It compels me to ask “WHY??”

This week, I was mentally drained on two occasions.  Stinky was a rottweiler whose owners couldn’t afford to really care for him the way he needed to be cared for.  He was four years old and completely blind, from what, we didn’t really know.  But he was euthanized.  Before his owners made that decision, he and I bonked heads/faces together and I bled a little.  That’s not what bothered me, not by a long shot.  What bothered me is that his owners didn’t stay with him for the procedure, and that because of his accident with me, I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold him and  tell him what a good boy he was while the doctors gave him the life-ending injections. So, my boss volunteered to be with him. I was and am so grateful to her for that.

Lily was a gorgeous 11 year old border collie mix.  After having gone through a lot of testing, it was found that she had a large mass on her liver.  I’m not sure what the care for that would entailed, but her owner decided to have her euthanized.  He was very shaken up and couldn’t be with her at the end.  So, I told him I would, and I’m super grateful to my co-workers who allowed me the time away from the desk to do so.  I held her head in my right hand and with my left kept stroking her incredibly soft long fur and kissed her head on the head a lot and told her what a good girl she was.  I told her she might see a little white chihuahua soon and that her name was Osito, and that she could play with her and all of my other babies up at the Rainbow Bridge.  As with my grandmother, I saw the  light go out of her eyes at the end.

I know Lily had an idea what was happening when I took her back to the treatment area without her dad and removed her collar and leash for him.  Whereas before she seemed to be smiling with all the attention she was getting from the nurses as they shaved some fur in order to place the catheter, she seemed much more subdued.  She didn’t struggle when I held her and she seemed to just accept it.  I was very glad it was quick and peaceful.  And I was very glad that the doctor let me hold her in my arms.  Because no animal should ever have to die alone, without someone telling them that they are loved.  Ever.

Many people say they don’t know that they could do something like that.  I think you find out what you are capable of when the situation calls for it.  All I know is, I do it because I HAVE to.  It’s not part of my job description.  I just can’t stomach the idea of them dying without being loved at the same time.

I know this post has been much longer than most of mine are, so I thank you for sticking with me all the way to the end.  I needed to put this out there.  If you think it can help someone else, please do share it.  If you have any thoughts on any of this, please feel free to comment below.

Many thanks.

 

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12 thoughts on “On Death, Dying, and Saying Goodbye

  • Timely post, as Wednesday night Aunt Vi took a turn for the worse. We’re not sure, but possibly these are the last days. I saw her Thursday and she was out of it, maybe because of the morphine she’s on now, maybe that and the fact she’s so tired and she’s ready to go. Yet on Monday she was talkative. Today we had blizzard weather all day and I couldn’t get out. Hoping to get to her tomorrow.

    I’m sorry you didn’t have a relationship with your dad. Only you can know whether going back now or after is right for you. Everybody is different and it’s good that you know what works for you.

    When it comes time for Katie-girl to go over the bridge I will be there even though I think it will kill me. Still, she deserves to have her mama and daddy with her. Maybe, like the two before her, she’ll take things into her own hands and we won’t have to make that decision. But we’ll have to wait and see.

    Thanks for the post.

    • That’s how my little Osito was — I think she waited until I was gone to leave this world. I would have had the hardest time taking her in to say goodbye. And as of right now, it doesn’t look good for my dad. My older brother will be surprised if he makes it through the weekend. He said to not come until the funeral, to my sis. He isn’t really aware of where he is right now, from what he says.

      You are a great mom to Katie – let’s hope that you have MANY MANY more years to come with her. I’m so sorry to hear about your aunt. Sounds very similar to what my dad is going through right now.

  • I can so relate to your story. Thats the reason why i haven’t gotten another pet. I get so heart broken & take it hard when they pass on, most of them from accidents or other wild animals. Later on maybe I will.

    • I can understand, living where you live, that unfortunately wild animals will get a lot of them. Is there any way you could have a cat and have it be an indoor cat? I know it can be tough to keep them inside sometimes, but it’s for their own good. Pauline, you have so much love to give, I’m sure if you had another one, you would be a great mom. But we all deal with things in our own way. You will know when the time is right.

  • This post made me cry – literally. I was choked up reading about your grandma and dad but the real tears came when you mentioned Stinky and Lily. Animals – they get me every time. Bless you for being there when they needed you. I’m sadly dealing with “end of life care” with my special little girl cat. I dread the day I might have to make the hard decision and have to go through that again. I went through it most recently in 2014 with a cat who was literally “my best friend”. On the other hand, I lost my little dog (who was literally “my better half”) in 2011 and I wasn’t there. Not by choice – he was at a hospital and had a heart attack. Despite the fact that I had signed for resuscitative efforts if needed, even that couldn’t save him. I only hope that the last person he saw was someone like you who could comfort him at the end since I couldn’t. Like I said in my last post – you ARE making a difference in animal’s lives. Maybe not in as grand of scale as you think you should, but it still matters. Just ask Stinky and Lily.

    • Vickie, thank you for saying that. I know how you feel about not being there when your dog died. I was at work when my little Baby O died. I came home and found her, and rushed back to the hospital so I could have her taken care of there and she was picked up by our memorial service the following day. I cried nonstop on the drive back to the hospital. She was in my lap like she always was when I drove anywhere with her.

      We do CPR at my hospital too, and it doesn’t save them all. The other night, there was a dog who, although they got her heart beat back, her brain was just not back.

      I am sure your hospital had someone like me. Our vets don’t like doing it at all, but they know they are helping in most situations. I just feel the need to let the animals know they are not alone. They are loved. And I don’t want them to be scared. I think that is what makes me cry. Knowing that they might be scared.

      Thank you for saying all of that. Your words are not lost on me, Vickie.

  • Hi Terri,
    This is a very moving post so thank you for writing it.
    Re: your dad. I will only relate my personal experience. I also did not have a relationship with my father (I won’t do details) and several years before he died, he connected and I told him not to (bother) calling me anymore, he had never been close to me and I didn’t see the point in starting (now) so he did not call again. I heard he died on Christmas day about four years ago and I felt nothing. I still don’t. He was the adult that didn’t chose to make me an important part of his life and I have no feelings one way or the other – we were almost strangers so there’s no reason for me to feel bad, guilty or sad about his death. As you said, it is what it is and I’m not going to analyze my feelings in comparison to other people because it’s not relevant.
    How you feel, is how you feel. Don’t think on it any more, is my suggestion.
    Again, you are a wonderful person to those poor animals. Its heart-hurting to hear their stories.

    • Karyn, thank you for saying this and for sharing about your dad. You are so open on your blog! My dad did die this past weekend, I wasn’t shocked. My younger brother was. We are going to have a wake the first weekend of March, so that people can arrange to get there and not cost an arm and a leg. He is being cremated so we can wait that long.

      Karyn, I feel like I need to do that to help the poor animals. I would prefer to be working with homeless animals over those that have homes, if that makes sense. But I will help all of them to a peaceful death if I can.

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