My dad had been suffering from COPD for a while, and in the last couple of years had congestive heart failure. He underwent a procedure a few years back to put a pacemaker/defibulator in him to keep his heart regulated, and later underwent a procedure to replace a faulty valve that was heavily contributing to his issues. Even with that his mobility was limited and his ability to do things for himself had greatly diminished, though cognitively he was still very much still well and "there".
When you are born when your dad is 51, you have a different perspective of your future and how your dad will play into that. Its never guaranteed that your loved ones will be around for all your major life events, but when you are the child of much older parents, you think about the odds even more so. I was absolutely thrilled that my dad got to meet my husband Keith, and that he got to see me get married. For a while there, while he was still struggling with things before his surgeries it didn't look too hopeful that he would be around for that.
My daddy and I dancing at my wedding to Johnny Cash - I Walk the Line.
Xmas of 2012 was a bit hard, as many of us had the feeling that this might be our last xmas with our dad. Its why I rushed so in 2011 to make him a handmade afghan in his favorite colors, and why this year I gave him one of my plush sharktoplushies. All of my creative leanings and talents come from my dad, and I wanted to show him what I could accomplish with the skills and natural talent at picking up new creative techniques I had inherited from him.
This is my daddy with his sharktoplush, and behind him over the chair is the afghan I made for him. He died less than a month later.
So in the middle of January, when I received a call from one of my sisters that daddy was in the hospital and on a ventilator, it was upsetting, but not the shock I assumed it would be when this day would come. I called my husband and my work, and packed up a few things and headed up to PA straight to the hospital, getting there late at night, where my sister and mama were with daddy.
I walked into the ICU room where he was, and immediately something felt off. I looked at him laying in the bed, and it looked like him, but there was something missing. Its very hard to describe. It just didn't FEEL like my daddy was there even though I was staring right at him. I had seen him immediately after his valve surgery with all kinds of tubes coming out of him, so it wasn't the sight of all the machines. I didn't know what it was. Something just felt off, felt missing.
Now that I was there I learned more about what happened. Daddy had been sick before Xmas with a bad cough which we all knew. Mama was worried he had pneumonia, but after some xrays the doctors figured it was just his congestive heart failure acting up again. He had been sick ever since. Earlier that week, before being rushed to the hospital in mid-January, he had collapsed at home and wasn't moving. By the time my mama called 911, he just came back, and they both wrote it off as his blood pressure dropping too low, which did make him fall a lot. Later we'd come to realize that his heart probably stopped right then, but his pacemaker/defibrillator probably shocked him back.
A couple of days later, after having spent over a week struggling to breathe, and my mama begging him to let her take him to the hospital (she had been wanting to take him since he collapsed, but he was a stubborn old man and didn't want to go), he finally said ok. They called the ambulance because at this point he couldn't walk and my mama couldn't carry him. They took him in and started running tests. They confirmed he did indeed have pneumonia and started him on some antibiotics. While they were running more tests, daddy was sitting up and looked over at mama to talk to her, but only garbled nonsense came out. Mama was very upset, and called in the nurses, telling them, "he can't talk!". Then my dad looked over at my mama and said her name before collapsing on the bed. It took 10 minutes to get his heart beating again, and he never woke up. He had to be incubated to have machines breathe for him, and they didn't have to sedate him at all, which isn't a good sign.
I have 2 more sisters who were on their way. By 2am 3 of the 4 of us were there, and the last one would be arriving the next day. That next morning I called the remaining sister who is a medical doctor, and was going through all the information I knew and had. I then told her about how I didn't think daddy was "there" anymore and explained the feeling/sensation, or lack there of that I had when I first walked into the hospital room. She said she didn't think he was there anymore either, in a kind of odd tone. I asked her what made her think that too. She replied "because I think he's here with me". As she was wrapping up things at the clinic where she works, and was getting everything together for her drive up, she heard my daddy's voice, plain as day, out of no where, saying "where are you?". She didn't know if this was really happening or just some coping mechanism, but replied out loud anyway telling Daddy that it was ok, if he needed to go he could and didn't have to wait for her.
Throughout the day, we tried to convince mama that daddy wans't there anymore. More of his organs had begun to shut down, and he was still incubated without any kind of reaction. Soon he would need to be on dialysis and would require a feeding tube. Mama wanted to wait for our last sister to come see him and tell her there was no hope. At this point she was the only doctor my Mama trusted, and we understood, since his cause of death on the death certificate would end up being "complications from Pneumonia", which was what the previous doctors said he didn't have.
While waiting for my sister, a couple of close family friends came to see him, and us. I was ok with this, until one of them starting talking about religious things, and was hoping my daddy made his peace with god before all of this so that he didn't end up in hell. I was really upset by this, because while I understood he had good intentions, why would someone even mention the idea of someone's dying father going to hell? My parents were never particularly religious, and us kids even less so. I would describe myself loosely as "spiritual" and that's it.
Anyway, the man left the room and I was by myself with my daddy. I was upset at this point and crying. I walked over to the bed, and wiggled between the machines so I could be close to him. I held his hand, and petted his head and told him not to listen to his friend. I told him he wasn't going to hell. That he could go be a ghost and do whatever he wanted to do. I told him it was ok for him to go that we'd take care of mama now.
Mama was signing the paperwork to remove all the tubes and devices. Medical doctor sister had arrived and explained to mama what had happened, and what little chance of him coming out of this there was, and even if he did, going that long without oxygen to his brain would have devastating effects. My oldest sister and I went into the room with our daddy to be with him after everything was removed. The other 2 sisters stayed in the waiting room with my Mama. She didn't want to go back in there if he wasn't there anymore anyway. The hospital wasn't sure how long it would take. It took 10 minutes. After everything was out, and all medications were stopped, his blood pressure slowly dropped, and his breathing slowed, until finally it stopped. We held his hands the entire time. We made all the last arrangements at the hospital. That part was very surreal, and I probably was in a state of shock or something during that point.
We all went home to Mama's, ate a little something, and finally managed to all go to bed. The next morning my sister who had heard daddy talking to her earlier, said she heard him again in the middle of the night. Her and another one of my sisters heard this super loud wind outside, and then what sounded like someone walking around room from room. Then "ghost whisperer" sister heard daddy. He told her that he was ok, and that he could watch after mama better than he could before now. He said he hadn't been happy as he was. Then he told her to "tell Suzi not to be sad, and that I like being a ghost".
Now, I know it seems far-fetched, and there are many that read this that won't believe it, or will write it up to being grief-stricken minds coping with a tragedy. I'm not here to try and convince anyone of anything. But that last part, personally, is just a bit too much for me to ignore completely. Also, all of my sisters are scientists, and have that scientific, data-driven mindset more often than not. Even I'm not sure what I think about the whole experience. What I do know is that, I'm not sad and ever since that night I've just felt a little extra comforted or protected. Because maybe, just maybe, there is a big bad hillbilly ghost watching over me just like he would have done when he was alive.
So yeah. That's my story. The story of my dad's death, and why I'm not sad about it. My daddy lived a good long life, had many friends, and had 4 daughters that he was very proud of. He had all kinds of adventures and I believe in the end he was at peace with moving on. Having that kind of closure, whether real or a product of grief, is hard to go against, especially when you know how unhappy he had been with how he was living that last year. And every now and then you might see me skipping or hopping along while I repeatedly say in a "sing-song" voice, "Daddy daddy daddy", or randomly say out loud "I love you daddy.". Because he might just be watching or listening.
Everyone's favorite picture of me with Daddy. We are bad asses.
"Well I met an old man dying on a train.
No more destination no more pain.
Well he said "one thing, before I graduate...
never let your fear decide your fate."
I say ya kill your heroes and
fly, fly, baby don't cry.
No need to worry
cuz everybody will die.
Every day we just
go, go, baby don't go.
Don't you worry
we love you more than you know"
- AWOL Nation