Loss…what a small, ugly, 4-letter word.
Loss…a simple word with such large implications.
Over the last three years, I’ve experienced loss in a number of ways. In the summer of 2011, my husband and I suffered the loss of an unborn child. On Thanksgiving day in 2012, I suffered the inexplicable loss of my father. In the summer (again!) of 2013, my husband and I suffered the loss of another unborn child. Three days before Thanksgiving 2013, we suffered the loss of Pop (my husband’s father). On Christmas day 2013, we suffered the loss of my Gram. Do you see the common theme? Loss…it’s something you suffer, experience, abhor, despise…and gain from. While this could be a sad, sappy post about loss, I want to share with you what I have gained in hopes that someone else who is suffering can be helped. I don’t want sympathy or shared tears but your hope for continued growth. Forgive the randomness…
I’ve never been one who is good with change. Quite frankly, I don’t think many of us accept change very well but at the very least, we deal with it and continue on. We have our ideals about life and what will be involved as we continue to grow. As most people do, I failed to realize that as I grow older, so do those whom I love, and with age comes the demise of one’s life as we know it. I foolishly believed I would have my dad around forever…who wouldn’t, right?! He’s a daughter’s first love, best friend, confidant, the man she can trust and by whom she will measure every other man she comes into contact with. I never for one minute thought that I would lose my dad so early in life but that loss has forever changed me and how I look at life, death, and loss.
On October 15, 2012, I received a frantic call at work from my mother. She had been trying to reach me for well over an hour but like a good teacher, I had my cell phone on silent and locked away (it now remains on and close to me). She eventually located the number for my school and called the office where my bff Melissa answered the call and knew immediately that it was a serious situation. She had me pulled from class to take the call in the front office while Karen placed a chair under me as I heard the most frightening news of my life and fought to maintain some semblance of composure and professionalism. Dad had a heart attack, had been life-flighted to a bigger city and was currently in the cath-lab. All of this transpired in Oklahoma (he was visiting his brother) which resulted in a split second decision that we HAD to get to Dad in Oklahoma. Of course, airlines do not always like to cooperate and we did not arrive until the next morning (middle of the night…I can’t look at 2:35am as morning!) but arrive we did. Let me tell you about fear – it’s very real. While I fear spiders and clowns, the greatest fear is seeing someone you love so dearly hooked up to machines, struggling to live and knowing there is not a darn thing you can do to fix the situation. Within ten minutes of arriving, I was in the ICU with my dad. There was nothing I could do. He had no idea we were there but we all had rallied and gathered 21 hours away to be by his side. Sleep was the furthest thing from my mind but we retired an hour later to a relatively close hotel. I would spend the next several nights sleeping in the hospital, just a few feet from the ICU. The second night, I slept – or attempted sleep- in a recliner next to my dad. When he woke in the morning, he tried to communicate with me…not a possible task with a breathing tube in place but dad was so capable of writing while in such a state so communicate we did. A few hours later, the breathing tube was out. That night, Dad gave us all his “final instructions”. I couldn’t accept it then what he was trying to do, even though I knew what he knew.
You see…Dad spent 40 days and nights (interesting, isn’t it? 40!) hooked up to monitors in three different hospitals in Oklahoma. The first being Tulsa, transferred to Lawton by helicopter, and eventually Oklahoma City. My arrival on day two turned into a 39 day stay as I could not fathom leaving his side (for many weeks, mom and I never ventured away from the hospital out of fear). All that time, I attempted to remain strong, upbeat, and positive but I knew on October 15 that my daddy was not going to come home with me. I think that knowledge hit me on the plane when my iPod randomly played “Angels Among Us” and “You Can Let Go Now Daddy.” In fact, every time I turned on that stupid iPod, hit shuffle and play, one of those two stupid songs came on immediately. Perhaps it was some signal as to what was to transpire but at the time, I would not allow myself to believe it. But looking back, I knew.
I knew my dad needed me there. I knew that my family would be okay without me in Pennsylvania (they had to return – school, work, responsibilities…I was fortunate enough to be able to be away and still maintain my employment but that doesn’t work for everyone). I knew that Mom needed me. I had to be the strength that they both needed. On good days, I had a good day. On those days where the news from the medical team was grim, I was bitchy. I couldn’t accept then what was happening and what this would all mean. I stood by while procedures were completed, waited with baited breath as open heart surgery took place on his birthday (10/31), fed him when he was allowed normal food, played catch with him with a squeeze ball (one is on my nightstand – strangely, I gather strength just by holding it at times), and assisted with physical therapy when allowed. I learned more about the medical field than I ever wished to learn and knew what signs to look for. Skip forward to the end of November and my world came crashing down. On Thanksgiving day, Daddy went home to be with the Lord (apparently my prayers that daddy would not be in pain, would come home with us, etc. were not specific enough).
I did what I had to do in the coming days and weeks but shut down emotionally and mentally. I could not go back to work and thankfully, there are wonderful people in my district who knew, understood, and made it possible for me to continue on a leave until school resumed after Christmas. Even then, I wasn’t “me” but slowly regained who I am to only be hit with further loss.
With each additional loss though, I became stronger. I have grown to appreciate what life is and how little of this thing called life is that we possess. I have grown to appreciate death…even to the point of planning the events to take place after my own passing so that my children will not have to do so. I have even grown to appreciate loss because with loss, we are able to fully appreciate the love that was there in the first place and that love cannot be lost simply because the person is no longer there. I hear my father’s voice in my dreams and occasionally as I am driving too fast down the highway. I smell him when the wind is blowing through the trees. I feel his presence when gripped with fear and anxiety (thank goodness because I have a dentist appointment coming up in the month and I’ll need that presence then!). I see him in my dreams (it took a year for that to happen). I will never get over losing him…you never get over the loss of someone you love…but you do get stronger. You have to allow yourself to become stronger because you are still alive and to those who love you, you are still here for them to hold onto. I hold on to the memories and love that was shared between a father and his only daughter. I hold on to the lessons he taught me and pass them on to my children. I hold on to his heart as a piece of it is within my own (along with half his DNA) because he loved me. Dad said that marrying my husband was a good thing for me as I became mellow. Loosing dad was not a good thing in any way but it has made me more capable of handling all that life throws at me, including change.
Remember…those that have gone before us are not a loss if we continue to hold on to their love and memories.