Category Archives: Grief

Unbalanced

Sunday night, I went to bed after 11 p.m., only to get up again ten minutes later when I heard the car in the driveway and knew my mother and stepsister were back from the hospital. I went downstairs to find out how my stepfather was doing and to let them decompress (things can be very hard right now).

I eventually went to bed and fell asleep around 12:45 a.m. The next morning we woke up and got on the road as early as we could (7:45 a.m., which was 45 minutes later than Q. had hoped for and 15 minutes earlier than I thought would be possible) in order to make the long drive back home in front of the worst of the holiday weekend traffic. P., mercifully, slept most of the way instead of screaming like she had on the outward trip, but it still took us 8 hours (same as the previous trip but with two stops instead of six).

Monday night I went to bed around 9:30 p.m. I woke up at 4:15 a.m. to feed P. (she is still sleeping really well at night). Then I went downstairs and pumped.

And then, starting at 5:00 a.m., I marked essays. I marked until E. woke up at 7:15.

I felt like garbage the rest of the day.

Last night I did not get up after feeding P. at 4:30 a.m. I pumped after her morning feed. I did not mark essays. I slept until E. woke me up at 7:30 and as a result I feel like I can function again.

I can’t mark during the day as I get exactly 45 minutes of time to work (after lunch when P. naps in a carrier and E. is watching videos). That is enough to check work email and moderate the discussion forum. It is enough to keep my head above water with the course which is into its concluding week (I had originally planned to actually write a concluding lecture but that is not going to happen). I am only able to type this because P. is nursing.

I don’t want to ask Q. to come home early because he lost his entire week last week coming with me to see my family (where he took over in the kitchen and kept us all fed for the entire week so my mother did not have to worry. I love that man).

I will probably get an hour tonight when Q. takes P. for an evening walk after E. is in bed.

But I think tomorrow I have to get up again after her feed. They won’t get done otherwise.

I am heartsick and grieving, for myself, my stepfather, my mother, my entire family. I had to say goodbye and leave, knowing that I will never see him again.

I was supposed to be there this week with the kids. My mother was going to look after E. while I marked when P. napped. Instead, she has brought my stepfather home from the hospital and will look after him until he dies, and I can do absolutely nothing to help.

We knew teaching the course after P. was born would be a challenge.

We are so close.

There are only a few more days to go.

But this is really hard now.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, Family, Grief, Life after the PhD, Loss

An ending, coming

On Monday night, I was lying in bed nursing P. with my phone in one hand, waiting for my mother to call with what I knew would be bad news. P. was thirty-seven days old. She is so new, so fresh. She is at the beginning of it all.

My stepfather is dying.

A month ago my Mum was with me, helping while Q. was overseas. My stepfather was doing so well she said she almost felt she could have left him alone. My youngest sister, who went to stay with him, said he was the best she’d seen him in years.

With hindsight, this appears to have been the final rally that some patients get before they start that last downward spiral.

He is in hospital and is being made comfortable. They are looking into the options to see if he can be brought home and receive hospice care.

We don’t know exactly how long he has, but it is not long. We were originally told days. It is probably more like weeks, but things can change very quickly as we have learned.

All five of his children (one son, one daughter, three stepdaughters) will be here as of this afternoon. We will all get our chance to say goodbye, but we will all probably have to leave again before the end and leave him and my mother, which breaks my heart.

He was well enough yesterday to come out of the hospital to meet P. (as she is too young to be vaccinated and I cannot risk bringing her in to the hospital itself). We were able to get some pictures of him with his four grandchildren. He will probably not get to meet the one currently occupying labmonkey’s uterus.

My stepsister and stepbrother lost their mother nine years ago. Now they will have lost both parents. They are 36 and (almost) 38. That is too young, My stepsister and her husband are here with their two kids (7 and 4) on a prearranged two week vacation. She wants to be with her Dad, but her kids need her too. I am hoping to hand P. off to someone this afternoon so Q. and I can go in to see him, even if just for an hour.

It’s not enough time.

There will never be enough time.

We knew the cancer was going to come back. We knew it would kill him eventually.

We never thought it would be this soon.

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Filed under Family, Grief, Loss

Snippets

Bullet points, because who has time to write out entire posts?

  • I am still without a contract or a letter of invitation for this online course I’m meant to be teaching this summer, and it is really stressing me out. It’s not the fault of my Chair, who has been tirelessly advocating on my behalf, but somewhere higher up things have stalled. I have to trust that my Chair will see it through, but the start of the course is now less than a month away. It makes an enormous (like over $50,000 difference with two sections) to our finances over the next year for me to get it, because it’s not just the money they pay me for teaching the course, but also how it affects what the university owes me on maternity leave and how much I am eligible for from EI. So I am trying not to fret, but I really wish I had a piece of paper right now.
  • I saw the psychiatrist again on Monday.  She sure figured me out: “Often it’s the case that very intellectual people try to manage grief in a logical, contained, academic way. They usually compartmentalize so they can function. Eventually it always comes out. The postpartum period is a very vulnerable time, and I want you to have resources in place because all of this is going to come out eventually and it will probably be when the baby is born.”
  • She is recommending a combination of talk therapy and CBT. Mindfulness is likely to feature prominently.
  • I knew she was going to say that.
  • I am not sure I can get out of my mind and into my body.
  • My Dad is an extremely unusual case. The last time the lead doctor at the rehab centre had a C2 fracture was well over a decade ago because (as he said) they usually die or they’re not mentally cognizant. My psychiatrist was also shocked to hear that my Dad has no brain damage and can talk all day long on the ventilator because her experience had been that such patients are usually in a vegetative state. My Dad is alive (probably) because he was incredibly fit and strong before the accident and (definitely) because there were two Canadian doctors from my city on the beach at the time of the accident who did CPR immediately. Dad never had any oxygen deprivation and, as a result, no brain damage.
  • I told my Dad I was glad he didn’t die on the beach. Then I realized that was probably a pretty selfish thing to say. I think he understood what I meant. I’m not sure he’s glad he didn’t die on the beach.
  • I am having a hard time with my Dad’s state of mind, not only because I don’t want to lose him, but also because if it were me, I would take the chair in a heartbeat if it meant I would be there while my kids grew up. But I live in my mind (see above). Dad is probably alive because he lived so much in his body. He’s facing a different level of loss. Plus his kids are already grown up.
  • My stepfather’s pathology report came back. The cancer was not in his lymph nodes (very good news). Need to wait to see what the oncologists think before we know next steps, but I’m sure it’s going to involve cancer and/or radiation, and he is just so weak now.
  • My sisters and I had a Google hangout last week. Thank all the gods for them. We are all coping, more or less. We are all functioning, more or less. We don’t get to see each other as much as we would like (or need to) because we’ve organized to try to have one of us with my Dad as much as possible (case in point: the Google hangout emerged when we realized there was not a single day between last week and the middle of May where all three of us would be home). But I know they are there, and I know they get how I am feeling because they feel it too.
  • My cat’s ashes are on a bookshelf. We’re waiting for it to warm up a bit more and then we’re going to bury her under our tree in our front garden. I keep looking for her when I come home. I hear her footsteps on the floorboards at night. The other cat really is clingier (which is saying something given how glued she is to me normally).
  • Last June I wrote a post about being the adult, where being the adult largely involved cleaning up vomit and dead birds. I know better now. Being the adult means getting up every day and somehow managing to get through the day, even when all you want to do is stay in bed, read, and cry. It means you do your job and you parent your child and you put one foot in front of the other, even when — especially when — you don’t want to. It means you don’t have anyone else to whom you can hand the responsibility and the grief and the anxiety and the fear, and trust that they will look after you. The person who still gets to cry for “Mummy” in the night is your son, and you’re the one who makes things better. When you cry at night, there’s no one who can make things better for you.
  • Fuck, being the adult sucks right now.
  • We have 55 crocuses open in our garden. Why did I count them? Because precisely TWO of them are yellow. “Mixed blooms” my ass.
  • Yes, I am still annoyed about the uneven colour ratio of my crocuses, even with everything else that is going on. Sometimes it’s the little things (because you can’t face the big things).

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Family, Grief, Loss

Inadequate gratitude

I have not done well over the last couple of months with responding to, or even acknowledging, comments. It seems to be all I can manage to get the words out. But I wanted to say just how much I have appreciated every comment and message of support and offer of further support via email. I do know I am not alone.

I am still trying to get assigned to a counselor with the reproductive mental health program I’m now registered with. But I have a second appointment with the psychiatrist on Monday. I know I need help. I know I cannot carry this alone. I am reaching out and asking for the help I need.

But in the meantime, I am so very glad I can come here, spill out my heart, and know that you are reading.

Thank you.

4 Comments

Filed under Blogging, Friends, Grief, Loss

Bend, so you do not break

I am writing this on a train.

Outside the train it is still winter: the ground is covered with snow and the trees stark, barren sentinels against our passing.

The train is late.

I have been marking for a class I’ve tried to teach to the best of my abilities this semester despite caring more about so many other things.

I have marked slowly, interspersed with weeping. I know I am red-eyed. I am unsettling to those around me.

This is the third time in the last two months I have been on a train, under these exact conditions. I feel like my memories of this particular corridor will be filled now for all time with marking, weeping, and snow.

I am trying.

I am trying so hard to cope.

I got to the end of my semester. I took too long to mark some essays, but otherwise there’s nothing I can point to and say “I should have done that better.”

When people ask about my Dad, I am able to give them the good news (He’s moved hospitals and can now start rehab! He’s able to use the ventilator to speak! He passed a swallow test and can eat some foods again!) and sound positive even as my heart breaks all over again that this is the good news, that he is still paralyzed, still on a ventilator, that while in the grand scheme of things, I know he is making progress, the situation is still too much for me to comprehend.

I am being beaten down.

This morning, I wept as I had to explain to E. that our cat might not get better, that the vet might not be able to fix what was wrong. I wept as Q. (newly recalled from work by my frantic phone call) bundled E. up and brought him to school from the vet’s, after E. had a chance to give Poppy a hug and a pat “just in case”. I wept when the vet told me what we had to do, the humane thing to do, the thing that you do when you are the adult and you take responsibility for these lives. I wept as I got on the train, pulled in too many directions again, knowing that Q. would have to tell E. after school that there was only one cat waiting at home.

“We will need to get another cat!” wailed E. in the vet clinic. “And we will name that cat Poppy too because it was a good name and she is a good cat and two cats are better than one cat!”

“Maybe we will get another cat one day, E.,” I told him. “But we won’t name that cat Poppy. You can’t replace a cat. They’re part of the family. They’re all special, each one of them.”

I am terrified that this experience, E.’s first real exposure to death and grief and loss, will, in the end, be seen by us as practice for the losses that are yet to come.

One of his grandpas. Or both. I have no idea what’s coming. But I am afraid.

I have been fighting for some weeks now an irrational fear that this baby will die at birth. I was going to tell my midwife about it, but I had to cancel that appointment because we were at the vet instead, surrounding our cat with love while giving the vet permission to end her life.

The problem is it doesn’t feel irrational to me anymore.

The odds of stillbirth are 1 in 100.

The odds of being born with one kidney are 1 in around 1,000.

I don’t know what the odds are of having colon cancer that doesn’t behave like colon cancer, but I imagine they’re pretty high.

And my father’s accident defies belief.

So why wouldn’t the baby die? It would actually be a more likely outcome than anything else that’s happened in the last couple of months.

I am trying.

I am trying so hard to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

But there is a limit to what anyone can manage.

And I know, deep down, I’m reaching mine.

 

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, E.- the fifth year, Grief, Loss, Me? Pregnant?!, Midwives

The hard choice

Last night it became clear that one of our cats was not at all well. She’d been a bit off for the last couple of days, but last night we realized she hadn’t eaten for most of the day. She then urinated on the carpet (which she has never done) and hid under the couch.

Q. and I were worried about her, but we decided to wait and see how she looked in the morning.

“I just don’t want her to die while I’m away,” I told Q.

“Oh, T.,” he replied. “Don’t be so morbid. I’m sure she’ll perk up in the morning.”

“I can’t help it,” I said. “That’s the way this year has gone so far.”

She was bright when we woke up this morning, demanded treats, ate breakfast, and seemed to be her usual self. Then she crawled out from under the couch while I was eating breakfast with E. and it was obvious something was very wrong.

I suppose, in a way, Q. was right. She didn’t die while I was away. We put her to sleep this morning after the x-rays showed congestive heart failure and she didn’t respond to the most obvious form of treatment. The vet assured us that this was the right thing to do and promised that we had caught the signs early and saved her days of discomfort and decline.

Still.

January. The baby has only one kidney.

February. My father is paralyzed by a wave.

March. My stepfather’s cancer is back.

April. We have to euthanize our cat.

FUCK 2016.

Vale, Poppy. You were beautiful, gentle, and wise. We will miss you.

29 September. Poppy.

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Filed under Grief, Loss

Boxes

I think of my worries in boxes now.

I have so many of them, I can’t let them all come out to nag at me at once.

There’s the “worried about my Dad” box, which is huge and overflowing. It resists my every effort to close it. Sometimes I manage to get the lid down a little way, but it always springs open again.

Now there’s the “worried about my stepfather” box, which is smaller than my father’s worry box, although growing rapidly (much like his tumor). The worries were there before but they were mostly lumped in with general worry about my family. But now, after Thursday’s CT scan, he has a box of his own. A subsidiary of this box is the “worried about my Mum” box, which is really attached to the “worried about my stepfather” box, because what I am mostly worried about with my Mum is how she will cope if my stepfather dies. No one has said to me that my stepfather is going to die, and certainly the doctors are quite confident that there are things they can do, but I think the odds of this cancer killing him (or causing another cascade of medical issues that eventually prove fatal) are much higher than they were with his first bout, and I am very very worried.

There’s the “worried about the baby” box which has fluctuated in size significantly over the course of the pregnancy, reaching its maximum size after the anatomy scan. The follow up scans this past Thursday showed that everything continues to go well and that the right kidney is bigger than would be expected at this stage, suggesting it is doing exactly what we hoped it would- growing to compensate for the missing one. I had just about succeeded in wrestling that box closed until I learned that my stepfather is in renal failure because of the way the tumor is encroaching on his kidney. It is not that I think it all that likely that my baby will also develop colon cancer that will affect the kidney when s/he is approaching 65, more that this is a situation where it is a VERY GOOD THING that my stepfather has a backup kidney, and this of course reminded me that our baby has no backup. So I am back to worrying irrationally about the baby, although I am trying to curb this because I can only worry so much for so long without losing all ability to function.

The “worried about the baby” box also contains the usual post-infertility worries about the baby dying at birth or just before from a cord accident or some other tragic, incredibly unlikely occurrence that somehow feels not all that unlikely right now given my family’s current strike rate for freaky, fluky, unexpected medical disasters (see: my father being paralyzed for life by a wave as exhibit a, and my stepfather’s colon cancer that is not behaving like colon cancer usually does and is thus a source of great interest to his doctors as exhibit b).

And then I worry that all this worry is bad for the baby, because s/he is certainly not getting an optimal uterine environment right now. So that’s in the baby box too.

Then there’s a “worried about work” box, which is only allowed to get my attention when I have to do something related to the very next class I have to teach. Marking and seminars and conferences are not on my radar right now, even when they should be. I am very much in survival mode and just taking these last three weeks of the semester one day at a time.

My general worry box about all the other aspects of my life (E., Q., the cats, the house, the rest of my family) has been shoved to the back of the stack because I just cannot open it up right now. We still have not entirely sorted out the vomiting cats issue (in fact we think the food change has stopped one cat from vomiting but caused another to start getting hairballs), but I cannot put any time or energy into fixing it right now. I am vaguely aware that I am asking an extraordinary amount of Q. at the moment, but cannot rouse myself to try to rebalance. I try to be present for E., but it is harder than it should be.

It is all starting to become more than I can cope with.

I am either numb or exhausted most of the time.

I am not depressed- I have been depressed before and I know what it feels like- but I am struggling, even more so than I was a month ago. It is unrelenting. There is no end in sight.

And now I am officially worrying so much that it is affecting my sleep. For the last week or so, ever since my Dad had a conversation with my sister where he was able to express his own worries about what is going to happen to him and how the decisions will be made, I have been waking up at 5 a.m. or earlier and I have not been able to get back to sleep. This used to be standard operating procedure for me, but I fixed this well over a year ago (or possibly two years ago- I have lost track) by taking my mother’s insomnia advice of refusing to get up or do anything else but lie there and wait to fall back asleep. I retrained my brain and my body and I have slept exceptionally well ever since.

Now I wake up for no reason in particular at some stupidly early hour and my brain immediately tries to fix the worst-case scenario. Typical would be waking up to have my brain start planning how we might convince my mother to move to our part of the province if my stepfather dies and whether she would be able to afford to buy a condo and would she want to be in a condo and what would happen with my grandmother but it would be great for my mother because she would have all the support and access to good transit options to go see her siblings when she doesn’t want to drive, etc. etc.

This is not something I should be trying to fix. This is not something I should even be thinking about. But my anxiety has always manifested itself as catastrophizing- I jump to the worst-case scenario and try to fix it. So I know this is my anxiety seeking an outlet, because I am bottling it up as much as I can during the day to get through. But it is impossible to turn your brain off and go back to sleep once you are engaged in thinking about worst-case scenarios, even when you know that they will hopefully NEVER HAPPEN and you are completely wasting your time thinking about them.

I am really good at planning and organizing. It is one of my strengths.

At five in the morning, though, I’m coming to realize it is also one of my greatest weaknesses. Because my brain seems to think I can plan and organize my way out of these crises, that if I can just get enough details sorted out and enough ducks in a row, everything will get better.

I don’t know how to make my brain understand this isn’t helpful.

And right now I’m too tired to even try.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Family, Grief, Me? Pregnant?!, Medical issues, Sleep

On superstitions

I am not, by nature, a superstitious person.

Nor do I believe that everything happens for a reason.

I am an agnostic.

I believe life is random and the universe even more so.

But there are times I really start to question this.

You know the saying “bad things come in threes”?

I have been resolutely ignoring the small voice in my head that has been chanting this ever since the missing kidney and my father’s accident.

But now I’m just about willing to believe in it, if only because it might then mean that the universe will stop shitting on my family.

Yesterday I had my follow up scan at the hospital where I will deliver.

The scan was fine- the baby is perfect (except for the missing kidney) and the existing kidney is getting bigger to compensate just like we hoped it would. The specialist and the paediatric specialist both told me there is nothing to worry about with this pregnancy.

The last time I was in that hospital was the 4th of February- the day my father had his accident.

Yesterday I got out to discover my stepfather has another tumor in his bowel. We don’t yet know whether it is the original cancer which has metastasized after three years or if it is a new one. What we do know is it wasn’t there less than a year when he last had a colonoscopy and now it is big enough that it has broken through the intestinal wall and is affecting the kidney. So whatever it is, it is moving very quickly. Which, when it comes to cancer, I don’t think is ever good news.

As labmonkey said when we talked on the phone, “I don’t know how to go any more into shock. I don’t have any further levels of crisis to reach.”

It’s unbelievable.

But it’s happening.

FUCK 2016.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Family, Grief, Me? Pregnant?!, Medical issues

It happened before

Microblog_MondaysSomeone my stepmother knows at the gym told her that she’d seen an article about my father’s accident online.

So, of course, I did some rough Googling.

I didn’t find anything about my Dad.

I did, however, find this article, which dates from 2013. It tells the story of a fit, active 65 year old Canadian tourist who went to Barbados on vacation with his second wife and came home a quadriplegic after being smashed by a wave. He at least was bodysurfing, which makes the injury somewhat easier to understand than what happened to my Dad. He is also off the ventilator and has some movement in his extremities. I would like to hope my Dad can make similar progress eventually, but I am not sure it is likely- this gentleman breathed on his own on the beach, and my father never did.

The kicker?

He was staying at the same resort my father was.

It really makes me wonder just what is going on with their coastline.

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under Family, Grief, Microblog Mondays

A meaningful life

There was a post I was going to write last week, before my world exploded, when the absent kidney was the biggest thing I was worrying about.

When I’d posted about the missing kidney in a small group of infertility friends, one of them made a comment along the lines of “Hasn’t this group been dealt enough shit already?”

I paused, and thought about that for a time.

Here’s the thing.

When I was in my early twenties, I definitely knew people who had “perfect” lives. People who had never lost a grandparent, let alone a parent. People who had parents who still had intact marriages. People who had never really encountered serious obstacles or problems.

Now that I’m in my mid-thirties, I don’t think I know anyone like that anymore. Life and the universe have slowly, inexorably, crept up on all of my friends. And we’ve all lost something or someone.

Grandparents. Parents. Pregnancies. Children. Marriages. Jobs. Health. Security. Hopes. Dreams.

Nobody’s life is “perfect” any longer.

Before Thursday, I would have said that my life was probably normal, average, in terms of tragedy, with maybe a little more bad luck than average in some places and a little more good luck than average in some places.

No longer.

Since my Dad’s accident I feel like we’ve been catapulted into the next level of tragedy, the place where things happen that only ever happen to “other people’s families”, not your own. I read it in the emails I’ve been receiving from friends. I hear it in the voices of those who have called.

And I see it in the eyes of the people I’ve told in person. Especially when I tell them exactly HOW it happened. How my healthy, vibrant, strong father is now paralyzed for life from the neck down and on a ventilator because he was playing in the ocean and was hit by a wave. He wasn’t surfing. He wasn’t diving into shallow water. He was PLAYING IN THE OCEAN. Like my husband and son were doing just over a month ago.

I can see the fear in their eyes when I say that. Because in that instant, the universe steps forward and reminds us that it is random. That anything can happen. That nothing is safe.

There is no deeper meaning to this.

This didn’t happen for a reason.

This happened because an uncountable number of factors combined to put my father in just the wrong place at just the wrong time.

My Australian husband has spent hours in the last week trying to puzzle out how the ocean could do this. He has a theory, but when he explains it, he finishes by just shaking his head in disbelief.

Because it is impossible that this could have happened.

Except, of course, it has.

——————————

My Dad crammed so much into the sixty-three years he’s been on this earth.

More than most people do in a lifetime.

But Dad didn’t think for a moment that he was finished.

He often told us that he anticipated having another good twenty years, judging from the health of his father and his own care for his body.

My Dad ate well. He exercised regularly (my maternal aunt’s first response to this situation was “How can this possibly happen to the most physically active person I’ve ever met in my entire life?”). He still fit into the army uniforms he wore as a cadet when he was a teenager. It was a running joke among my sisters and I that wherever Dad went he would run into people he knew, because he has looked the same since he first became an adult. He has more grey hair now and more wrinkles, but he is still instantly recognizable (even if the long-ago university buddies who come rushing up to greet him are not).

I sound like I’m eulogizing my father.

He’s not dead.

But in a way, he is. His life, as he knew it, and as we knew it, ended when he died on that beach.

My Dad is alive, largely because there were doctors on holiday on the beach who jumped up to help and did CPR and brought him back and kept him alive for the FORTY-FIVE minutes it took to get an ambulance.

But he is also alive because he was so fit, so healthy, so strong.

It is a blessing and a curse.

The exact traits that helped to preserve his life when he died on the beach are what make me worry that he will not be able to reconcile himself to this new life, that he will not be able to find meaning and purpose in his existence as he goes forward.

Q. and I were talking about this the other day. If you told me that I had to be paralyzed and ventilated but that my brain would work and I would be able to communicate and I could watch my kids grow up, and the alternative was death, well, put me in that chair.

“Imagine all the reading you’d be able to get done,” said Q., not wistfully, but with a certain acknowledgement of the expanse of time that would become available.

Some people are better suited to a life of the mind than others.

I am not sure my father is one of them.

My father is one of the most physical people I know. He’s tall, which is one thing, and intimidating, which is another. He’s an alpha male. A former military officer. A man used to command. A stubborn man. A proud man. A man who squeezed every last possible action out of every day, who hated to sit still, who filled his first early days of retirement with travel and skiing and golfing and cycling and swimming and visits to family and improvements to the house. My Dad had PLANS. Lots of them.

And I just do not know if he will be able to make the imaginative leap necessary to get past the loss of his body and the loss of his independence to a place where he can see that he can still build a meaningful life because HE IS STILL HERE.

My father’s mind is intact.

But his mind was so very closely interconnected to his body, that I don’t know if, in the end, that will be enough for him.

We love him. We want him here with us, in any form.

But in the end it’s going to be his choice.

 

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Filed under Family, Grief, Loss