How do you put one of the hardest experiences of your life in words? How do you explain to an outsider that this time of year is never okay for you, for the last 4 years? How do you try to understand life and death after being close with it?
4 years ago, this month and half of last month were the hardest of my life. I went through emotions that any 16 year old shouldn’t go through at that age. In fact, the entire year leading up to it had its tremendous lows. Writing about things helps me a lot, and a lot of people have gone through the same and similar things. Maybe sharing can help someone else feel like they aren’t alone, because I know I felt alone at the time and for a couple of years afterwards. You’re not alone.
This is all very personal and close to my heart, please understand what it took to write this. I obviously left parts out that I don’t want the public knowing or parts that were just to horrible to explain.
My Pa was diagnosed with cancer, which at this point had spread pretty much everywhere because no one could diagnose him early enough to deal with it. Obviously, we don’t have an ideal start to the year of 2013. Little did I know, that I’d learn so much about myself in the following months.
He originally went into hospital for surgery to simply remove some tissue for testing, so I found my life after school revolving around hospital visits. Now, at this point, 4 people had already died in a 2 year span from this side of the family. I wasn’t as close to them as I was to my pa.
He then went in to get his bladder removed and that’s when everything well…turned to shit. Absolute shit. We knew the risks and went through with it. In fact, everything went great, it was exactly how it should have gone. That day when I finished school and jumped on the bus to get to the hospital and I had a horrid feeling. I got to the hospital and my pa who was still out of it motioned me to sit next to him. He held my hand and told me to look after my nan and to never forget him. I froze, I fucking froze. I couldn’t bring myself to say that I would look after nan and how could I possibly ever forget him?
I think he knew. After that, my mum and brother came into hospital and we started noticing that something was wrong with him, he was seeing things that weren’t there and saying things he normally wouldn’t say. This was the last time I ever got a sentence out of him. As I left I told him I loved him, he told me he loved me back. I always hating leaving my pa at night, he always looked alone and sad, I think my family hated leaving and seeing him like that also.
The next day was my brother’s birthday party and my nan told us that we needed a break and should go. I really didn’t want to but I did. I couldn’t shake the worst feeling of my life that entire night that I should be with him and not at the party. The next day my mum told us to take our time and come up after dinner to the hospital as he was going into surgery to see if anything was wrong. Half way through dinner my mum called. She didn’t say what happened but just to get to the hospital.
We walked into the waiting room and straight off the bat we were ushered into a room that my mum and nan were in and that’s when we found it. He had gone into cardiac arrest but they had resuscitated him and his next option was to be transported to another hospital for more in depth testing of his heart. Driving to the other hospital at midnight, it was a clear sky full of shiny stars with the helicopter my pa was in visible. I think we all knew at this point that nothing would ever be the same again.
We waited for what felt like an eternity to be told we could see him. I pretty much bowled everyone over to see him. There’s something so…heart breaking…to see your loved one looking like the shell of who they were, hooked up to life support, completely void of any colour and smelling like sanitiser. We talked to him as if he was listening, as if he was going to answer. How do you deal with seeing that? Trying to wrap your hear around it? How do you tell your friends you won’t be at school for almost a month because you don’t want to be anywhere else?
No one I knew had been through this before so I felt alone. We were all there for each other but I guess we both felt that deep aloneness that we all had never felt before. It was a shock. It was as if everything just slid out from under us.
We were talked to about life support and the remaining options we had: keep him alive through machines or let him slip away on his own accord. Being part of that process was hard too. He wasn’t expected to live longer than a few hours, however my pa had his own plans.
He started vaguely waking up, he would say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and wiggle his fingers and toes if you asked. He was even breathing on his own. He started getting restless and wasn’t actually waking up. My nan, me and my pa then shared a moment I won’t forget for the rest of my life that I won’t share here, despite this being a personal account, I couldn’t go that personal.
He got moved back to the other hospital as it was easier on us and his palliative care would be continued. A week later he was still going, I just started to feel empty. I emotionally couldn’t handle it, and part of me still can’t to this day. We started talking about my pa and nan’s wedding anniversary, it was at this point he could either hear us or it was coincidental; but yet it felt like he was waiting for something. We started saying that it was their anniversary next week and that we’d take nan out for Chinese and that’s when he began to deteriorate.
Much to my surprise, he got even paler in colour and I apologise in advance for the image you’re about to think about, he was literally skin and bones. I saw the outline of bones that I never thought I’d ever see. I’d never seen someone so thin, so grey, so….lifeless.
The day came. July 2nd. We faked that today was the day it was their anniversary and just like that, everything I had ever known about death, love and myself crumbled. He started breathing funny, my mum ushered me out to where I collapsed onto the floor pulling my hair out screaming. How could he do this to me? To us?
A nurse ran over and just knew. She went in to the room and I followed. I shouldn’t have, but I felt compelled to. Like I’d regret it otherwise. And just like that, I saw what my mum and nan looked like with such vulnerability. I was at the foot of the bed and they were cuddling him telling him to go and that everything was going to be okay. I witnessed death. I watched him take his last breath. I felt a huge chunk of me die with him. I broke, I freaked out, I screamed internally…I wanted to wake up and find out it was all a horrible nightmare. But it doesn’t work that way, does it?
The nurse said that the last thing to go is hearing and that we should say our last words to him. I told him I loved him. Oh god, what do I do now? What the fuck is life and why is it worth living?
Th first couple of months I felt frozen inside. People told me they lost grandparents and that I’ll be fine in a few months. None of them lost theirs how I lost mine. They didn’t understand. Honestly, 2 friends attempted to understand and when they couldn’t they still reached out to me.
I didn’t realise it then but I was actually falling into a deep depression. I hadn’t experienced happiness in 3 months by then and that’s when I was being pushed into getting help. I was diagnosed with clinical depression with post traumatic stress disorder.
Clinical depression isn’t the same for everyone, 50% of the time I felt absolutely nothing and the other 50% of the time was crying and missing my pa. I cut my arms to shit, I starved myself, I attempted suicide. All because I couldn’t cope with the loss of someone so dear to my heart. Post traumatic stress disorder doesn’t help. I used to spring out of bed every day thinking we’d be going to the hospital to see pa. Then I started having vivid nightmares of watching him die over and over again. Then I developed anxiety, what’s one without the other, right?
For the first 2 years I hated everything that happened. Everything that I ever felt and my entire existence. It took me 2 years to realise some of the amazing things I had experienced and learnt. My pa watched me take my first breath into the world and watch his last, looking back it was so peaceful yet so soul crushing. He isn’t in any pain anymore. I realised what it meant to not take people for granted. I found out what love for family really is. I learnt how far my emotional barriers go and I learnt what career path I wanted to follow. I just wish it wasn’t through that.
So every year, starting from around mid May to the first week of July, I get horribly unhappy and everything flashes back as if it happened yesterday. You don’t know what it feels like to go through it unless it happens to you, and you don’t know what it feels like to live through residual emotions every year at the same time.
I miss him in a way I’ve never missed anyone in my entire life. I hate this time of year for that reason. That it can’t bring him back. It’s important that I know that had he have survived, it wouldn’t have been a painful existence till he eventually died. You don’t get a say in when you or someone dies, but you do get a say in how you love them and cherish them.
Still to this day, I feel things from time to time that I hadn’t felt since this all took place. I felt a mixture of anger, emptiness, sadness, relief, heartache and pretty much a nervous break down.
Life is so fragile and shorter than you expect. Count your blessings and make the people in your life feel loved.