Before reading ahead, please know that article may be a potential grief trigger.
Usually, at this time of year I would be writing articles on having a minimalist Christmas, or why I don’t bother with New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I’ve been taking a break because last month I found myself dealing with something which still feels like a nightmare: the loss of my dad aged 74.
Dad had been in and out of the hospital with low oxygen, and the last time he went in we were all expecting him to be treated and discharged like the times before. He’d not long received diagnosis of COPD; a progressive disease of the lungs, but we weren’t told much about it other than it would get worse over time. We were expecting this to happen over years, not weeks.
A couple of weeks ago, dad was rushed to hospital after suffering respiratory distress. He was there for a week and mum visited him every day. I saw him once, hooked up to an oxygen machine and unable to hear him properly through the mask.
That day we had rushed over in the early hours of the morning because the hospital called to tell mum he was in critical condition and hinted that he probably wouldn’t make it. Thankfully, he pulled through, and I stayed there until dinner time when I began to feel extremely unwell and had to go home. Dad waved to me and I walked home through the pouring rain to the train station feeling weighed down by guilt. I desperately wanted to stay by his side.
After that I was unable to visit again because I developed a severe chest infection.
The day before he died mum came back from visiting and said she had been told that he was going in a good direction with his health and would even be doing physiotherapy the next day. Both of us were hopeful and expecting him to be walking back through the door before we knew it. The mood lightened.
Yet 3:50 the following morning, mum stood at my bedroom door crying. I woke with a start and knew instantly he had gone. Apparently he had been discovered passed away when the nurses went to turn him.
The shock has been unimaginable, and I’ve gone between uncontrollable crying to days of numbness and back again. Even writing this is incredibly difficult because I can’t believe my own words. I can’t believe he’s gone.
As family and friends have spoken about their memories of him and I’ve reflected on my own, one thing I can say is that over the past few weeks, everything I believe about the time we waste on meaningless stuff has only intensified. The passing of my dad has drastically deepened and further changed the way I view not just my relationship with stuff, but my relationships with people in general.
I think most of us rush through our to-do lists and cancel social plans because of over-stuffed schedules and burn out. We stare at screens for an easy escape rather than talk to those sharing our space.
As a full time working parent to two children I know the feeling very well and have canceled plans just to recover or catch up on housework. If you have kids, no matter how much you love them, child rearing itself is exhausting regardless of if you work or not. Even if you don’t have kids, perhaps there is something else taking a toll on your energy and availability.
The thing is, we have so many ‘last times’ in our lives and don’t even realise when they’re happening. These lasts aren’t always to do with death, but may be something in our lives. For example, the last time your child sucked their dummy, the last day of a decades long career, the last day hanging out with the same group of people.
I follow a lot of Buddhist beliefs and teachings, one of which, nothing is permanent.
It’s easy to accept these things logically, but accepting them in the depths of your heart is another thing entirely.
We all know that flowers bloom and die, that belongings eventually degrade and tarnish, and we know that people eventually die. But for many of us, it seems no amount of knowledge can truly prepare for the shock and grief of losing a loved one. It’s hard to find strength.
I hope to make my dad proud and continue to follow the path I believe in. For me, that path is to guide others to live simpler, more meaningful lives and to emotionally help others in need.
If you’ve made it to the end of this post I want to thank you and for you to reflect on how you can live a more connected and meaningful life. I will be doing the same.