What is grief? Defined in the dictionary as ‘keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss.’ It’s a process of emotion one experiences on the loss of a loved one. No-one can fully understand the process until they go through it. My journey began before the loss occurred. The loss of my beloved Dad.
It was the 9th September this year, 2019 that my family were told that Dad had a ‘mass on the lung’. He was admitted to hospital two weeks prior to this with a sore side – suspected pulled muscle. My mother and I were given the news on the morning of that fateful Monday. I call it fateful as for me it was. It was the day I knew my Dad wasn’t going to be around for much longer. He looked the ‘picture of health.’ He was in great form. He certainly didn’t look like someone who was terminally ill. Yet I knew….my gut told me….I knew Dad was dying. My journey of grief was already underway.
I remember calling my siblings that day and telling them the news. I also added that my gut tells me, ‘this is the beginning of the end.’ I didn’t tell my mother this. She didn’t need to know. Her journey was going to be very different to mine. I had to face this and I faced it the only way I know – head on. I immediately began gathering information on lung cancer, lung tumours, etc. And none of it was giving me positive information. I spoke to people who had been through this. I began to grieve.
By grieving I mean, waking up every day and sobbing like there was no bottom to my stomach. The pain and the sobs were so intense. I cried out in heartfelt pain each morning. Then I drove to the hospital. There I was the pillar of strength. I was at Dads side as the doctors visited daily. I was ‘his ears.’ Having very poor hearing Dad insisted the Doctors spoke directly to me each day. ‘She’s the one you need to talk to. I can’t hear properly’, he would say daily. Looking back, what an honour I really did have on these days. He put his sole trust in me. He trusted me to know before him what lay ahead. That is an honour I will always treasure.
And so the days went by with my dealing with results upon results; hope and despair; the pillar of strength had to be maintained. But as I got into bed each night, and woke up each morning, I cried: not little tears, or such, but serious sobbing, and crying out. I was grieving for the man I admired and loved with all my heart. And I was grieving for the man who was alive, but whom I knew wouldn’t make it.
The weeks went by. My siblings came home on a regular basis. My mother was there daily. We really did pull together as a family. Aunts, uncles, neighbours all came to our side. The support was endless. The talk was about how the months and years ahead would all work out. The treatment plan would be put in place. Just a few more tests to be carried out. And still I grieved. I cried for the man I knew we were losing. The man who still continued to look the picture of health. The man who was focusing on getting better. One of my siblings said; ‘they can take out his lung. He can live with just one lung.’ I was unable to say, ‘it’s not going to happen; Dad is dying.’ No-one told me this, but I knew. And so I cried myself to sleep. I cried myself awake. And I would gather myself and off to the hospital again. My little pen and pad always at the ready. As the doctors talked, I wrote. The notes were endless. And yet I knew the end was near.
I recall one Friday night texting my best friend. That same friend had lost her Mum almost three years earlier to lung cancer. I told her that night that ‘my wee Daddy is dying.’ Even she was reluctant to succumb to my forthcoming loss. She, like all others had been to see Dad that week and saw how healthy he looked. She, like all others, told me not to be thinking the worst. It was still early days. And yet I knew I was already grieving. Grieving for the man I admired and loved, my Dad. And he was alive and apparently well. My gut told me different.
On Monday morning 7th October, I left Letterkenny hospital in an ambulance with Dad. We were going to St. James’ hospital in Dublin for a PET scan. This scan would show where the cancer had spread to. It would show us exactly what we were dealing with. Part of me didn’t want to know. I already knew in my heart and I didn’t want to be told it in reality. That morning as we left Letterkenny I felt it was Dads last road-trip. I sat up front with the driver as there was another patient in the back. Shortly into the trip, the driver asked me how I was. I cried and told her my fears. She didn’t say anything to make me think I was wrong. She comforted me with her words and she really helped me by indirectly confirming that I was thinking in terms of reality. I told her I felt this was Dads last road trip. She said they’d make it special. I had no idea how. But they did.
As we reached Dublin that day, the ambulance crew got a phone call to say the scanner was broken in St. James’. We had to turn around and go back to Letterkenny. No scan was happening that day, and no results would be had that day. After dropping off the other patient, the ambulance crew proceeded to take Dad back to Letterkenny. He was disappointed, exhausted and yet still smiling. As we drove up the road, I cried silently to myself. Tears of gratefulness because I didn’t want the results of that scan. I didn’t want to know how extensive the cancer was. I was never to find out – nor was Dad.
On the journey home, the ambulance crew did as they promised, they made the trip special. We stopped just outside Monaghan and had a picnic in the ambulance. Dad enjoyed it so much, and even texted my son, his grandson, to tell him what we were doing. He smiled and laughed a lot during that picnic. My heart was breaking. This was such a lovely gesture, and I knew it was Dad’s last picnic. He looked so well, but I knew he was dying.
The next day, Dad was discharged from hospital awaiting a new scan appointment and an out-patient appointment at Letterkenny to see what treatment would be offered. But first we needed the scan.
I drove Dad home that day from hospital. I cried silent tears as we drove home from the hospital. Dad was so happy to be getting home. He’d been in hospital for 6 weeks now. My silent tears were because I knew this was the last time I would drive my Dad. He drove me for so many years. Now I was driving him this one last time. No-one ever told me this was the last time I would drive him, but I knew it.
I drove Dad home that day in his wee VW Polo car. A car which was mine for a number of years and one I gave to Dad when I bought my current car. Dad loved his wee VW Polo. How fitting that my own car was in the garage and I had to drive the Polo that day.
I brought Dad home on Tuesday afternoon, 8th October 2019. I went home that night and cried myself to sleep. Grieving for the man who was home and who looked so well. Grieving for the man I knew in my heart was dying before my very eyes. And yet I couldn’t tell anyone. Yes I was grieving even then……
Less than 3 weeks later, Dad was dead….
My journey of grief was only beginning….