Sunday, May 24, 2009

On Life and Loss

I returned to Richmond yesterday after 16 days at home. Even though I had planned to be there for some time, I still deeply regret not seeing my father before he passed away. He, however, had other plans and simply couldn't wait for us to tidy our lives before heading home.

My father celebrated his 83rd birthday on May 5th. The next day my parents closed on a new home. That evening he was having difficulty breathing, so his hospice nurse suggested they take him to the hospice facility where he would be spending a few days during the move. An ambulance came and took my father away. A few hours later he was in a room and stabilized. My mother stayed for a while, but when she saw he was resting comfortably, she went home. My father, who had been suffering from pulmonary fibrosis, stopped breathing not long after.

I spent that day trying to tie up those loose ends so I could get home quickly, though I know I left many dangling. The impact of the news left me in a mental fog that I couldn't seem to break through. I flew home on the 8th and survived a series of delays and many hours stuck in airports thanks to a copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It probably wasn't a wholly appropriate title, but reading it did bring a few smiles.

Sunday, May 10th would have been my parents' 57th wedding anniversary. A steady stream of tears ran down my face during morning mass. The priest talked about mothers and fathers during his homily. They read my father's name during the prayers of the faithful, and many people came to offer their condolences. I just wasn't prepared. My mother, however, handled it all beautifully.

My father's only sibling arrived from California on Monday. The funeral was Tuesday morning. I was surprised and honored to see parents of my high school friends, the daughter of neighbors long since moved away, retired teachers my father once worked with, and many others. Having had a good cry on Sunday, I was actually pretty calm during the service, at least until the Honor Guard showed up. I don't think there was a dry eye during the playing of Taps, or during the moment when they handed my mother the flag.

The days leading up to the funeral and the day after were filled with visits from family and friends. They were also filled with stories, so many stories. At times it felt odd that there was so much laughter given the circumstances, but these words from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society seem oddly fitting--"The old adage--humor is the best way to make the unbearable bearable--may be true."

The days that followed were filled with phone calls and paperwork, lots of paperwork. Dying is a messy business, leaving those who are left behind with so very much to do. I was glad to be with my mother through those early days. My sister returned shortly before my departure to pick up where I left off. The "To-Do" list is still very long, but it is slowing melting away.

When I return home in 8 weeks my mother will be in a new house, with new furniture, embarking on a new phase in her life. She'll also be celebrating her 80th birthday. I'm sure this time will be bittersweet for all of us, but we'll carry on, keeping the memory of my father in our hearts.
Thank you for allowing me this bit of indulgence. I needed it. Thanks too to all of you who have written and sent notes of condolence. I am so grateful for your thoughts, prayers and kindness.


  1. I'm glad you found some comforts, Tricia. That's a lot all at once, for your mother, too-although I imagine a new place to live might just be a good distraction. I'll keep thinking good thoughts for you all.

  2. As hard as it is to start over down a new path without the ones who have been with you since the beginning, they are truly truly always with you.

  3. My mother had pulmonary fibrosis, too (though she died from pancreatic cancer, very swiftly). Your mother will be caught up in the "busy-ness" of adjusting for a while. Both you and she remain in my thoughts.


  4. My mum died several weeks ago. I catch sight of her sometimes, in the shopping centre or driving along the street, and my heart skips a beat, until I remember.

  5. When my husband died three years ago, those first few busy weeks and months the things I HAD to do kept me sane.

    Later on--about month five and six--the depth of loss truly hit me, because the rush of visitors, the lawyer appointments etc were done. Everyone else had gone on with their busy lives. And I was alone to try and understand that David was not really just away for a bit but was actually not coming back. (The brain understands this early, the heart does not.)

    I suspect your mother's life will run along somewhat similar paths.

    I send a hand, a heart, a moment of my time. We each grieve our own grief.


  6. Tricia,

    As Jane said, our hearts don't understand that we've lost a loved one even though our brains tell us the truth of the matter.

    My father passed away nearly 25 years ago. Although I "knew" he was gone, I half expected to see him sitting in his favorite chair in the living room when I visited my mother. I guess it takes a while longer for our hearts to accept the loss of those we love.

    I remember, too, sharing funny stories about my father with family and friends. When the tears dry, it's the happy memories that help comfort us.

  7. You're in my thoughts as well, Tricia.

  8. I don't know what to say except to offer my sympathies. I'll be thinking of you and your family.

  9. Tricia: So sorry. But, I'm glad you had the opportunity to help your mother out. Hang in there!

  10. I am sending loving thoughts of healing your way. Losing your parents is a life changing event. Your dad sounds like he was a wonderful person.

  11. Tricia, my condolences and thoughts go out to you. I am so sorry for your loss. My dad also has pulmonary fibrosis.