One year ago my world fell apart.
I awoke to the news that my father had died suddenly and tragically. I boarded a plane and went to comfort my mother. It soon became apparent that she had developed dementia. My father died at home a few hours after discharge from DePaul Hospital ER. I talked to lawyers, I fought hard to hold the hospital accountable. I started a blog. I hand delivered letters to hospital administrators. I pushed through the stages of grief. I planned a funeral. I made so many decisions, adrenaline got me through those first several weeks. I cared for my mother, grieving and out of control with the middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease. She didn’t sleep. She required 24 hour supervision. I lived apart from my husband and children for a total of four months in the first half of 2020. I pursued guardianship over mom for her own safety, cleaned up the home, remodeled, arranged for sale of the house and contents, secured placement in a memory care facility for her, found homes for their elderly dogs, and tried in vain to sober up a wayward relative. Confounding the loss and stress and grief of it all, the country fell to a worldwide pandemic. There were so many hard memories during those lonely weeks that soon became months. I leaned on support groups, friends, my aunt. Learned to meditate. Smoked cigarettes after nine years nicotine free. (I’m free of this now 6 months). Whatever it took to get through.
The energy in that house was thick, heavy—it took every ounce out of me and I was so depleted at the end of every day. I did the best I could to manage the enormous responsibilities put on my path and gave it my all. I reconnected with many people during this year, it was a homecoming, a reckoning of sorts. Some people were invited out of my life and I am at peace with this. My dad’s tragic loss changed me. No one should die that way, I told myself. The grief and guilt brought me to my knees. Not a day goes by where I’m not reminded of him and the pain of this past year.
There is goodness that comes from even the darkest of times. I found purpose to my career life and returned to social work after a 15 year hiatus. Drawn to hospice after witnessing the aftermath of a tragic death, compassion and understanding flow easily. I can’t bring him back, or give him what he needed before he died. I wasn’t there. I lived 1400 miles away and didn’t visit often. But I can help others in some way find a gentle path through death, to be reassured, supported, comforted. For my dad, in his memory. This is year one.