On the loss of my Dad
My dad passed away last Monday, February 27th. Those of you that know me well will know that he had been ill for some time now, but when the end came it was still a shock.
I was with him when it all began to unfold and although I was concerned, I didn't think he was about to die.
He'd been suffering with COPD for years now and he had deteriorated quite quickly in the last year or so, particularly in the last few months. I knew that he would probably die because of his illness but as it is a progressive condition I naively thought he had simply reached the next stage.
That morning he was lying on the sofa (he had been unable to get into bed since he last came home from the hospital just before Christmas). I noticed he was shivering and making strange noises and absentmindedly thought, "that looks like a death rattle," never dreaming that it actually could be. I asked him if he was okay and he said yes, he was just cold. I offered to put the fire on for him and went about my business.
A little while later he sat up and said he needed to go the toilet. His breathing was bad, as it was all the time these days, but he got himself to the living room doorway before stopping for a rest. After a pause he said, "I don't think I'm going to make it." I asked him if he wanted my help but I don't think he actually answered. I went to him all the same and put my arms around his torso so he would feel supported as he walked. We got to the toilet and as he closed the door I told him to take his time and call me if he needed help coming back. You might think I'm heartless, but I still wasn't overly concerned at this point. This kind of thing was sadly the norm by now.
When he came out again, he stood for a while, struggling with his breathing. Still, this was his usual strategy of resting and catching his breath. But this time it went on for a little bit longer than was typical and I asked if he needed my help again. I don't think he managed a response but I went to him anyway. I asked what he wanted me to do and he said, "Get your mum." Now I realised he was in real trouble.
My mum and I somehow got him back to the sofa and I set him up with his nebuliser. My mum told him, "I think you need an ambulance, George. You're going purple." He reluctantly agreed. Then he did a strange thing and said, "Someone sit with me." I sat beside him and put my arm around him while my mum phoned for the ambulance. Something was urging me to tell him that I loved him. To my eternal regret, I decided not to say it in case he thought that I thought he was dying. Which I didn't.
The next ten minutes or so is a bit of a blur. What I do remember clearly is that I said I needed to tidy up before the paramedics arrived so that they would have room to attend to my dad. He told me not to worry about it, but I got up and started rushing around. Why oh why didn't I just listen to him and stay sitting there with my arm around him? I'll never forgive myself for that.
I will also never forgive myself for what happened next. The paramedics were taking him out to the ambulance and I told them I would be out in a few minutes because I needed to put proper clothes on. I've learnt from previous experience that usually they sit outside in the ambulance for a bit stabilising him and taking more details before they drive away, so I thought I would have time to change and leave things ready for my mum to look after the baby, but by the time I went outside the ambulance was gone. Maybe this should have set alarm bells ringing, but I was just pissed off that they'd gone without me, to be honest. I went back inside and told my mum I would have to get the bus.
When I arrived at the hospital A&E desk, I gave my dad's name and they had no record of him being brought in. This had never happened before. On all the previous occasions he had been taken away in an ambulance and myself or my brother arrived afterwards, they knew immediately where he was.
"Are you sure they brought him here? They definitely drove off?" the man at the desk asked.
"Yes," I insisted.
I was told to go to the trauma desk and see if they could locate my dad instead.
The woman at the desk there seemed annoyed that the man at reception had sent me to her. She looked on her computer and asked me questions about where he was picked up from and so on. In the meantime, I had noticed the screen behind her displaying what ambulances were on their way and listing those that had already arrived. My eyes landed on the last arrival listed:
Male Cardiac/Respiratory arrest/ Death 24mins
I immediately knew. My dad has been dead for 24 minutes, I thought. I almost asked if it was possible that that was him, but I was afraid to hear her response. In my heart, I knew it was him, but there was a glimmer of hope as it didn't list his age. All the other patients had their ages listed. The fact that this one didn't meant it could have been somebody else.
The woman at the desk told me to go back to the main reception and "ask for Clive." I now wonder if this is a code they use when they suspect the relative you are looking for is dead. I did as she suggested and this time the man at the front desk turned to a colleague and said, "What about the one who was brought in a little while ago?"
"I'll check," said the second man, walking away.
He wasn't gone very long before he reappeared and asked me to follow him. He took me to a room with "Relatives Waiting Room" emblazoned on the door. "A doctor will be along to talk to you in a few minutes," he said.
My stomach lurched and I started to shake uncontrollably. I knew what was coming, even though I desperately hoped I was wrong.
When the doctor walked in, I said, "You're going to tell me that he's dead."
She nodded. "I'm so sorry."
The next few minutes are a bit of a blur. I thought I was prepared for her to say yes. I thought I knew how I would react. I was wrong on both counts. I completely lost it. I cried hysterically and loudly. I'm normally a very controlled crier and I have certainly never cried like that in front of anyone outside of my immediate family. I remember wailing that he was all on his own and the doctor saying, "There were lots of people with him."
"But nobody who loved him," I said.
I will never, ever as long as I live forgive myself for letting him down like that. I will never get over the fact that in his last moments of consciousness, I wasn't there. I don't even know if he knew I was coming. He would never have allowed me to be on my own and I can't forgive myself for failing him in his final minutes.
Eventually I asked where he was and they told me he was still in the resuscitation ward. I asked if I could see him and they asked if anyone else was coming. I think they were concerned about me being alone as I was in such a state. I said I didn't know but I wanted to see him and they agreed to take me to him.
He was laying on the bed, covered up with a tube still in his mouth. It was the most surreal and devastating experience of my life. I went and put my arms around him and buried my face in his chest. I'm embarrassed to admit this as a 35 year old woman, but I remember sobbing "My Daddy," over and over again.
Someone brought a chair and sat me down and one of the nurses asked if I wanted them to stay or would I rather be alone with him. I asked to be alone.
I kept feeling my phone vibrate in my handbag and I knew it would be my mum or brother, which was unbearable. How could I tell them that he was dead?
Eventually, I calmed myself down enough to call my brother. "He's gone," I told him. There was a pause and then, "Okay. I'm outside. How do I get to you?"
A few moments later, the nurse who had been there when the doctor told me appeared again. "Your brother is outside," she said. "Is it okay if we let him in? Does he know?"
I said yes and shortly after, my brother was led in. I have never seen my brother properly cry as an adult, but he absolutely broke down, sobbing. For some reason he kept saying, "I'm sorry, Dad."
We cried together over our dad's body for what felt like a long time. At some point, we realised we couldn't put off telling our mum any longer. We both said immediately that we didn't want to tell her over the phone and agreed to walk home and tell her together.
As we prepared to leave, I noticed, for the first time, the silent machines around him and the computer screen with the big bold words,
I also noticed the plastic bag by the side of the bed, with "patient's property" printed on it. Inside were the clothes he had been wearing when he went off in the ambulance, all cut up in the rush to treat him, his glasses and most heartbreakingly for me, his mobile phone which I had only just charged up for him that morning. He must have put it in his pocket when he was being taken away, expecting to use it to call home later.
The walk home was the longest of my life. We walked in almost complete silence until we reached the underground station closest to home where a busker stood outside playing the guitar and singing Jeff Buckley's haunting Hallelujah. We were both stunned. The local underground station is tiny. It has just two platforms and serves a mainly residential area. Neither of us have ever seen a busker there before. He wasn't there earlier when we had been on our way to the hospital and he wasn't there later when we went back. But he was there then and he was playing that song of all songs.
I don't want to talk about what followed afterwards when we told our mum, but suffice it to say it was the worst thing either of us have ever had to do.
Now, two weeks after the event, other than the over riding emotion of guilt, the thing that keeps haunting me are the words on the screen beside him in the resuscitation room.
How pitiful that this is what a human life/death is reduced to, just a few key words. It haunts me that it didn't even say his name, just "male." My dad was so much more than that. He was the eldest son of the late George Senior and Mary. He was the older brother of Tom and Mary, who sadly both predeceased him. He was the beloved husband of my mum, Rose. The adored father of myself and James. The most loving and doting grandfather to Otis and Julianna. An uncle. A friend. He was a good man. A kind man. A determined and strong man. A man who overcame the loss of his parents very early in his life. A man who never had much but was still willing to give it away to anyone who needed it. A man who was there for me whenever I needed him, be it carrying me on his shoulders as a baby, colouring in on the floor with me as a child, driving me around as an adolescent or supporting me as a new mother. A man who never gave up.
George Stevens, 76
A man who was loved