The Release Project: One Year

Today is a hard day—regardless of how well my day does, it is going to be a hard today, a year ago my father passed away. I cannot believe it’s a full year; there were months when the 7th came up and I thought, “Wow, 4 months.” I couldn’t imagine how I would feel when a year came around. Well, not I am here and I am okay. But, it’s hard. Thank God that I am on Spring Break, because I don’t think I have the headspace to be able to give myself of the kids—and that’s okay. Both my mother and my aunt took a day off from work.

We, along with my mother’s brother, went to mass this morning. 8 am mass, quick and painless. But, I remembered sitting at mass days after my father died, and even up before that. Mom and I would go to mass before we would head to the hospital to see Dad. So, Uncle Kevin and I took up the gifts, and it was nice to be in a safe place to start my day. I felt my Dad there, not that I don’t with most things that I do, honestly. But, I especially found him during the “Our Father.” Mom and I were standing next to each other, and there was another woman down at the end of the pew. She was older, I have seen in her church before. But, without warning, she came over and held my mother’s hand.

Which, most would think is a sweet gesture, but you don’t know my mother. She loves her space, she loves her bubble, so a woman that she didn’t know grabbing her hand during prayer freaked her out. Seriously, you would have thought she was sitting next to a serial killer. I laughed, Father laughed from the altar, and I leaned in and said, “That’s Dad. Teasing you.” It made my mom laugh. Which, on a day like this, was a welcome relief.

I think until I start to lose my mind, I will replay the days that my father went into the hospital every single day. I will think of the people, of the support, and of the love that was shown to our family. It was, simply, amazing and awe-inspiring. It was such a testament to my dad and how he lived his life—he would have been humbled. It helps when I remember those days when Dad got worse, and it makes it easier to heal.

I went to working not realizing anything. I went to class that night thinking that he was okay. I came from class and realized that it was quiet. Tommy was sitting at the kitchen table, Matthew was sitting in the family room. Matthew tells me from the kitchen, “Kate, dad was in the hospital.” So, my first instinct was to say, “Dad, why were you in the hospital.” Tommy responds, “He’s still there. Dad has a stroke.” Pause. A long pause. What was going on? What happened? A stroke, what does that mean? Is he going to be okay? Small stroke? What’s the difference anyway?

I ran up to my mother’s bedroom and asked her if it was true. My emotions ranged from angry, pissed, sad, confused, concerned. I didn’t know what to say, or what to do. Why didn’t anyone call me? “What would you have done, just sat around and waited?” I didn’t understand. I didn’t know what to do. I texted, I called, I sat and I thank. I was told that he was going to be okay, but something in my stomach told me that I need to start preparing myself for something more.

I didn’t know what to expect from this whole thing. I was told at the time, and we all firmly believed that Dad was going to be okay. I mean, people have strokes all the time. Tuesday came and went, I went to see him and he said that he was going to be okay. He knew that I was worried. One thing that I miss about my Dad was that he knew what was bothering me before I even had to say anything—he always knew when I was upset or angry. And, he offered a word of practical wisdom and comfort. This time, he just said, “It’s okay, Kate.” His speech was slurred, he was pissed that he was in the hospital, and he wasn’t hungry. I was so afraid to leave him.

That day he was supposed to get an ECHO and a CAT scan. Before I left, he had the ECHO, but no CAT scan. Wednesday morning I was getting ready for work, and the phone rang. My dad fell, and he still didn’t have the CAT scan. I went to work, but something felt off. It didn’t feel right. I was at work for a little bit of the morning, and then I decided to leave. I had to get out of there. I went straight to the hospital, and my father still didn’t have the CAT scan. Finally, after I stopped home and got changed, my father went in for CAT scan. We waited for what felt like 6 hours, when finally, the doctor came back. My father had had a stroke, but it wasn’t a normal stroke. It was a brain stem stroke. His neurologist explained that two of his arteries were not pumping blood to his brain, and that he kept having a series of strokes.

It didn’t sound good, and the options that he was given were not great. Whatever option he was given, seemed to end up with his as a vegetable or he would die. My father decided, before he know this all happened, that he would operate if needed. It seemed like the best options; the last that I saw my father, my real father was when they were wheeling him out. He was making jokes with the nurses and the transport service, but he was scared. I never saw my Dad scared of anything—but this I could feel. I was scared, too.

So, he had the surgery that was going to unblock his arteries, which was surprisingly very short. It seemed like it should have taken more time. But, when you are in a situation like this, you are constantly in a time warp. You have no idea which end is up, and you are focused on being there for your family. So, Dad made it out of the surgery, and had oxygen—but he wouldn’t keep the mask on. Which greatly frustrated his nurses. I don’t know what the protocol for patients after surgery, but my dad badly wanted to talk to us and see how we were doing. That was my Dad; amid facing a life or death situation, Dad was worried about us.

Dad struggled and, true to form, did not listen to the nurses. He had to be restrained and intubated. My father was incredibly stubborn—which was both a positive and negative quality in his life. It meant that he had the courage of his convictions, but it also meant that he never backed down from a fight and would never compromise on certain things. It was a quality that I admired about my dad, when it was in a positive light. However, he was picking the wrong time to be stubborn. He wanted to talk and be with us, but he wouldn’t take care of himself.

So, he had to be sedated in order to be intubated (which, for the record, I kept calling incubated…ugh, Dad would have laughed at that one). However, apparently, the sedation wasn’t enough for my dad, and he woke up and extubated himself. Yes, my father pulled the intubation tube out of this throat. Now, not even havening being intubated in my life, I told my friend Linda, who had a heart transplant and no stranger to intubation, she was shocked. I could tell from her words that this was not a smart decision, and how much that probably hurt my dad. *Sigh* That’s my Dad.

So, that had to sedate my father again, this time…my father would not wake up from the sedation. Between his blood pressure, which ironically was keeping him alive at this point (his blood pressure was so freaking high, and he never wanted to take anything for it *insert eye roll emjoi*) and the fact that he keep having a series of strokes, nothing looked good. In fact, at this point he was most definitely going to die.

Now, at this point, my mother and I have been at the hospital for in an out of week—people kept coming in and out, it didn’t seem like anyone was going to work, but there was always someone there with us. That Saturday, the Saturday before he died, I was getting a little stir crazy at this point—the cousins and my aunt’s and uncle’s were steadily filtering in and out of house, so when Saturday came around, we figured we would all hang out together. I decided that I wanted to go to mass. St. Patrick’s was also having 40 Hours, so if I could get to confession, adoration, and mass all in one shot that would have been amazing.

So, I went, hoping that no one would join me. And, I sat and prayed. I prayed for my father; that he would be released from his pain however it was in God’s Will. I wanted to understand, I wanted to be happy that my father wasn’t going to suffer any longer, but I couldn’t. This was my dad. I, at that point, was 26—I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. I didn’t expect to lose my parents until they were in the 90s, not when my dad was barely in his 60s. That selfish part of me took over. I was angry, I wanted answers, I wanted to believe that this was how it was meant to be but I couldn’t.

I went to confession and it was the most honest confessions that I have ever had in my life. As an adult, I have always viewed confession as a sort of therapy; you tell the priest was is bothering you and hurting you because it is taking away from the person that God wants you to be. The only time I had a priest not understand that was when a priest told me that I should see a therapist—wow, thanks, Father.

But, not my priest. I told him how angry was I was with God, and I explained that I am trying to see this in the better light. But, I can’t. That my father was dying and I was sad. I was so sad. He would be missing so much. He wouldn’t be there to walk me down the aisle, meet his grandchildren, see my brother graduate high school. There is so much that he would be missing, and I was mad.

I told him about losing my grandmother, and how much my faith was rocked when I was college. How I walked away, how I shut out God from my life because I couldn’t understand why He would take someone from me. Part of me expected to hear “Go to a therapist, talk to someone.” But, Father and I had a conversation. He told me that I am allowed to be mad at God, right now because it’s expected. I can be mad because I am hurting, but He knows that I will find my was back to him when I was ready. I didn’t want to lose my faith again, because I have seen the amazing things that faith does for people. What it has done for my grandmother and my mother. That maintaining a close relationship with God helps us overcome difficult times in our lives.

I left confession feeling like a deflated balloon. Not because I thought it didn’t help me, but because I just felt exhausted from pouring my heart out. When mass started, I started to cry and I cried until mass was done. It was a release, it was grieving, it was time that I had to myself to process my dad’s death. After mass friends of my dad and people we know at church came over to talk to me, and I lost it again. I barely knew these people, but I couldn’t help be tell them everything that was happening.

God must have heard my prayer that afternoon, because from that moment on I relied on God more than I ever had before. In the time after my father’s death, I went to mass every morning. I put my brother on the bus, and went to mass. I felt comfortable and safe. God had seen me at my worst, but was helping me heal and get through those long and hard days.

My mother always told me what faith was got our family through, and now I know exactly what she is talking about. I don’t like my family or friends see me break down, I never let them see me cry. Which, was part of the reason why my family thought that I was internalizing my father’s death. To an extent, I probably was, and still maybe. But, I really can’t tell. My father’s death was certain traumatic for me and my family—to be dealing with this unexpected situation is never easy.

My friends thought that I had PTSD, which I thought, and still think, is ridiculous. I work with Veterans who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. THAT is traumatic—losing a parent is awful, but I don’t think the situations are comparable. But, then again, why does it even have to be compared? Trauma and sorrow are different for everyone; it doesn’t matter what the situation is.   It goes back to the Lenten reflections that we don’t know what another person was asked to walk through.

Which, might be why people think I downplay my dad’s death. And, I don’t at all, with my family and my friends. They know what I am hurting, they know what this has been a hard year, and they know what when I need them they will be there. But, I also don’t know what other people are asked to walk through. Every situation, every loss, every hard time, is a burden for someone. Which sounds very vague, but that is because what someone goes through is a personal part of their lives. It is a part that we might feel comfortable showing everyone, but only want to show those who are really close to us.

I think that this comes from my dad—empathy, and being there for someone when it counts. Dad was, at times, not much of a talker, but that is because I have learned that my father demonstrated by actions, rather than words. There was never a lecture on how to treat people in your life or what it means to be a good person, but Dad simply lived it. I think that it was more important to Dad for us to see him doing things for other people and be a living proof of these qualities that he wanted us to have. Not because he wanted to be put on a pedestal, but he wanted to see his children to become good people and care about those around him.

Aside from being humble, Dad was also very generous. He showed us that to give up your time for other people can be the greatest gift that you could give someone. When my father was able to do something for another person, he always did it. Whether it was fixing up a kitchen or painting, my dad would be there to help out. He never asked for any praise or acknowledgement, but whenever he would make someone else’s life a little easier he would do it. These acts that Dad did showed us how important it is to give of yourself to other people because it is what you do for the people that you love.

The best quality that Dad showed to us was unconditional love. My dad was always proud of his children, and our parents always trusted us to make the decisions that were right for us. He never tried to persuade us into anything that we could not put our full passion into—he wanted us to love what we did. For me, it is hard to explain how Dad showed us unconditional love, because it was something that was just part of him as a father. Regardless of what we did in our lives or how many times my brothers and I riddled him with pointless, hard to answer questions, he showed us that as long as we were doing what we loved with the people that we loved, not much else in the world mattered.

I am going to miss the nights that I sat with at the kitchen table with Dad and pestering him while he watched “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.”. It was at that table that I learned the important values that he wanted to teach us kids. He showed me, but not necessarily told me, that to do things in love is the most important things you can do in your life. He taught me that although it might not always be reciprocated or acknowledged, but the love that you put out will always finds a way back to you.

In our faith, we are taught that love conquers all things, even death itself. While we mourn my Dad’s death, his love for my mother, for my brothers and me, and the rest of his family is a gentle reminder that we will always carry him and his memory with us in our lives forever.