A Maternity Nurses Take on her dying ( but not yet gone) parent...

  1. Along A Jetty

    Caravanning single file over a roughly hewn stone breakwater, mom, dad and I embark on a journey in my dreams.

    Unaffected by the waves slapping against the sides in a timeless hypnotic rhythm, we continue onward on some mysterious journey my mind has chosen to make me aware we must absolutely take. I am warm. I am content. I am happy. What I am NOT, is afraid.

    In serpentine-like slow motion, we follow dad into vignette shadows of dusk on a winding path atop the breakwater toward the setting sun. The air is clean and a light breeze kisses my neck as tepid wind whirls tumble past. I am acutely aware of the sea salt marshy scent, and the hauntingly comfortable sound of a far distant foghorn. The setting suns' reflection tosses silvery pink orange shards of light our way.

    I remember as a little girl feeling so safe, warm and protected by daddy. All those things I feel in my dream. Strolling one behind the other, encompassed by the magnificent surroundings, I follow my parents along the jetty.

    We come to a full stop like ancient mariners surveying far away destinations. Dad turns to face my mother and I. He pauses briefly, meeting our eyes with his, then raises his hand in a silent wave. In this mind travel I am not confused; simply puzzled. Mom and I are now side by side. Dad mouths a silent goodbye. His beatific smile warms my heart and I am neither sad nor surprised when he turns to continue on toward the sunset. Mom and I clasp hands and watch him walk away until all we can see is the sweetly descending star flecked night sky. All I can think is that we will both be ok and he is safe. I love you dad.

    When I awoke the next morning I felt strangely peaceful. I couldn't recall the last time I was so relaxed and stress free. Often dreams slip by and fade to some long lost memory place. Too many times, they are lost forever. THIS dream imprinted vividly in my mind and I knew I would never lose it. I immediately went downstairs to share the dream details with my husband. I knew I would write about it someday but instinctively was certain then was not the right time.

    Not long afterward, my parents gathered us together to share that dad had been diagnosed with an essentially terminal illness. Though long a nurse, I had never heard of it. Or, perhaps I simply blanked that from my mind.

    Pulmonary Fibrosis is an incurable lung disease. I imagined it was a diagnosis by some doctor who couldn't come up with other answers. Dad was never one to go against a medical opinion and I was never one to blindly accept one. Still, just hearing the words struck much as an angry gust of hurricane force magnificent unpredictable might. I didn't cry. I almost did, but just as dad attempted to teach me time and time again big girls don't cry. Well, I am most certainly big and I am a girl. Sorry dad, sometimes it just happens.

    Keeping in mind my dream, I tried to adjust to the idea that dad was living on borrowed time. I told myself we are all doing that but it didn't help. This was my DAD, after all.

    I am a wordsmith so I tried to trick myself with words, ideas and thoughts. Anything to help me deal with the eventual demise of my father. The computer reminds me that the last sentence is a fragmented thought. That is exactly how I have been feeling; fragmented. There is a lot to be said for thought compartmentalization. Nothing can hide the core of things.

    Some part of me knows that I am simply ticked at having to face the eventuality that dad will no longer be present in the world. Still, it shouldn't be about me. But it is. I hate that about this situation. I hate the entire idea but on some level I know that a message was sent to me via that dream to show me that everything will be ok. It is the getting from here to there, which is the culprit.

    On our current journey from life to death there have been some significant obstacles. Recently my husband, who suffered a heart attack several years ago at age 37, spent nearly eight hours in pain before by some miraculous coincidence, I was compelled to go downstairs and check on him. We called my mom to watch our children and sped to the hospital, where he was admitted. I was ticked off and that shocked me. I was actually angry with him. How in the world could he wait so long to let me know of his discomfort considering his history? How could I be angry? Shouldn't I feel relieved? How AM I supposed to feel these days?

    In the morning I drove home to spell mom and wait for my husband to complete his stress test. Thankfully, all was well. A false alarm is a wonderful thing. Just as my three children and I left to pick up my husband, mom called to inform me that dad was having difficulty breathing. She didn't ask but I knew she wanted me to come over and check on him. She didn't have to inquire. I was on my way.

    Dad refused to go to the hospital. Mom and my terrified brother didn't want to upset him any further. Mom said the doctor was already waiting at the emergency room and it was a weekend so he had been called in from home. Big deal I thought to myself. Who cares how inconvenienced the DOCTOR is? In a futile attempt to temper my daughter status with the nurse component, I failed miserably and burst in to tears, fatigue and fear besting my professional demeanor.

    "Please dad," "Please go to the hospital." Knowing all about the fear factor and denial did not change the fact that ultimately, he was plain and simply my dad.

    Dad said he couldn't possibly go without taking a shower. My brother attempted some levity by telling him that all patients probably smell like old goats. Then, dad had to have a special shirt to wear, one with the names of all his children and grandchildren. Exhausted and upset from being awake after a grueling several night shifts and a husband still at the hospital, I remember thinking "His Orneriness" still had some vim and vigor. In the driveway supported by my brother and me, dad collapsed and asked for an ambulance. We picked him up and put him in the car where our amazingly strong mom was poised in the drivers' seat. That was the moment there was an actual almost palpable shift from parent to child. It was unnerving. It was also the first time I permitted myself to see the frailty and acknowledge the inevitable.

    The nurse in me took over as I designated my shell shocked brother to go with mom and dad to the hospital as my children and I followed. He resisted so I reminded him if God forbid something happened and mom had to pull over, I could go over to help out and he could watch the children. It never occurred to me to linger on the thought that I might have to revive my father. Thank goodness for the automatic pilot thinking years of nursing impresses upon you.

    At the hospital the same group of admitting people and ER staff did a double take as I picked up my husband and checked my dad in. There were jokes about family discounts. It was truly a surreal day all around.

    The most difficult part of the entire scenario is that it is so difficult to watch. The changes are insidious. There are good days and bad nights and vice versa. You think you are prepared and then there is a modicum of recovery. Relief is always tempered with fright. It seems a never-ending battle between subtle and obvious. The entire process is unforgiving.

    How can I have saved so many lives, continually participate in endless scenarios of life and death and STILL not be able to save my dad? Who the heck am I to even think I could? And how come I CAN'T? God, on that humorously poignant journey you have sent me on throughout my life have you noticed that I am no longer laughing?

    Ironically and thankfully, the only person in the family who is ok with the eventual outcome is dad. Lately amidst the emotional highs and lows that accompany me wherever I go, that fact is soothing.

    I can no longer watch the "Lion King" without silently cursing the song "The Circle of Life." It kind of cracks me up sometimes that it's so, but it's true. Currently I am not too thrilled with the damn circle of life. I hate that it just shows up at your door with no intention of knocking, breaks down same door, barges in and knocks you on your ***.

    Yesterday while sitting on the beach basking in the crisp new spring sun, I could equate the panoramic view of the beach and ocean to the cavalcade of emotions I have been experiencing. Windy whitecaps, gently heaving swells, smooth banks of sand interspersed with trash-strewn spots. The sea tells stories in every lick of spray; the shore in every grain of sand.

    I catch myself looking at people who have recently lost a parent. I notice how they act and what they talk about. Sometimes I flash back to a time when my grandmother was confused and no longer recognized me. I remember how sad and lost I felt. Will that happen with MY dad? Will he forget who I am or how much I loved him? Why am I the only one who gets teary without notice? AM I the only one? Or, am I just not as good as I used to be about it? Why why why ? I hate to admit it but the real question in my mind is when when when?

    Sometimes in posing the questions I feel like the most selfish daughter in the world.

    When I think of my dad I don't necessarily remember a pristine childhood. He could be a real pain in the neck. He was always there for me though. He still is. How in the world am I going to deal with visiting gramma without grampa? How am I going to tell my little ones what actually happens when the time comes? And to my oldest who is a beautiful, smart sweet young man fairly raised by grampa as a father figure, how in the world am I going to help him through it when I am feeling so helpless myself? Will my babies remember grampa? Will I forget what he looks like? I can't remember what MY grandpas look like unless I peruse a photograph.

    My daughter tells me each star is a person who went to heaven. I think so too even though science tells me that can't possibly be true. She tells me that she believes there are spirits up with God who someday travel back to Earth as babies. She is convinced that is why I am a maternity nurse; so I can help them find their families. She wonders if grampa will come back as a baby. Part of me shudders at the thought and thinks of the jokes he would make at that. Part of me secretly hopes it is true.

    Our five year old son sees God, so he tells me. He thinks that grampa will be ok and just on the other side of the wind. I am told that we will be sad but we should also be happy that God loves grampa so much that He would take him back to Heaven. "Besides," "we all will be together someday mom." The three year old tells me that grampa, who has to walk with a cane and wear oxygen continuously, will be able to rock and roll in Heaven. Oh, if only that was true...

    I kiss the children and ask the Angels to watch over them. I guess part of the reason I have done a decent job with my children is because dad and mom have done a decent job raising me. It has been a totally bumpy ride with a couple of smooth spots along the way. I suppose this is simply part of the life continuum and while I know I have to accept it, no where is it written that I have to like it.

    See, it IS about me. This is MY dad. When my children are sick, I tell them the same thing he always told me. "I wish I could take all the hurt out of you and put it in me." He would gently stroke my hair and temples while saying that and I always felt better. For the first time ever in my life, that is exactly what I wanted to say to him.

    And I couldn't help.

    I am frightened that the best of my ability just isn't and won't be good enough. Did I make him as proud of me as I always was of him? Does he REALLY know how very much I love him? He would say yes but does he? Will he always know that even though I am an adult I will forever be his little girl? The one clothed in a red corduroy jacket? Martha Jean the Benjo Queen.....

    In the Cinderella song "Bippity Boppity Boo", will he ever forget that I am Bippity? How about that time on Martha's Vineyard on a father daughter day? Will he remember the day was so vividly beautiful that I have not ever experienced one even remotely as special?

    I might no longer fit into his pocket as the story used to go, but I count myself fortunate and blessed that I will always be in his heart. Who knew my husband would tell the exact same pocket story to our daughter before ever knowing that dad used to claim to carry her mother around like that?

    I just wish I wasn't so sad or angry. But, I suppose the ability to feel such a multitude of emotions is, despite their discomfort, a good thing. This is just the beginning to many phases. A turn of the tide, as it were.

    I have been thinking so hard and so long that I am totally exhausted. Sleep eludes me but I trust my dreams. I trust that dad is accepting of what is to come and that consoles me. Whatever the reason or etiology of my dream of the three of us calmly negotiating the jetty, it remains comforting to me that all was peaceful and calm.

    Thank you dad and thank you God for dropping me into this family, which includes so many significantly special people, both by birth and by chance. I am still not at all thrilled that the circle of life has spun us to the point we now find ourselves but I can surely say I remain grateful for the spinning.

    Dad always made a point to tell us NOT to say goodbye in case we didn't see each other again. That way there would never be goodbye. He felt it was too final. So long implies we will be together someday. Even though this time there will be a definitive farewell, I am reminded it is simply a transition from this world to the next. That said, so long for now dad. I will see you soon, and later down the line, in my dreams as you promised. (And don't you DARE goose me!)

    I love you dad. Thank you so much for our amazing moment in time...

    Written with love for Robert Blair Crowninshield

    By his daughter Martha J. Crowninshield O'Brien

    April 7, 2004
    Last edit by mother/babyRN on Apr 10, '04
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    About mother/babyRN

    Joined: Feb '02; Posts: 1,947; Likes: 418
    Specialty: 27 year(s) of experience in cardiac, diabetes, OB/GYN


  3. by   Shed13911
    You have put your feelings of your heart onto paper and I feel honored that you share this with us. I was moved to tears as I read about your relationship with your Dad. I can tell, as you say, that he raised you well. You are a wonderful person and I think you need to share this with the rest of your family when you are ready. I wish I had the gift of transferring my feeling to paper so that others knew just how I felt.

    I lost my Dad almost 5 years ago. It was a very difficult time and I still miss him so much. I too always felt I was Daddy's little girl(at 38 y/o at the time). It was hard for me to balance the nurse with being the daughter. Others looked to me for explanation during his illness. Sometimes I wanted to be just the daughter when knowing too much was painful.

    I hold you in my prayers and thoughts. (((((((((((((HUGS to you and your family))))))))))))
  4. by   stressednurse
    Sitting here in tears also, every nurse and nurse aid and therapists and unit clerks too should read this. If you dont mind I will copy your words and share them at work.
    Thank you for sharing.
    This is 'empathize' so well addressed.
  5. by   mother/babyRN
    I am honored that my words have touched you. I did share this piece with my parents because I felt my dad should read how I felt before he dies. I think I knew when I had the dream that there would be a reason I remembered it so well, AND the title came to mind right away as well.....Please feel free to share if you think it will help someone. I have been asked to have it published by several people....Course, I might have to edit it for that! I never mean to make any of you cry but the fact that I do seems to me to simply mean I am able to put into words some of the feelings we all have...Thankyou for your kind words...love and light, Martha