Death – The Shock Stage
My dad died March 15, 2017 at 3:51 p.m. By a chance of fate, I was with him when he died. It seemed that the minute or two leading to his final breath were in slow motion and went on forever, suspended in time, as we approach the finality of his time here. Frozen in that moment, my husband and I stood there by his bedside, holding him. Again, what might have been only seconds gave into a feeling of a long, long pause. The world stopped at 3:51pm. The world we knew. The quiet of the moment quickly left as we “came to” enough to realize we had to communicate with the others who had been holding vigil. Trying to come back into the reality was tough, as we were both numb, shocked. Now what? My husband called my brother to let him know and asked him to go pick up our mother who had not left our dad’s bedside, except only minutes before after being encouraged to go get some rest while we sat with dad.
In a quiet, surreal place, we sat with dad until mom arrived – time stood still. I wasn’t tracking time or anything, as my mind was “offline”. Even with all the expectation of dad’s impending death, at this moment there was no thinking, or planning or organizing. It was just walking through the motions as we did one task at a time. At one point, as people gathered by my dads bedside, my sister-in-law took my mom’s phone and began calling people as they had planned she would. I didn’t do anything. I just was there watching the scene, feeling sensory overload, not really in the scene, frozen.
And as we gathered together in dad’s room, others started arriving – dad’s priest, the hospice social worker and nurse and then, finally, the mortuary staff. The vigil continued until dad left and then with nothing more to do, feeling the stark void, we headed to our home place where people were gathering. It is all a blur.
In my sensory overload state, I couldn’t help but notice as family gathered, the room began to fill. Watching from afar, as I sat there in the midst, I noted the phones going off throughout the room, loud and intrusive. The noise level continued to build with a crescendo as the conversation picked up speed and volume. The calls for each family member, from their own circle of people, were rolling in. As if managing the calls on one phone weren’t enough, people were calling my mom and she would hand me the phone. Holding two phones, I would talk to her caller, but then she would decide she could talk too. The connections in that moment, went way beyond managing it. We just did our best to respond, going through the movements. At moments, I would retreat. Needing quiet I would take a moment and disappear to the next room, in my mom’s bedroom. Staying there only for a minute or two, or five or ten, I am not sure, before going back out into the family room.
Everyone does grief differently. Everyone experiences death differently. Of course, this death was my dad. And even if it was the right order, (He was 84 years old and the first one to die in our family, including extended family on both sides.), and he was, “Now out of pain,” and “Now in a better place.” And “It was for the best.” And “He was out of his suffering.” And, “He lived a good life.” And all those things people say to you . . . all those things that make some sense, didn’t make sense at this moment.
All of this was part of the sensory overload, my shock symptoms. Too many people, too much noise, too many connections via phone conversations and texts. No time to sit and be still. Let’s talk about dad. Let’s share some memories. Can we just sit still and talk about dad, our dad, the dad that raised us, taught us so much, shared his values with us, disappointed us at times, made us proud, always supported us? Whatever the feelings – can we just talk? Everyone does their grief differently. Some want to talk. Some want to distract from the raw pain by doing things that don’t matter or doing the things that do matter. Some want to avoid it altogether and leave. Some, like me, want to talk about it with those I am closest to, with those that have the same memories. Some, like me, find they have no energy to take care of anyone else at the moment. They just can’t do it. They can’t worry about making others feel better. Some experience all of the above at different points. Some have other ways to deal with their pain. Some aren’t feeling anything right now and going through the motions is the easiest way to get through it. Most do experience feelings of numbness. How can we let this in all at once? It is our protection.
There is no right or wrong to the grief process. I do think it is important to be mindful of what you, yourself, are experiencing, and honor it. I was surprised at how I didn’t have the energy to give to anyone. I wasn’t able to answer emails and text messages. I finally sat down to answer text messages a week or two later. I didn’t have it in me to talk to anyone unless talking to that person would give me energy. I had one friend who had a similar story as my dad’s story, text me and I wanted to connect with her. I wanted to talk to my cousin who had some stories to tell me about my dad. But mostly, I didn’t want to talk to people. I didn’t want to “chat”. I didn’t have it in me to make people feel more comfortable with the raw pain of death. So I honored that and took my time.
I thought I had accepted the inevitable and was ready for dad to move on. He had no quality of life with his disease. It wasn’t until his death, that I could really allow myself to grieve; grieve all that was slowly taken away these past two years, grieve the loss of my dad and all he brought to my world during his lifetime; grieve the person that is no longer here. Of course, in my shock state I have only begun this process. I hope to be accepting of where I am in the moment, not judging of it, but aware in a mindful way of what stage I might be in, what my needs are in the moment, and give myself permission to be wherever I am at this moment. After all, in death that is all we really can do.