To say the last year started off with a bang would be an understatement. Losing my father was the biggest loss I’ve ever had to deal with. The last year has been an emotional collage consisting of shock, wondering if he’d be proud of me, and missing him dearly. It doesn’t feel like a year at all because I can recount all details like it was yesterday.
On that Friday, I had worked a closing shift at Barnes and Noble until 9 P.M. I received a text from my Mom saying that I needed to come over to the Pat Roche Hospice House immediately after work. Deep in my heart I knew something was wrong. When the store closed, I remember recovering the store with a sick feeling in my stomach. My coworkers could tell something was wrong because I was not my usual vivacious self. My mind mind was nowhere near there. When I arrived at the hospice house, my sister Jenni met me in the parking lot with tears in her eyes. She warned me that they had just hooked Dad up to the morphine drip and that it was happening.
Thankfully, Mom and all of us kids had a chance to say goodbye to him. I told him, “Dad, I love you so much, thank you for being the greatest Dad in the world and instilling in me the necessary qualities it takes to be a good man. I’m more than blessed that I was able to finally share my college degree with you. It was as near and dear to you as it was to me. We did it. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without your love and support. I’ll always be beyond grateful for the time that we had together. Love you Dad.” Getting that closure was the greatest gift.
I couldn’t write this post without illustrating the importance of hospice care. Through the past year I’ve watched several Ted Talks discussing the end of life. The end of life is sometimes a difficult subject to talk about, it doesn’t necessarily roll of the tongue in conversation. I remember watching a Ted Talk given by B.J Miller. B.J is part of the Zen Hospice House in San Francisco. One line that really gripped me was “For most people, the scariest thing about death isn’t being dead, it’s dying, suffering. It’s a key distinction.” It took me back to sitting in a common room with two palliative care doctors trying to discuss what the next steps would be for Dad going from his last hospital stay. We had the chance to do research and review all of the options. At first, hospice care seemed like a foreign concept to us. In way, we felt that it was almost admitting defeat. People go into hospice care to die, there’s no denying that. What we didn’t know is that it would completely change our lives for the better. My father was able to go to the Pat Roche Hospice House in Hingham. There on the second floor, he set up his own command center, filled with his work computers, prayer books, and JuJu Fruits…all the essentials. He was able to maintain a close relationship with his family and community over at Glastonbury Abbey, all the while receiving the best care from the sweetest nurses who were dedicated to make him happy and peaceful at all times. From our experience, we saw that things changed on a daily basis. There’s no way that we would have been able to take care of him at home. The Pat Roche Hospice House was our blessing and continues to hold a special place in all of our hearts and will forever.
Exactly one year ago to the day, one day before Dad passed, we ended up going downstairs to the living room at the hospice house to watch the Patriots game. We kept repeating and laughing about Dad’s one liner of “Everyone I know named Josh sucks.” It spun off his distrust and disliking for Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. I know that he’s looking down now and will chip in his two cents tonight whether we want to hear them or not. Watching the game then was a much needed break and an opportunity to talk with one another. We were all tired. We were all drained physically and emotionally.
When I got home that night, it was just me and Parish, our family Newfoundland. I decided that I was going to sleep in my Dad’s chair in the living room with the TV on. I woke up a little after 12:30 AM on Sunday morning January 17th to Jenni and Derek coming into the house. They told me that Dad had passed away. I had known that his passing was imminent but to hear it as fact was a gut-wrenching bombshell. We all headed back over to the hospice house. We were able to spend a couple of minutes with him in his room before they wheeled him away.
Going to the wake a few days later thinking I thought that I would be an utter and complete mess. I opened the door to the Pyne Keohane Funeral Home in Hingham, MA, walked into where my Dad was and didn’t cry. Why? Because seeing him again at eternal peace registered more to me than the sadness of him passing in that moment. It had been a long 6 year battle and I had a lot of time to grieve and to think about what the death of my father would be like.
In the past year, all of us have made significant strides that Dad would be very proud of. Mom continues to be super Mom, balancing being a Mom, dedicated worker, PMC rider, rower; the list goes on and continues to evolve. Alan made some significant strides at work and in his personal life. Kelly, Matisse, and Patrick continue to do well. Dad loved all of them dearly. I know that he’d be very proud of his buddy Patrick who continues to do well in school and his extra curricular activities, including hockey and playing guitar. Steve and Missy welcomed Baby Jack. We were able to tell Dad on Christmas before he passed that Jack was on the way. Seeing Dad interact and hold Jack’s older sister Sammy always made him smile from ear to ear. Jenni enrolled in nursing school and was also able to tell Dad that she got into school before he passed. It’s so amazing to see her in her element. She’s so passionate about it, living and breathing it. Dad always encouraged us to find something that we loved and to follow it fully. Elizabeth continues to pursue her MBA at Notre Dame. I know Dad would be proud of her paving her own way and making connections along the way. Both Liz and Jenni ran the marathon last year in his honor. For myself, I’ve grown to take my health, physical and emotional health more seriously and I think he’d be proud of that. I feel like spiritually and mindfulness go hand in hand. I think he’d be proud that I found mindfulness and it has become one of my passions that I’d hopefully like to pursue further as time goes on.
Losing him jolted me with a huge amount of pride to be able to carry on his legacy. It’s a huge responsibility but I keep my chest out and head up high at all times. He always used to tell me to look my best and to never do anything “half-ass.” I always think to myself on a daily basis, how would Dad want me to conduct myself. Because of our close relationship I’m able to envision what he would tell me. He encouraged me to be my own person, taking the lessons I’ve learned from him and Mom to become a better person. Parish, aka JJ Jongo, aka Virgil continues to push on against all odds. We know Dad pets him every single day and is laughing about his little funny escapades. All in all, it has been a tough year but a good year.I’ve found plenty of solace and comfort in the process of reframing. Death won’t change, it will happen to all of us at some point. We do have the power to reframe our experiences of losing others into having a positive impact on our lives. What I can now do, is help others who are going through losing a parent.
There have been a few valuable things I’ve learned from my experience of losing my Dad:
- My advice starts with spending as much time with your loved ones as possible. When it becomes too late to be able to communicate with them or they pass away, you’ll be able to hold your head high knowing that you put forth the effort to be there when it mattered. You won’t feel a gap and regret that you left things unsaid. Life is all about balance so make sure that you get plenty of rest too.
- There’s no formula but you should know when you are tired and need to take a break from care taking or visiting. It’s nothing against anyone involved in the situation, you just need to take care of yourself. Rest is important to me and it should be to you as well. In a very weird way you need to be selfish in a sense. You need to know when to draw the line and put yourself before your sick loved one. At first, it may seem weird to you but the last thing you’d want to do is to be a danger to getting yourself sick.
- Be honest with yourself and be clear to others about what would best help you grieve. Support from others comes in many different ways. Some people find comfort in talking about it. Others find comfort in being left alone and not interrogated about it every single time you see each other. Be open to what helps the most to the grieving soul. I’m one of those people who loves to talk about my Dad. I’m very proud of him and proud to be his son.
- No matter what the emotion you feel, let it flow freely throughout your body. Sadness, anger, whatever it is. Don’t post a barrier between yourself and how you are feeling. Those emotions of bottled up will eventually cause you trouble in the long run when it becomes too much and you don’t know how to deal with it.
- Don’t be afraid to talk to a therapist. I’ve seen a few therapists since Dad’s passing. It’s really nice to have a complete outsider who is just there for you. It isn’t a chore, they do it because they sincerely want to help you.
I had written this entire post without looking at his prayer card. As I was wrapping up this post, I decided to pull it out and read the prayer on the back. The prayer really describes what I just tried to articulate here. The prayer goes as follows:
“I am home in Heaven, dear ones; Oh, so happy and so bright! There is perfect joy and beauty in this everlasting light. All the pain and grief is over, Every restless tossing passed; I am now at peace forever, Safely home in Heaven at last.”
Love and miss you dearly Dad. I hope that I continue to make you proud. I’m so proud to be your son. R.I.P 1/17/16