Grieving the Unexpected Loss of a Parent

Grieving the Unexpected Loss of a Parent

2020-12-20 23:01:30

Four weeks ago, the day after my mom’s 72nd birthday, on a regular Tuesday in November, my dad unexpectedly passed away in his house here in Southwest Florida. As I type these words, it still doesn’t feel real. It still feels like a story I am telling. Like an act I am participating in. Like someone else’s life I am living. I feel like I’m toggling between reality and a dream.

My parents have lived here permanently in Southwest Florida for the last several years, after coming down from Philly just for the winters starting in 2010. They are healthy, active older adults, and on the morning that this happened my dad was out riding his bike as he did on many mornings. He came in from outside and when he got back and was sitting on the couch, his heart attack took place. My mom heard him struggling to breathe and called 911. As most of you know – my husband is an EMT and firefighter here in Cape Coral and so, his co-workers were the ones who responded to this call and treated my dad during his final moments. They did all they could but were not able to get his heart restarted.

What started out as a normal work day for me and the day I turned 30 weeks pregnant, ended up being one of the worst days of my life. It was a B Shift day for the fire department which meant that Fer was working. I was attending a work meeting on Zoom when Fer showed up at the front door and tried to get into the house. I saw him turn the knob and walk away. I was confused why he was at the house while on shift, but I left myself on mute on Zoom, and went to open the door. I saw one of his chiefs standing behind him in our driveway and I became even more confused. As Fer turned towards me I saw his eyes were filled with tears and I started to panic. “What’s going on? Are you ok? What happened?” I asked these questions in rapid-fire succession. 

He walked to me and looked me in the eyes and said, “it’s your dad.” “What? What do you mean? What are you talking about? What happened?” I asked, confused. “He’s gone. He had a heart attack, Kelly. He’s gone,” Fer answered with tears streaming down his face. I was in such shock I couldn’t even cry at first. “What do you mean? How? Where? That doesn’t make any sense…” I repeated this over and over as my heart began to race and I started freaking out. “No, no, no. We just saw him last night.” I had to sit down, clutching my stomach, worried this whirlwind that felt like a gut punch, would affect my baby. 

From there Fer told me all the details, how his co-workers responded to the call, and how one of his chiefs came to his station to tell him what happened. He had then gone to my parents’ house to check on my mom and saw my dad after he had passed. My mom asked him to come to our house and tell me the news in person, rather than her doing it over the phone.

From there I went to my parents’ house and spent the day with my mom, listened to her side of the story, and asked as many details as I could. Since that day I’ve been trying to make it all make sense. I’ve been trying to explain it to myself. How this could have happened or why. I had spent the entire previous weekend with my dad while he was at my house doing work to prepare for our baby shower. He seemed completely fine. And yet, just like that, he’s gone.

In the aftermath of my father’s death, I am left feeling devastated, overwhelmed, shocked, angry, and sad. I find myself looking for reasons why. I find myself feeling numb at times, unable to do much of anything. I spent many of the first days crying, sleeping, and staring off into the distance. I also had to help my mom go to the funeral home and prepare final arrangements for my dad, write his obituary and attend a Zoom memorial service put on by his co-workers. 

We had our baby shower planned for the Sunday of that same week and we decided to go through with it since everything had been reserved and paid for already and because I believe it’s what my dad would have wanted. It was a nice distraction, but also bittersweet. Since then I feel like it’s been hard to be excited about the baby. My anxiety about his health and well-being is even higher than before because I’m feeling like nothing is safe. If my dad could just die out of the blue with no warning or risks, who’s to say it can’t happen to my baby?

I have a stack of breastfeeding and newborn childcare books to read and instead I am reading books about navigating grief and losing a parent. I have a nursery to put together and baby contraptions to learn how to use, but instead, I am barely getting by with feeding myself and doing the basics of life. I also returned to work and planned a Celebration of Life memorial service for my dad. I wrote his eulogy.

It’s rare that I go a day without crying. As I saw people celebrating Thanksgiving on social media, listing all they were grateful for, I became even angrier. I didn’t feel grateful. I didn’t feel like celebrating. 

Even since then, watching people all around me go on with their lives while I’m stuck in a very painful cycle of grief feels unfair at best, and cruel at worst. Every time I feel like I’m in a groove of living again, a wave of pain and anxiety comes over me as I remember the death of my dad. That it was real and it happened and there’s nothing I can do about it. It feels like a constant storm cloud following me around, seeking to remind me of my pain every time I find a moment of joy. 

Throughout all of this I have received an abundance of support – messages, calls, texts, gift cards, flowers, presents at my door and I deeply appreciate it all. I am so grateful to my friends and family who understand how difficult navigating life is right now and how even if I don’t respond right away, I still need to be checked on.

I don’t know a lot of things – how I will make it through this grief, how I will give birth to my son in a month, how I will continue to manage my emotions. For now, I am doing the best I can letting it all be.

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