Hump Day: Expect long emotional recovery after loss of loved one

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

June 2 marks the one-year anniversary of the summer I’ve since dubbed “The Summer of the Hospital.”

One year ago on that date, I picked up my father at his special care home – as I did most Saturdays – and we went for coffee. That morning, though, things were not to go as planned. He used a walker and was moving dramatically slower than usual. So slowly, in fact, that I made a mental note to myself that this was likely the last time I would take him for coffee. His downhill acceleration had really picked up in the past few months. My “mental note” ended up being prophetic. It was the last time we’d be going.

He managed to get himself into my vehicle and we made it to the coffee shop. He was lucid and talking about various road construction projects going on. He knew where he was and his memory seemed fine. Physically, though, he was not doing well.

Within seconds of arriving at the coffee shop, he had a seizure. I thought he was dead. I’d never seen anything like it. His head just flopped back in his chair, his eyes were wide open, his mouth dropped open and there was nothing. I waved my hands in front of his eyes. I called his name. Nothing. Nobody was home in Bernie Town.

Eventually, staff came to help and someone detected a pulse. Firefighters and paramedics arrived. By now, he’d awakened and was wondering what the heck was going on. I told him that he’d had another stroke. (He’d had a few already.) Although this ended up not being the case, it was my amateur diagnosis in the frenzy. First responders performed their stroke test on him. They made him smile (checking for facial paralysis), squeeze hands, move his feet, etc. All seemed to be OK. Meanwhile, I still maintained that it was a stroke.

At the hospital, it didn’t take long to get him into a regular room after spending a few hours in the Emergency Department. Finally, after a number of tests, I was told they’d found lesions on his brain. He had a brain tumour in an area that affected both appetite and motor ability.

Well, now, that explained everything. In the past six months, his slow walk had turned into pretty much a crawl. Walking with him was painfully slow, yet he was determined to keep moving. He wasn’t in pain. He was just slow. His desire to get outside to smoke was also a driving force to keep moving. He smoked for 72 years.

As for appetite, in the past six months he’d also turned into the fussiest eater I’d ever seen. Now, this was a man who ate pretty much everything. He was brought up on meat and potatoes. He grew up in the Depression and learned to eat whatever was put in front him. If the hamburger in the refrigerator was green, he just pinched off the green stuff and used the rest. He’d go hunting with a bag of sandwiches and didn’t really care if they were a week old and stale by the time he got to the bottom.

But in those past six months, he’d grown to hate chicken and pretty much everything else the home served him. He ate very little. He even stopped eating sweets. I knew it was really bad when he barely touched some homemade chicken fricot (Acadian chicken soup) that my lovely cousin brought him. And when I made his favourite birthday treat — strawberry shortcake — and he barely ate two bites before putting it aside, let’s just say that the writing was on the wall.

He came out of brain surgery fine. He sneaked cigarettes in the hospital bathroom and was too shaky and messy to hide it. The ashes and burnt match on the floor were the evidence that did him in despite his desperate denials. The cigarettes were taken away. He was not happy, but there was no option.

Eventually, they found lung cancer, too. He was in denial about it, despite my having reminded him a few times. And then, at a follow-up meeting with the oncologist, he heard the words “lung cancer” come out of the doctor’s mouth and Dad seemed to decide right then and there that it was the end. His body was deteriorating. The radiation to his brain to treat the successfully removed brain tumour was not doing much for his recovery either. The symptoms from the radiation (extreme fatigue, loss of appetite) went on much longer than anticipated until we all came to the conclusion that his body was starting to shut down and that he would not be recovering.

Eventually, he would turn away from me in bed when I’d visit. He’d never done that before. Then I had to feed him what little he’d manage to ingest before we’d get into an argument. Dementia had been present for years, but it kicked into high gear.

And then, one day, I was having coffee with friends when his doctor called and told me we should consider putting him in palliative care. I wasn’t surprised, but still didn’t think he was that bad. He entered palliative care later that day.

He lasted about two weeks in palliative and died on August 26. Nearly three months of hospital visits came to an end. When I got the call, I made my calls and headed over with my mother, uncle, aunt and son to see him before the funeral home came to get him. The arrangements had all been made. The day we’d been expecting, dreading and — in some ways — even hoping for, had arrived. It was over. Dad was no longer suffering.

As the one-year anniversary of his passing nears, it still seems like yesterday, yet it also seems like a million years ago. I often wonder if that feeling will ever go away.

3 Responses to Hump Day: Expect long emotional recovery after loss of loved one

  1. I always like reading you Brian. That feeling does change but in a weird and peaceful way. In couple if weeks, it will be 10 years since my Dad passed away.. And when we say 10 years, we have the same reaction as you.. Feels like yesterday but so long ago at the same time. We never stopped talking about him, even making fun of him. I think it’s important to keep their memory alive, it help alot. Cheers.

  2. The one year anniversary is the worse, I would say. But it also is a milestone that sort of allows you to move on. The guilt of maybe not having done enough for my wonderful mom, the moments of frustration I felt when I thought she was being difficult (her cancer had unbeknownst to us spread to her brain),
    then the family belongings I was still trying to hold on to against all odds (the old house I inherited that was bankrupting me). After the first year, it got easier. I still am awfully sad on December 21, but life does take over and time is a great healer.