Friday – the day we would remove my father from life support. The days before were an emotional blur with calls back and forth with my mother and brother. I never once spoke with my sisters. Plans were made to take my father off life support and for a small, family funeral. My father was scheduled to be taken off the ventilator around noon. The family was to meet in the family waiting room at 11:00 a.m. This would be the first time I had physically seen my sisters in years. How sad that on this day of our father’s death, I took care in how I dressed and how I looked so that my sisters wouldn’t have reason to degrade me or gossip about me later.
My husband held my hand tightly as we entered the waiting room. I was overly apprehensive and anxious. Would my sisters already be there? What would it be like to see them? What would happen? Would we be civil, maybe even kind, to each other under such tragic circumstances? Could something like this maybe bring everyone back together?
My mother and my brother and his family were already there but not my sisters. My husband and I sat closest to the door, a subconscious decision on my part. At that point, looking back now, I had subconsciously swallowed all emotion and I was just going through the motions. As it turns out, my brain was intent on self-preservation. My husband and I had previously discussed how this could play out. He had asked me if I thought they might talk to me – I told him that I didn’t know but surely if there was ever a time, this was it. Part of me hoped that this could be the moment that changed everything for the better. I wasn’t expecting an instant miracle but maybe just a step in a positive direction.
My sisters came in together. Why was I not surprised? I looked up, ready for anything, but they walked right passed me, avoiding eye contact, and they sat on the opposite side of the room. They didn’t even acknowledge we were there. So that was it then; that was how they wanted to play it. I know I could have stood up and walked over to talk to them but I was hurt by their cruel intentions and actions, especially at such a terrible time. I had always been the peacekeeper in the family, the one always trying to fix everything. I stopped doing that the day I walked away from my family. But with my dad about to die, a part of me thought I should try to fix this too, but I just couldn’t do it. My sisters would see it as me giving in, as me being weak. Now that I look back on it, it probably would have shown my strength, but back then I just didn’t have it in me to fight. Not on that day, not in that moment, not as my father lie dying.
As they continued to ignore us, my sisters chit-chatted the whole time about this and that, giggling here and there, obviously all for show. My husband and I looked at each other in disbelief. It was such an embarrassing display considering the circumstances of the day. I was actually happy for a moment, happy I was not them, happy that I didn’t need to act fake or play games, happy that I could just be me. But I also felt sad that they were playing games rather than dealing with what was about to happen. At one point, I finally just tuned them out – there were more important things going on.
The minister from my parent’s church came in with the doctor to explain what was about to happen – how they would remove the life support and what to expect. The doctor told us that once the ventilator was removed, my father could last for minutes or even hours but he would not feel any pain. He also told us we could be in the room when they did it. I asked if we could see him privately before hand and was told that we could. This was when things started getting ridiculous. It was time to decide if any of us wanted to be there when they removed the life support. My brother wanted to, as expected; he was the strong one, the oldest, the only son, and he would make sure someone was with our father as he passed. But then, rather unexpectedly, Sharon almost yelled out that she wanted to be there. Huh? And then Sandy quickly followed suit. Makes sense – Sandy was a follower and it was part of their game against me. Here’s the thing though – Sharon hated our father and to her credit, rightfully so. He did hurt her as a child – she had every right to hate him. But it was then that I realized, in my humble but educated opinion, that she didn’t want to be there with my father as he passed away – she wanted to see him die! She was going to take joy in it.
My mom told us she could not do it. I also could not be in the room when it happened. I couldn’t let that be my last memory of him, watching him slip away into oblivion, and I also could not leave my mom to sit there and go through it all alone. Once again, I was the only child who even considered our mother. We each had a chance to go in and say our goodbyes. I think my husband and I went first but I’m not sure. Sharon and Sandy went in together of course. Starting to see a pattern here? It’s their never-ending, sad little game.
It was very difficult when my husband and I went in, knowing it would be the last time I would ever see my father. He looked very much the same as earlier in the week, so very peaceful. My husband hugged me and then left the room so I could have a last, personal moment. I remember seeing the nurses looking in from the nurse’s station through the room window and feeling violated that they were watching at what was the worst moment of my life. I cupped his hand in mine, fighting back tears. I leaned down and whispered in his ear, “I love you, Dad. I am so sorry for what happened. I wish everything could have been different. I love you so much!”
The tears were coming and I fought, I fought them so hard. I kissed him on the forehead, feeling the warmth of his skin. In that moment, my father so fragile, I almost felt like I was the parent and he was the child. I didn’t want to leave, knowing what doing so meant. It wasn’t fair! This wasn’t supposed to happen! I kissed his forehead one more time, turned, and left the room, having just said goodbye to my father and the life I had known forever. I would never be the same person again. We went back to the waiting room and after everyone was done, it was time. My siblings all got up and went to my father’s room. I went and sat by my mom and rubbed her back the whole time. We talked a little. She, like me, was exhibiting little emotion at that point. I had never understood how that was possible until I experienced it myself. Everyone deals with death differently. Even then, I knew that suppressing it was not a good thing, but it was the only way I could get through it at the time. It was sheer survival.
Matt came in about 15 minutes later and told us that dad was gone. It had taken about 5 minutes for him to pass once the ventilator was removed. My sisters never returned to the waiting room, not even to check on or comfort our mother. Apparently, everyone was going back to Sandy’s house for a little get-together. Amazingly enough, my husband and I were not invited, which was fine because we would not have attended anyway. My mom and brother went one direction and we went another and left the hospital. I was leaving my father behind. It was the loneliest, most empty of moment of my life.
The rest of that day I was in a haze. None of it seemed real. It was the first time in my life I had to deal with death. I did not cry – I would not cry. I felt numb, inside and out. My father died. My father died and my sisters still played their stupid games. Who does that? Do they even have any humanity left? I expected it from Sharon, but not from Sandy. She obviously was no longer the sister I had known and loved.
Once again I did not sleep much that night. I was tired and completely, emotionally exhausted and I was anxious about the coming funeral. My mother had Matt plan a small, family-only ceremony at the funeral home. It made me angry because my father had so many friends that would have wanted to say goodbye and they weren’t going to het that chance. I so desperately didn’t want to see more of my family but I knew I would have to. When would it finally all be over?