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Dad died suddenly, processing the loss


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My dad was a perfectly healthy 69 year old. After a dinner party at a neighbour's house, where he consumed several glasses of wine, he went outside for his nightly solo hot tub soak. That was just before midnight on December 17th, 2017. When my mom woke in the night (3:30 am) she noticed that my dad had not come to bed. She knew something was wrong when she saw the lights were left on.

I cannot imagine the horror she experienced when she saw my dad sitting in the hot tub at that hour. She said that he had a peaceful expression on his face, and that it looked like he was meditating or sleeping. She was unable to rouse him, since he had already passed away. 

She proceeded to call 9-1-1, and the operator insisted she haul him out of the water. We have since learned that hot water actually speeds up the process of rigor mortis-- his body was rigid in a reclined/seated position. She experienced great struggle in trying to pull his large, slippery frame from the water. She told me that once she had extracted him from the tub she was reluctant to drag his body into the house for fear of scraping his back on the sliding door frame base. It's hard to say what exactly I would have done in the same situation.

As she waited for the paramedics to arrive (approximately 30 minutes, as the house is in a rural area) she tried to phone me. My phone is in airplane mode when I sleep. She did succeed in getting ahold of my younger brother. I know that he will need some trauma counseling to get over that frantic 30 minute phone call. He later told me that she was wailing, and he was completely at a loss as to what he could possibly do to make the situation better, since he lives a 5 hour drive away. (I live even farther away from my mom than my brother does.)

My mom finally got through to my wife's cell after the paramedics left. [The coroner report after the autopsy -- a few days later -- said that my dad fainted due to low blood pressure combined with heat and alcohol consumption, then drowned. The death was ruled "accidental death by drowning."]

I was awakened at 5:30 am on a Monday morning by my wife saying, "You need to talk to your mom."

My mom's first words to me were, "Dad died last night."

Those words can still be conjured in my memory like I am hearing them for the first time. 

That day I met up with my brother and we flew to comfort my mom. Since it was the week before Christmas, my wife and stepdaughter followed a few days later. After the "funeral home" details were all behind us (we actually followed my dad's wishes to be cremated, and held an open house 10 days after his death), and all the other relatives went back home after the holidays, I stayed on. My mom said she was glad to have me there. I ended up spending nearly 3 weeks there in total. 

I'm now back at work as a high school teacher. It feels like it's time to get back into routines; however, I have been overwhelmed by strong emotions and some anxiety since I returned to work. Most of the time I'm okay, but I wanted to share my story and reach out to others who have lost a parent suddenly. 

I am grateful to have found this online discussion group, and I welcome replies that offer practical advice, co-miseration, empathy, or supportive wishes. I'd also like to be clear that I am a "spiritual" person, but I am not a follower of any specific religious tradition. Therefore, I will be slightly wary of replies that try to explain "it's all part of God's plan", or that I should turn to church or scripture to find solace. 

I appreciate you taking the time to read my story, and as I gain wisdom in the process of grieving and healing I will offer my support to others who are navigating this pathway through grief to equanimity.  

FL

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I am so sorry for the reasons that brought you here to us, my friend, and for the pain and sorrow you're experiencing in the wake of your father's sudden, unexpected and tragic death. I know that here you will be welcomed with open arms and caring hearts, as you are among kindred spirits walking a similar path.

I invite you to take some time to read through several of the threads you'll find in these forums, which contain all sorts of reliable information, comfort and support.

You might begin with these articles: Grief: Understanding The Process and Common Myths and Misconceptions about Grief

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FatherLoss,

I am so sorry for the loss of your father.  Sudden loss brings with it it's own things to deal with in addition, my husband's death was sudden (heart attack) whereas my parents' deaths were anticipated.  No death is easy.  You won't find any of the cliches here, we here understand loss and those cliches can be very hurtful.

Your mom's loss and your own are two different losses, even though the same person.  I hope she has some support where she is, someone in her life to physically check on her.  You and your brother can both be there for her by phone, my son was in the Air Force when my husband died and after his short leave, he had to go back, but those calls on the phone meant a lot to me.  Knowing I wasn't alone in grieving George meant a lot to me.

Grief doesn't have a set timetable, we can throw out the "shoulds", everyone's journey is unique, just as they are, just as their relationship was.  It takes what it takes and pretty much anything we feel is normal, it can run the whole gamut.

Marty gave you one of my favorite articles (understanding the process), in addition I want you to have this one as well.

https://www.griefhealingblog.com/2011/10/helping-grieving-parent.html

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Thank you, Kayc, for your heartfelt response (and the article). I'm sorry to hear of your husband's sudden passing. It is reassuring to hear from a mother that the calls and texts I send will help my mom through these bleak times. She does also have a close network of friends who are looking out for her. 

Just to build on your comment about how we both lost the same person, but the relationship is different: my mom said she was going to welcome the grief that came when I left her side a week ago. It would allow her to move from being a grieving mother to being free to act as the grieving widow. Since my folks had been married for nearly 50 years (2018 was going to be their half-century anniversary), I cannot fully comprehend the loss she must be feeling. She told me it's as though she has lost a part of her own body. 

Thanks for the support, and I'm going to dive into those articles you and Marty have shared when I get some free time during my busy Monday. 

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I lead a grief support group and most of them are elderly women.  One I talked to this week is in her 80s, spent her life with her husband, thought she didn't need the group, she was strong, she was surprised within months when it hit her so hard.  It was the little things that got to her.  I explained to her that she IS strong, but this is grief, and it's to be reckoned with, it will reduce any of us with a heart to tears and then some.  It's normal, it's okay to feel that way, it's not a reflection on us, but of our loss.

I'm glad your mom has you.  I know my kids were invaluable to me when I went through my own loss.  Losing my parents was expected but even so, the harsh reality of not being able to talk to them or share something with them or give them a hug, well that's hard as well.  I still miss my mom, these 3 1/2 years later, I don't think those losses ever feel gone.

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I would like to say how very sorry I am that you lost your dad in such a sudden way.  How very difficult it must be for your mom also.  How comforting it must have been for your mom to have you there for those three weeks. There are always so many things to take care of during this time.

As you settle into this new reality you will have your own mourning to do just as your mom will have hers.  I have been in both situations having lost both my parents and my beloved husband, Jim.  

This is a forum that will give you many excellent resources and help you along the way. The material you will find on this site has accurate information and the forum is monitored by a highly qualified grief counselor.  When you have time and feel the need come here and read in the different forums after you have read posts in the loss of a parent thread.  Another very helpful area is to read Marty’s Grief Healing Blog that you will find at the top of the main page of this site. Most people read but do not post replies. We are good listeners and in our grief we need listeners.   We need others who will sit with us and allow us to express our deep hurt for the great loss we have endured.

Anne

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Thanks, Anne. I am feeling very welcomed into this online group of caring individuals. Your kind, clear instructions will assist me as I navigate through these early foggy-brained "is-this-my-new-normal?" days. I'm glad to have found this high-quality resource to move forward in my healing. 

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Yesterday marked the one month anniversary of my dad's death. I had to do my job (teaching) without really taking the time to think about how it might affect me to pass this small milestone of remembrance. I hadn't actually cried in a few days, which felt odd (and slightly guilt-inducing). I pulled an old photo album off the shelf that my mom had given me-- one filled with my baby pictures. There were pics in there of my dad smiling at me in my chubby toddler cuteness. The look in his eyes, the expressions on his face, they conveyed such deep joy. I was moments away from having to head out the door for my morning commute, and the tears started slowly flowing. Although the timing wasn't ideal, it felt good. I felt infused with love for my dad as the sadness gently pulsed through my body.

I went to see a counselor on Wednesday. We discussed "ways to grieve", and he suggested that not everybody is wired to cry all the time. This was after I had expressed some chagrin at my then-recent lack of tears. It seems that grieving is not a competition, and there's no one way to do it right. My process is my own, and it seems to be moving me forward.

It is definitely early days for me, but I want to document some of the things that I have found beneficial in the first month after the unexpected death of a parent. The times I feel the very best are when I am speaking with people face-to-face who are empathetic and can truly relate to my situation (i.e. they've lost a parent themselves). Another big help for my mental and emotional states is exercise. Ideally, being in nature while exercising has been most helpful. I went snowshoeing up in the mountains behind my childhood home with a friend, and also solo. The combination of beauty, fresh air, and vigorous activity was like a balm for my troubled mind. When I can't get outside to do something that makes me sweat, working out (and attending exercise classes with my wife) is another way I've found that helps "blow off" or "process" the icky sluggish feeling that at times accompanies my grief.

Sleep has been a challenge, so I'm committed (most of the time) to going to bed at a consistent time and getting out of bed at the same time each day. I'm someone who sometimes suffers from the can't-get-back-to-sleep in the middle of the night syndrome. I've found that staying up until my regular bedtime (even if I'm exhausted) has helped stave off those long, stress-filled sections of wakefulness in the night. To be honest, I have had a few "long dark nights of the soul" since my dad died. However, those terrible sleeps seem to be reduced in frequency by consistent bedtime and waking up routines.

Journal writing has been helpful. I'm currently keeping a nightly gratitude list (3 things I'm grateful for) at the end of each day. Mindfulness meditation (using an app called Calm, and another one, Headspace) has given me some tools to ride the waves of emotion.

My cravings for junk food (fatty stuff, or sugary treats) have increased since Dad died. I have succumbed to mild binging on a few occasions, but otherwise try to eat healthy. My appetite has also been reduced at times, but I force myself to eat at consistent intervals to keep my blood sugar levels stable.

I know that many of you have so much knowledge on the topic, but I just wanted to contribute a small crumb of what I've learned so far. May you be peaceful and well, and may the memory of your loved ones (living and deceased) fill your heart with joy. 

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It's good that you've found a grief counselor and you are so right, everyone's grief is unique (to them) just as our relationships are unique, our personalities are unique, and so are our coping skills.

I read an article early on in my grief journey that I really wish I would have saved, it basically told me to give myself permission to smile.  It's okay to have good days, and one thing I've kept in mind all these years is it is not our grief that ties us to them, it is our love and that continues still.  We don't need to hit ourselves over the head with guilt if we aren't crying or if we have a good day, we should applaud it and embrace what good there is, we need it for our own internal refreshing.  I rarely cry but I can tell you I miss my husband each and every day and I've been surprised how much I miss my mom.  My dad has been gone for nearly 36 years so I'm a little more used to that but even so, I miss him and there's times I really wish I could see/talk to him, especially as he misses my kid's milestones.

I agree with the being refreshed by nature, maybe everyone doesn't feel that way but I sure do.  Today I'm watching it snow (I live in the country) and I'm about to take my dog for a walk in it.  There is something about getting out in nature!  I'm glad you have that too.  I also love the mindfulness meditation, it's great that you've realized these things so early on in your journey.  And I too am hit with the "middle of the night wake up and can't get back to sleep", but have been doing better with that lately as I say no to my anxiety and succumb to the taking care of me first.  :)

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42 minutes ago, kayc said:

it's great that you've realized these things so early on in your journey.

I agree, Kay. Grief is an active process, and we don't have to be passive in the face of it. There are so many tools we can try and things we can do, keeping what works for us and letting go of others. See, for example, our Tools for Healing forum and our Tools for Healing board on Pinterest. 

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On 1/20/2018 at 9:19 AM, kayc said:

one thing I've kept in mind all these years is it is not our grief that ties us to them, it is our love and that continues still.

Well said!

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