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10 Things I Learned From The Death of my Dad

If you have followed me for awhile you know that my dad passed almost 7 years ago; 2014 was a rough year and God taught me a lot along the way.

A little background to catch you up. 2020 has been a hard year for so many families and friends with death, sickness, and essentially the plague of Covid-19. Before Covid, there was H1N1 – the flu. In 2009, I was so sick and ended up with H1N1 and missed a week of work, was literally unable to function – I can remember my mom dropping off food to my front door and being so concerned; visited the doctor for additional testing and was confirmed H1N1. I had one of the more challenging recoveries…long term – 6 weeks following, I became allergic to nuts, peanuts, fish, and shellfish. Apparently, less than 1% develop allergies after a viral infection (essentially compromised immune system).

My family is extremely close. As an educator, I typically have 2 weeks off around Christmas and spend a lot of that time back home with my parents. On Dec 21, 2013- my brother’s birthday – my dad called and let me know that he needed his z pak picked up because he had a sinus infection. I remember being in the car with my mom – we getting my brother’s birthday cake and saying to my dad – sounds like the flu. My brother and dad just returned from St. Louis and brought home 3 pieces of equipment and both were so happy.

Dinner that night did not include dad, but the rest of the family. A couple days later (Christmas Eve), my brother called me pretty early in the morning letting know my dad was having trouble breathing and they were headed to Miami Valley Hospital – my mom was sick with bronchitis and dad did not want to worry her. On the way to Miami Valley, dad had additional trouble and my brother had to stop at a different hospital en route due to his breathing. Of course I called my mom who headed to the hospital. Dad received a breathing treatment and was really struggling

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Brian’s Birthday 2013

Christmas Eve we went well – saw the family minus dad and Christmas at my mom’s was cancelled. On December 26th, I got a call from my mom pretty early saying your dad cannot breath. I said bring him to Columbus – maybe Riverside… or OSU… ultimately mom asked dad where he wanted to go and he chose Riverside.

He was admitted and progressively got worse – low oxygen, burning throat, and intense smell. At that point, realized he was septic and was headed downward. My dad threw a slushie and he was literally starting to lose it. The doctor came up and said we need to take him downstairs. At that moment, he held my mom’s hand and said “I am going to die”

I had actually stepped out for dinner with a friend and my brother, we got the call and returned quickly. When I got to the hospital, the doctor was there and I was asking questions about Ecmo and where he was.. turns out my dad was placed in a coma and we were not notified that it was happening..

Wow… is all I can say. During this time.. dad got worse and even though my mom requested a transfer to OSU for ECMO – we were told he was not sick enough and if he got there – he would be transferred.

New Year’s Eve was the beginning of the end. At 4:00 am, my brother got a call saying my dad had an hour before he would pass and then the hospital called my mom who was staying at my house… we made it to the hospital in 6 minutes … I will never forget the atmosphere in the ICU and levels dropping and the doctor came over … I was angry and mad and so many things because over 12 hours he was failing – in my opinion, it was NyE and short staffed and priority was not here or for him…

It was 8:15 in the morning and I remember saying he is crashing.. and the flat line sound and the code being announced and the pads coming out and the look on my mom’s face. Anyone who has been through watching a loved one code and the rollercoaster… can say it is one the most vivid and emotional experiences a person can have.

He was brought back and was down for 15 seconds…the next time he coded went on for over 3 minutes and epi pens were used to stab him time and time again….27 is what we counted…

At this point, we got OSU on the phone to approve a transfer but dad had to have lines put in his groin and neck for ECMO. It was a battle and helicopter was to take him but due to weather he was grounded and then it was the mobile ICU unit. Within 6 hours, he was at OSU and received ECMO.

The surgery took hours and I remember my grandma getting a call that her other granddaughter had a baby – I looked at my brother and we said at the same time “God takes one and one is born” and at that point, we thought our dad died. Later like 25 days later, he officially passed – I will go to my grave that my dad died within 24 hours of that birth…(braindead)

Ecmo is gift – it allows a person to have a break from their lungs and heart to recover..my dad went through the process and his lungs recovered as did his heart- there were moments of happiness, sadness, set backs, and stress. It was 8 days before my dad died and my mom walked in to sit with him as she did every day – and the nurse said “he is brain dead” and mom called me… I was at work and totally not expecting that! I left work abruptly and my mind just raced…

We met with the palliative care team and opted for hospice in the hospital. While in hospice, a small miracle or last hurrah happened, my dad moved his eyes on command and started doing things he had not done… the doctor came in and seeing this said “he might be in there” and re- admitted him to the hospital – he then recommended a transfer to Cleveland Clinic – so he went. Within 24 hours, complete assessment dictated he was officially brain dead. He had in fact suffered two strokes – we believe the time of the codes ..

My mom and I drove up together and I can remember talking with my dad and asking him not to die with me there. I think many people feel peace in different ways, but for me..I was not going to be able to handle it. Earlier, I mentioned vivid images and experiences, this was one where letting go was so hard and giving permission to let go was best. We called my dad’s parents on speaker phone and let them talk to my dad, we called my brother who was running the business, and prayed with him and I personally said everything I could and apologized for all the stress and grief I caused.. for me it was cathartic. It was letting go…my mom took some time before we went to the hotel. There is something called a “death rattle” and time is so limited when you hear it. I never knew what it was until I heard it….I knew that dad heard everything and was there during the entire month encounter…the hours of research and reading to understand the flu, ARDS, ecmo, sepsis, and strokes…

Having a loved die around the holidays is hard, it is always there no matter how much time goes by. For us, it was my brother’s birthday, Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Year’s. It is equally as challenging for that first birthday without them, the first Christmas…

So for 7 years… things have been different.

10 Things I learned:

10. Time is a gift.

My dad being in the hospital for over a month allowed us time and space to let him go. For us, there were moments of thinking he would get out; the time to let go and hold his hand and say what we wanted or talk about the day; as mundane as it is… it was processing… for those during covid – it is hard to let go especially without access to spend the time with limited visitors.

What you can learn from it: make time for that call, that text, or that drive to visit… no one is promised tomorrow

9. Be present.

We are all busy people and it is easy to be distracted. Being present means fully enjoying the moment that you are in. Do zoom, facetime, or facebook video.

What you can learn from it:

Listen without intending to respond. Reduce distractions. Set aside time to make it happen

8. Be Kind

Kindness does not cost a thing. Kindness links to physical and emotional benefits. Being kind reduces stress. Think about those who have had a loss. Depending on how you know the person, my mom loves hearing good stories about my dad. During the holidays, an ornament with feathers or an angel or gift for the grave can be thoughtful.

What you can learn from it:

Smile, hold the door open, thank people for kindness, offer to help, treat someone to coffee or tea

7. Share your Story

Don’t judge a story based on the chapter you walked in on. People can be so wonderful or hateful in judging based on what they think or have heard. Take the time to learn and to understand before making a judgement. The holidays, death, wills and money all go together. Vultures and bad people come out to take advantage of those in crisis.

I know for my mom and brother – their grief of my dad was instant – it was like a tsunami of grief and the inability to function based on the company, the loss, and the constant reminders. For me, I was removed – I talked with dad several times a week and visited at least once a week – it was just everyone grieves differently. I can remember being the organizer of the obituary, the arrangements, the logisitics, the dinner after funeral, all of the things – I could control.

For me, the death was expected at some point and we all had a little time…none of it really hit me…not on the drive home from Cleveland or the funeral home or even at Church before he was buried… for me it came 5 years later when my dad’s parents passed… they passed within a few months of each other but seeing them and hearing their voices surprisingly kept my dad’s memory alive. When they both passed, it really hit me…The flood of tears, the emotions, and the realization… fully hit. With that said, I did have grief and I was sad when my dad passed, I think I just took charge and dealt with business things and dove deep into distractions to get things done. Talking about your experience can help others and can help you get through it

What you can learn from it:

Talking, writing, and letting go will help you. Do things in memory of the person.

6. Choose Health and Wellness

More than ever especially during Covid – take charge of your health. Call the doctor, check on your blood pressure, blood tests for basic checks, improve exercise, reduce alcohol, stop smoking, prioritize nutrition, essentially don’t make poor choices.

During times of loss, habits and behaviors are easy to spiral out of control. think about why you are engaging in poor behaviors and address them. Talk with a counselor, join a grief group, and start taking charge in a better way.

After my dad passed, in February, I started having headaches, nausea, and an overall miserable state. I went to the doctor – in fact 6 doctors and wanted to know was going on… June – finally I had the Shingles Rash and for months had been battling it. It was awful. Pay attention to your health and reach out if things do not seem right. It took 6 doctors and finally had a result.

What you can learn: make positive choices to improve your life. It is sometimes really hard but necessary. Make goals and make it happen

5. Life is not perfect

No one expects to experience death at a young age especially when the person made good choices. My dad did not smoke, drink, or do drugs. People die. Some from covid, cancer, car accidents, natural causes, murder, suicide, overdoses, the flu, kidney stones, and the list goes on.

What you can learn: death for some is a continual experience and for others it is isolated. Be supportive and understanding. Kids are resilient – acknowledge their feelings

My first real death for me occurred when my Grandpa died of Non- Hodgkins Lymphoma just after my 21st birthday. I was so blessed not to have experienced death until I was an adult.

4. Resolve

Resolve lingering bad blood. Sometimes the resolution is agreeing to disagree. When my dad was dying, his parents did everything to get my dad’s sister to come to the hospital and resolve their issues. It goes back to 1986 – lets just say money is the root of all evil. After the event, my dad left the family business and refused to be apart of what was happening (best decision he ever made according to him) My dad and his sister did not speak again. Our families never hung out or saw each other again – my grandparents saw us but were never really allowed to speak of us to my dad’s sister.

For me, life is short and this should never have happened. I spoke to Poppy (my dad’s dad) about this and how he allowed this to happen. I told him that he could have controlled this and stopped it a long time ago – I mean – he controlled the money and continual fountain to my dad’s sister and to continue betting on a bad horse seems to be a bad gambler – he laughed and said eventually maybe there will be a win. I have two cousins that are my age with families and don’t know them – I have come to the realization that you can never have enough people love and support you. Fix what you can.

What you can learn:

Let go. Forgive. Fix it. When someone dies – you cannot get closure. I have seen it a few times and it can kill the ones living with health issues. The unresolved issues are like a pebble in the shoe.. it gets worse over time.

3. Do the Right Thing

I never knew my dad knew so many people until he died.. the funeral home wait was 2-3 hours and through the process …heard that my Dad always did the right thing. He was a good man. He did excellent work and did not over charge.

My Mom is my example of doing the right thing. There are so many times that I have wanted to get even or take the shot I had and my Mom has always played in my head or been there to say “do the right thing” and I would say – it never pays off. And Mom would say “live being the best version of you” “always do the right thing and you never have to look over your shoulder”

She has always been right. Calling my grandparents and letting them say goodbye and countless other examples made all the difference in the way I look back.

What you can learn: Doing the right thing is not always easy but doing the right thing is necessary. Give when you can give, support when you can support, and do the right thing when no one is looking.

2. Choose happiness

Look for silver linings. Death sucks. Grief is a process. For me, the emotional pieces hit me years later, but physically As mentioned above – ended up with shingles.

A happiness journal really helped me, reading and processing loss helped, and focusing on the adventures, trips, and family time gets you through these times. Videos and voicemails and snapshots bring back happy tears.

Something else that happened – in 2014- the death tax changed in Ohio from 2013. Had my passed in 2013, the family business would have been taxed a ton on my dad’s death; thankfully the law changed in 2014 and that did not occur. My point is find small glimmers of hope and positive moments when you can.

My mom got a puppy after my dad passed – Sweet Gracie and Gracie passed of cancer within a year.. she was a bright light and helped my mom so much through that difficult time.

There are times when I know my dad is with me. It is the cardinal, it is the smell in my car of my dad’s cologne, or signs that bring me happy moments.

Create new memories, new happy times, and new traditions. Find joy and happiness where you can. Appreciate those who are kind and thank them.

1. Love Jesus

It is hard to let go and hard to not be angry. Why him or why did this happen?

I am a huge believer in there is a plan and there is a reason. Death is not always the worst thing. I trust in God and know that things happen for a reason.

I applied for a job I wanted years ago. Not getting it turned out to be one of the greatest gifts in my life. I wanted it more than anything, but not getting it; allowed me to explore instagram, be mentioned in USA Today, appear in Entrepreneur Magazine, score tons of deals, and renovate my house on my own. While this is not an example of death, it is about – a bigger plan and trusting that good will come from bad experiences.

Trust in God in the good times and in the hard times. Everyone has their own belief system and their own spiritual path… for me – I know I will see my dad in Heaven someday.

What you can learn: Find solace in the belief system you have and seek it out if you do not have an understanding of what you believe.

Hugs to everyone who has experienced loss and hope this helps a bit.

XOXO,

Heidi

Ritz Carlton – Kapalua

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    blmaluso
    December 6, 2020 at 11:50 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story. May God continue to bless you and your family.

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