How a daughter’s love helped this dad recover sooner from surgery

A daughter recounts her emotional struggle as she faced her dad’s imminent death

Woman taking care of an elderly man

“Dad has a 50 per cent chance of dying this Friday.” The words kept reverberating through my mind. He’s old, his heart is in failure, and it’s his decision to have this risky gall bladder operation. He’s ready; I am not. By Wednesday, I was hysterically crying in my car. I needed to cancel my counselling clients… I had to be by his side. My dad could die this week! World, please stop, and let me off.

Thursday night, I held his hand as he watched television; it felt so surreal. How does anyone cope knowing these are possibly final moments? Friday, driving Dad to the hospital, I knew this was possibly my last drive with him. I told him, “You are the most patient person I know. I love you, Dad.” I tried to be positive, calm and strong. I wanted the car warm, and the drive peaceful. I needed dad, my hero, to be in the best possible state for his operation; mentally and physically.

The horror week begins

Friday night. My horror week began! As a crisis and grief counsellor, I know the signs of anxiety, shock, and grief, but this week they overcame me. Dad’s operation caused many complications in his liver, heart, blood pressure, kidneys, and brain function. When he finally regained consciousness, after a few terrifying days, he could hardly mutter a word; then he quickly developed delirium. Even though his eyes seemed to recognise me, he was speaking incoherently. He mumbled about paranoid conspiracies of nurses wanting to kill him. He refused medical treatment and the family were called in to give permission for life-saving procedures and to be prepared in case he “crashes”. This mental decline of Dad was not anticipated. While we were told it is normal to develop “ICU delirium”, I wanted to know where Dad’s mind had gone… Would it return? I’d never heard of this type of psychosis.

I no longer slept well, often waking, worrying about Dad

I was stuck in a horror movie; the family talked about legalities, the living will, power of attorney, and possible death. “I will not discuss his funeral! We need to be positive!” I said. I recognised disassociation, as I kept re-playing the family’s words, over and over. This doesn’t feel real! So, this is how it ends for my Dad, my hero? I’m in my client’s world of crisis, and I recognise the signs. I feel acidity, no appetite, and I’m trying to keep fear thoughts at bay. I suppress my fear, but then develop anxiety as waves of emotions, suppressed deep inside me, that rise up, and “break me” at any moment. I gave up suppressing the tears. I ordered coffee from the hospital cafe with tears streaming down my face. The love songs in the cafe angered me. Why did “Islands in the stream” have to come on the radio? Dad loves country music. My sister and I stormed out in protest! My dad was dying … Stop the music!

Signs of despair

I no longer slept well, often waking, worrying about Dad. Has he just died? Nana even “came to me in a dream” and shook her finger with disapproval. [I’d been telling her, “Go away, Nana. You can’t take Dad!”]. I felt constantly cold, another sign of shock. The adrenaline and coffee kept me strong for hours of visits, but the fatigue kicked in and I had to drive back home for two days to recharge. I hated being away from dad.

A big cloud had overcome my life; I recognised this as “preparatory grief”. I felt disconnected to everything, except Dad. I cried, as I told hubby, “Nothing in the world seems important to me anymore; just Dad!” I retreated from work. I lost all interest and felt like a turtle hiding in a shell. I didn’t want to talk to friends. I needed to conserve my energy. I texted updates, which helped me come to terms with the reality of this situation. I’d cry as I’d read, “Dad’s organs are shutting down. His kidneys are not working well. His liver could be failing. He may not recover from the delirium.”

I’m normally calm, but was finding myself becoming angered easily

My mum said she missed me, even though I was beside her. I missed me. Knowing how grief causes marriage issues, I consciously kept connected to hubby, but had little energy for anyone else. “You cannot control life,” he said. I needed to hear this. I can’t keep dad alive with my love… but I’m going to keep trying.

My mind would sometimes become disobedient; I’d see myself at dad’s funeral going over a speech. Stop! Dad is not dead! I know enough about the mind and energy to know that living in the present, in the now, is essential. I worked hard at keeping funeral thoughts out of my mind; instead, I kept visualising positive improvements.

I’m normally calm, but was finding myself becoming angered easily [another grief stage]. My sister and mum annoyed me, the nurses made me angry with their blunt updates. This anger distorted my thoughts. Why was Dad on so many sedating painkillers? Were they trying to kill him? Do they need the ICU bed? I was frustrated, hyper alert, impatient, and felt trapped in a world of trauma.

Shielding my dad

I resigned myself, even though it was hard, to leave the medicine mostly up to the experts. My role was to ensure Dad was surrounded by love, loving touch, and constant positive words. Knowing about the subconscious mind, I needed to ensure that dad [even though he couldn’t really talk] could hear all the improvements he was making. I would often say, “Your skin is a good colour. Blood pressure is going well. Your surgery is healing well.” I didn’t want dad hearing any negative, as his subconscious mind was too vulnerable.

Over one hundred friends and family prayed, sent good wishes, lit candles, and sent love

I kissed him over 30 times on the forehead, and held his hand, over the many days. Sometimes he’d turn his head when I’d take my hand away; his eyes seemingly said, “Don’t go.” I felt like my love was making a difference.

Nonetheless, I was losing hope, and needed to take action. In a desperate attempt to send more loving energy to Dad, I turned to my friends and family on Facebook and asked for prayers and good wishes. Over one hundred friends and family prayed, sent good wishes, lit candles, and sent love. I even had strangers sending love!

The miracle called love

As I write this, it’s eight weeks since his operation, and Dad is now walking, talking, and enjoying life at my brother’s home. During his last week in the hospital, his mind and body recovered well. He looked forward to his daily wheelchair rides around the hospital where he would meet the canteen staff, and hospital helpers, who had heard so much about him. For many weeks, everywhere I went, people asked, “How is your Dad?” The power of Facebook at the time when I needed support was incredible.

We are all connected… we all feel each other’s pain, and we can all help each other heal. In this challenging time in my life, I felt this love from my friends, family, and even strangers, as tangible, and instrumental in Dad’s healing. I also believe that it was my 30 kisses that helped save him.

This article first appeared in the March 2016 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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