I thought it was odd that my Mom would be calling me on a Friday night after 10:00pm. Especially since I was out of town on a retreat, quite a bit north of Chicago near the Wisconsin border. I remember my clothing still smelled like the beach campfire when I got back to my room to unpack my bag and grab my things for the shower. That’s when the call came. “Karen, Dad collapsed on the floor in the kitchen, here, talk to the fireman…”.
My Mom handed the phone to the paramedic that helped revive my Dad. I remember hearing “down for at least 12 minutes” and “we’re doing everything we can” and “we’ll take her with us to the hospital”. I can’t describe the emotions I felt when I arrived in the Emergency Department and found my Mom sitting all alone with a dazed look on her face, staring at the floor. Nor can I describe the emotions I felt as I slowly walked up to my Dad’s cart, my heart racing. He didn’t open his eyes. He didn’t move, except for his chest rising and falling with the ventilator breaths and he didn’t receive any sedation or narcotics. Dad? Dad, can you open your eyes? Dad, can you hear me? I knew this wasn’t good, but I wasn’t functioning in my usual role as a nurse practitioner. I wasn’t thinking. I was numb. This time I was the daughter.
We left at 3:30 in the morning and were back only a few hours later. My Dad was having seizures. We were told the tests they ran to assess his brain function basically said he would never again be the man we knew and loved. After a call to my brother and discussions with the chaplain and a priest, we knew what we wanted to do. Even with all my professional experience, nothing could prepare me for what I felt now, as the daughter.
Thankfully, we had many discussions as a family about this type of situation and we were all in agreement that my Dad would want the ventilator discontinued so he could die naturally. He had already died that night in the kitchen, although his heart was revived, and everyone tried their best, his brain would never be the same. It was time to let him go. And we did.
I am so grateful that we were 100% certain of our decision, because it really was my Dad’s decision. He told us when we had several open conversations about death and dying. I can’t even imagine if our family had to debate the options or had disagreements between us or felt completely lost as to what to do. As his daughter I knew we spoke for my Dad. We said what he couldn’t in the moment. Take the time to have these talks with your family and close friends, before you get the call.
“I don’t believe in goodbye, but I believe in letting go.” – Anonymous