I knew my dad was going to die soon. It took fifteen minutes to resuscitate him two days prior. We agreed with the doctor not to be aggressive in treatment after they extubated him.
When he regained consciousness, it was without awareness, his tongue lolling and his eyes rolling into his head. He would barely focus on people when they spoke directly to him. He couldn’t answer even the simplest questions.
His breathing was labored and fast. As they gave him sedatives and pain medication it began to turn wet and I imagined it would soon culminate in either a severe struggle, or series of terrible and unforgettable sounds. Between machines with alarms going off and the sounds of him drowning, it might be unbearable.
My mother, not fully understanding the situation, kept trying to talk to him. I carefully weighed leaving my father to die alone against saving my mom from an experience that might destroy her. I honestly felt that if she had to remember my father’s death rattle she would literally go insane. I know I only barely felt strong enough to believe I could.
To my mind, my father had already died. Forcing her to watch as the nurses swept away the pieces just didn’t seem right. Or worse, some terrifying moment of struggle that made her feel even more powerless would just be torture.
I told her I would take her home to rest. We said our goodbyes and promised to check on him the next day. Both doctors had already explained the prognosis was extremely poor. And my mom tried to push it aside by saying that she didn’t like this doctor or that doctor.
Moments after we got home the phone rang and we were asked to return as my father had passed. I looked out the window and it began to rain. Even after all that contemplation, I still don’t know if I did the right thing. Did I?
The week before, when he finally got the tube out the last time, he finally said, “I love you.” Something I swear he’s only said to me maybe twice before. And I couldn’t understand him through the mask clearly enough to be certain. I asked him to repeat it but he was very weak and didn’t. I feel like I denied him that. And then, I abandoned him.
I don’t know what to feel. But I am hurting.
Did I do the right thing?
Yes, you did the right thing. You needn’t carry any measure of guilt for not bearing witness to the exact moment of your father’s death. He certainly wasn’t conscious at the end, and you had already said your goodbyes. You spared your father a final indignity and you protected your mother from further trauma. You did what you thought was best, and it seems like it was exactly what your father would have wanted you to do.
And no, you didn’t abandon him. You didn’t deny your father any opportunity to express how he felt about you. He had an entire lifetime to express how he felt, and if he wasn’t the kind of man to tell you that he loved you, then that’s on him. That’s his missed opportunity, not yours.
My condolences on your loss, for whatever that’s worth. It’s perfectly okay to not know what to feel right now, and it’s going to hurt for a very long time. It’s supposed to. Don’t rush trying to feel normal again. It’ll happen when it happens.