There is this place I call the pause. It’s the space between reaction and action. As a pediatric emergency nurse I existed there almost daily, and this is the context I can best describe it in. Imagine a child coming into the trauma bay with CPR in progress. As nurses we assemble and work together as a team, executing what we need to do as we resuscitate. One nurse records the whole event. Another draws blood. Another prepares the meds and another gives them. There is not time to react to the horror of the moment, only the time to execute.
Occasionally we look one another in the eye. In a trauma bay it doesn’t need to be said. We know. And then we are either successful or we are not and we must at some point return to our bay and carry on as if this trauma had never happened. Hours or days or weeks later it crashes upon us like a giant wave.
But in that space of time everything is suspended. Have you ever seen the movie the Matrix? Those scenes where the main character moves in slow motion while everything around them seems to hold still. That is what “the pause feels” like.
That’s what it felt like when I got the call. Mom was understandably hysterical. CPR, blood, ambulance, dialysis. Those were the only words I heard. I got in the car and sped down the 90 as I had done over 100 times in the last 3 months. I don’t know what I thought about during the hour and six minutes it took me to get to the hospital. Again, it was the pause. The space between.
I got to the lobby, it was empty. I called Mom, she put the physician on the phone with me. He asked where I was.
“I am in the lobby” he said “I don’t see you.”
I turned in circles, another one of those Matrix moments. I saw the writing on the wall. Kenmore Mercy Hospital.
“Are there two Mercy hospitals?” I asked him. I was at the wrong one.
As I ran to the car he began explaining. I told him I was a former ED nurse, and then he got real. He told me he was down for 40 minutes but they got him back. No brain activity. He’s on a ventilator. I knew what was going to happen. You don’t want to have brain activity if you have been resuscitated for 40 minutes.
He just sent me an email at 8:30 I thought to myself. He was at dialysis. He had cancer but he was not dying. What is even happening.
“Can you keep him alive for 30 minutes?” I asked him. I shouldn’t have asked him that. I should never have asked him that.
“Yes I can.” he said “I will start working on an ICU transfer, get here safely”
I got back in the car and I arrived at the right hospital 30 minutes later. When I got to his room, he was intubated. I have seen and cared for hundreds of intubated patients but this was my Dad. I went to the monitors, they were off.
“He passed.” My mom said through tears. I missed it. He arrested before I got there and they decided to stop trying, and it was the right call. It was the right call.
And our world crashed.
I don’t know how long I lasted in the pause. The biggest wave of grief and sorrow I have ever experienced knocked me so far off my feet I couldn’t even fathom how I would ever get back up.
But two months later, I am up. We are up.
I relied on everything and everyone (my husband, son, mom and sister, and close friends especially). I got myself into therapy immediately. It’s not over, it won’t ever be over but it’s been the most I have learned in my life.
And don’t worry. The actions that need to be taken about HOW he died, are actions I am taking. Because it’s a legal issue I can’t explain but TRUST ME THERE WILL BE A DAY THAT I WILL.
The past 365 days, good god. Our family has been through the wringer. It’s through the love of family and friends that we have kept getting back up and will keep getting back up. It’s kindness I never knew existed. After everyone has gone home and the phone calls have stopped, you’re still there with me. Holding us up and holding us together.
In these deepest moments of grief I have felt the most love. I have felt the most growth.
I am often interested in what happens when high performers have something happen to them that puts a fork in their road. Will they rise or will they fall?
“You will rise.” Mom said. Let’s hope.
I am not the only one who has experienced deep loss. I am so incredibly aware that what I had in my Dad was unique. I have friends who didn’t have Dads, or who had terrible Dads. I had a Dad that dedicated his life to his family literally until the day he died. In his illness he continued to put all of us ahead of himself. In his death I hope that we can continue to carry all he gave us.
It will never be lost on my how lucky I was.
I have learned that this deep deep grief is something many of us share. Our loss may be different but I know the pain now. I am part of a club that is horrible to belong to but goodness, it’s beautiful at the same time. I am so honored to have been hugged by so many who share this.
“It gets better”. That’s the phrase said to me at least 5 times a day (and that is VERY OK to say).
I know by now though, that it doesn’t get better. We grow with it. And as hard as it is, it’s incredibly beautiful.