Person in tunnel contemplating

“Carol, I’m so sorry about your dad,” people told me after he died. “I’m sure you miss him.” They were right. I missed him terribly. But, my dad had, effectively, died on an operating table ten years before. The man we just buried was my dad, yet not really. The pain and the grief had started after I knew he would never again be the man who went into surgery. And his death? It brought grief. But it also brought relief. The suffering was over.

Grief and relief are often experienced at the same time. But, for most of us, if we try to separate them – to make sense of them – they get all jumbled up with guilt, blame and the other feelings related to grief. When we have watched someone struggle; when we’ve watched them suffer; when we’ve endured days, months, years of pain as we witness the shell of a person we love living on while their essence shrivels, why wouldn’t we feel a certain relief when they die?

Dad died in my arms. He’d been in terrible pain. Unable to articulate his pain, he’d grimace and pound his fist into his hand. The doctor would come by on his rounds and see he was sleeping. The records showed he got “enough” sleep. So, how could he be in pain?

The nurses, the aides, the family – we all knew his body language.

 Finally, a spunky nurse convinced a different doctor to clear him for hospice care. From the time Dad was cared for by hospice, he was out of pain and peaceful. I’d sit with him and see him breathe easily. The frantic pounding had stopped. When Dad’s body finally let go, I felt my real dad with me for the first time in ten years. I held him and felt his spirit fly. I feel him with me now.

My mother had entered a nursing home, the one where my dad already lived, because of chronic falls and a failing mind. She spent over seven years there. Over time, her severe arthritis had devoured her joints. Though she’d had hip replacements years earlier, she had used a walker for years. As the years in the home went by, her pain became more difficult to manage. Her knees ground bone on bone. Her wrists were knots, her fingers gnarled. Her spine cracked with each move. She weighed less than 90 pounds. Eventually, her pain was unbearable and it was clear that, five months after my dad’s death, she had no will to go on.

​Hospice, God bless them, was finally allowed to manage her pain. During her death process, my sister and I kept cheering her on. Dad was waiting! Her sisters and parents were waiting! Go, Mom, go! Likely, anyone walking by her room thought we’d finally lost it. But the reality was that she had no quality of life left. She was ready to go.Minding Our Elders bookcover

Grief? Yes. But, relief, as well. Why wouldn’t we feel that way? Could we possibly not see her suffering? Could we possibly think she should go on, so we wouldn’t “lose” our mother? Our mother was fading away before our eyes, in a very painful manner. The medications were not enough to ease her suffering. Only death could do that. And, finally, death did.

A jumble of emotions will always be associated with my parent’s death. I miss them. I wish they could read my column and see Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories as a published book. I wish they could, see, hear and read my interviews. I can be angry that they had to suffer long, slow deaths, if I choose to dwell on that. I do feel grief. But one emotion I don’t have is guilt for feeling relief that their suffering has ended. For that I am grateful.


This blog was originally published on mindingourelders.com

 

Over the span of two decades author, consultant, columnist and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack cared for a neighbor and six elderly family members. Because of this experience, Bradley Bursack created a portable support group – the book “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Her sites, www.mindingourelders.com and www.mindingoureldersblogs.com include helpful resources as well as links to direct support. Bradley Bursack is a newspaper columnist and a consultant who also writes on caregiving and senior issues for several national websites.

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15 Comments

  1. When you’re grieving, there’s so much love you wanted to give to that person but you just couldn’t let him feel that love. It’s like grieving for that love you know worth-giving to that person! Imagine how hard it is to bear that love in yourself which should be given away already..

    Reply
  2. Only death can ease my mom’s suffering. It’s a relief on her and me.

    Reply
  3. Combination of both…

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  4. This is so courageous, it is hard to find people who really tell it like it is

    Reply
  5. I went through this with my Lady 2 1/2 years ago, Not a day goes by without these conflicting feelings. We had 20 beautiful years together, even with the pain, the surgeries, sleepless nights. She and I were relieved when we agreed with the palliative care in hospital. She left, painfree, that was a blessing.

    Reply
  6. I just lost my Mother a couple of weeks ago. You wrote exactly how I feel. She is no longer suffering.

    Reply
  7. To me the relief is short lived. I watched my mom suffer with cancer, she died at the age of 49. I watched my dad suffer with cancer but he died of sever strokes. Through it all I had my husband to be my support system. When my husband got sick, cancer was the last thing I thought I would hear out of our Dr’s mouth. Just about everyone in my family has had cancer, so I always assumed I would go first from cancer. When we took my husband to find out what was wrong and our Dr told us it’s cancer, my whole world crashed right before my eyes. My husband, who was only 48, was told he had less than a yr to live. All he could say was that he was sorry. I was devastated, to say the least. I watched my beautiful husband of 30 yrs slowly, it seemed, fade away from this world. We had always talked about what he should do if I passed before him. We own a construction company. I would tell him, “baby you need to learn how to do this just in case something happens to me”. Unfortunately his family was so devastated that they didn’t know how to handle it. It has literally torn all of us apart. My husband worked up until 2 1/2 weeks before he passed. At first you want to stay positive and think they will beat the odds, as we have met people who have. They were given less than 6 months and 15 yrs later they are still here. One lady my husband met was giving only two weeks to live and she is still here 3 yrs later. I seen my husband give up. I told him it was ok for him to go. He told his mom one morning that he seen his daughter ( we lost 8 babies in a 6 yr period) and she had a little boy with her and she wanted him to come and meet them but he told her he wasn’t ready yet. I was by my husband side the night he died. I was so afraid to leave the house because the Hospice nurse told me that sometimes they will wait till the one that they love the most is not there and then pass. I wasn’t there when my mom passed nor my dad. Both times I was on my way and was too late. I can remember my mom’s sister telling the nurse that Betty needs to get better because we want her here with us and all I could think was “are you crazy, her skin is turning black, she is in a coma state, has no idea what is going on. NO I told her, she has suffered enough. God needs to take her”. I went to my godmothers house and got a prayer called “the 3 beautiful prayers”. I went to my mothers house and asked my mom’s older sister to please leave the room and keep the kids quiet. I said the prayers over my mother and sure enough within 24 hours she passed. I had temporary relief, then the grief set in like a vengeance. I had a hard time dealing with her loss. 5 yrs later my dad passed, it was easier, he was older and ready to go. But my beautiful husband, the relief was there for about 10 hours and then the grief has set in and I have no idea what the hell to do. I am so lost without him. My heart hurts so bad, my soul hurts. I just pray everyday I have the strength to keep on going and not give up. It’s only been 7 months since he passed. I know only time will help at least I pray it will.

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  8. It is grief and relief. Shortly before my dad passed away, he called a family meeting. Dad said, “The doctors have told me they’ve done all they can do. If I live, it is the will of God. If I die, it is the will of God. Death is as much a part of living as life and I just want to say thank you all. I’ve been blessed to have a great family.” Those were his words and that day, I cooked and brought great food to our family home for the meeting… to become our last with him. He would only eat cake and I baked a cake his mom, my grandmother, would bake regularly for their family and from his childhood. When he bit into the cake, you could see the aura of memories of his mother cover his face… he smiled and ate an entire slice. We rejoiced as the cancer had taken his appetite… My mom shouted, “Let him eat cake.”

    Over the next couple of weeks, each of his seven children visited, as well his adult grandchildren… most were still in college. Sharing memories, we would later learn all seven of us told him to take flight… We loved him so much and enough to let him go in peace. All he asked was for us to take care of my mom… his bride of 56 years. He took flight surrounded by most of his family and a smile of peace. In the shock of grief, I shouted go daddy, go from a distance. In my relief, I thanked God. Love took the sting out of his death…

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  9. Thank you. I lost my mother 2 weeks ago after 2 years of caring for her and watching her quality of life she expected deteriorate. She said to me the week before she passed that she was mad at herself because she couldn’t “keep up” with me. I told her, don’t try. You’re 23 years older than me. I can slow down for you. In my grieving process I have come to a point of relief, and guilt, in her passing. I’m glad she’s gone. Glad she can move without pain. Glad she can be free. Glad she can be herself. Namaste.

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  10. You found my words. Thank you so much for this article.

    Reply

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