The Art of Relating

with Christine Kniffen, MSW, LCSW,
Therapist & Relationship Coach

The Story of My Dad

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For those of you who do not know, my father passed away a few weeks ago. It’s something that everyone, eventually, has to experience. But, it is really hard for people to relate to unless you have gone through it. There are so many different circumstances that people face regarding the death of a parent. If it was sudden and unexpected, then it produces once set of feelings to endure. If you know it is coming, as like with my father, then a whole different set of emotions is possible.

My dad was a unique story. Roughly eight years ago he suffered a major hemorrhagic stroke and was in the hospital for just over three months or roughly one quarter of a year. I saw my father the next morning. He was sitting up in a chair and said, “Well, hi” when I came in. That seemed encouraging. However, the shunt they had to place in his head got infected and all hell broke loose then. He was given such high doses of antibiotics to fight the non-resistant bacteria that his kidneys tanked. After, some bit of recovery, he ended up with about 1/3 of their original function. He could not fully stand after that and had to go to a nursing home for rehab for six weeks post hospital stay. My mother was there every day throughout the long ordeal, as were the rest of us. Needless to say we were thrilled when we finally got him home.

My dad was an interesting case. His short term memory was “fried” from all of the damage. Thankfully he knew all of us and was able to walk and talk just fine. However, he could never remember anything new that happened since the stroke. He no longer worked or drove, but since that occurred after the stroke he could not remember it. Therefore, he thought he was still working and driving, calling you “crazy” if you tried to correct him and recount the whole story of what had happened to him. It took a lot of time to try to figure out the balance between giving him the truth and not stirring up needless arguments. It didn’t bother me to avoid the arguments, but my mom’s understandable stance that we needed to be “honest” with him did at times aggravate the situation at the moment.
My dad was always the guy that worked out of the basement. He was a real estate appraiser/ broker and was gone quite a bit while always seeming to be working. He had grown up on a farm, homesteading in Montana, and it was quite tough to say the least. By his own admission he had never learned to say “I love you”, as “we really couldn’t talk like that” he would say. He always provided for us, but I really didn’t have a very strong connection at all when I look back on it. But, things really changed after the stroke. A great gift was had in that he had finally been slowed down enough to learn to “let the love in” and express just how important we all were to him. If the stoke had not have happened, then this is a side we most assuredly may have never seen.

My father’s last years were filled with many exclamations of “I really like you” or “I really like my family”. His whole face would light up when he said it, conveying to us all of the genuine authenticity of the feelings. He was never a hugger prior to the stroke. Yet afterwards he would always come up asking for hugs from my mom and me. He said, “They really help, but I don’t know why”. In his last year I taught him to say “I love you”. I said, “See, you really can teach an old dog new tricks” and he would just smile a big grin back at me.

My father took a turn for the worse and we discovered he had congestive heart failure in February of this year. Exactly two months prior to his death we got him linked with hospice. It was a terrific experience for all of us. It provided more support for us than we realized. My dad was fortunately spared being scared about the prospect of death, because he couldn’t retain that he had heart failure and was not going to make it that long. So, he was a real trooper and very positive, as he had always been, right up to the end. It gave me great comfort to know that he did not have to deal with the idea of dying. He was always just in the moment.

I was able to be there just as he passed. I must say that the overriding feeling I had was relief. Relief for my mother, as he could not be let out of her sight for the last 8 years, never left alone for even a minute. I felt relief for him, as he could no longer get out of bed. And I felt a good deal of relief for me, as it had been 8 years of constant attention to his medical conditions and any slight changes in his energies, abilities, etc. I was continually researching and calling the doctor anytime there was the slightest change in his condition. Since he couldn’t be left alone, I was needed at their house multiple times a week so my mom could run to the store or I could help her get him to the doctor. But after the initial relief, I have had bouts of sadness to contend with as well.
My father was 86 years old and although we had time to prepare for this, I wasn’t ready to let him go. After all, I had just found this new relationship and closeness in the last 8 years since his stroke. I had just come to know the “I like you Chrissy” statements and experience all of the wonderful hug requests. I miss my father very much. But, I am thankful for the “gift” of his stroke, as it slowed him down so he could experience the “love” before he left this world. I will always be grateful for having had this chance to connect with my dad.

Christine Kniffen, LCSW is a Therapist and a Relationship Coach. For a free consultation call 314-374-8396.