What Dad taught me about acute care, dying and grief.

3rd October 2022, my father had a heart attack. I was there to witness it. Less than two hours later, my Mum and I sat in Broad Green Hospital in Liverpool thinking this was it. He’d had chest pains, but we had to wait two hours for an ambulance. He told my Mum he loved her, as if preparing himself. Incredibly, he survived. He didn’t remember the attack itself. The NHS is incredibly hard pressed, but what those staff did for my Dad and our family was amazing. He received incredible person centred care as we all did when he passed away peacefully after a stroke in January this year. What do I mean by person centred care in this case? It was obvious that they were incredibly busy, but they always had time for Dad. They treated him with respect. As a fellow human being. Husband. Father. Grandfather. It came from the head and the heart. There was dignity.

Like most people, I dreaded the thought of losing a parent and what was unexpected was how I felt afterwards and how I feel now. Yes, I did buckle with grief on more than one occasion, but what I wasn’t expecting was a sense of relief and freedom. Should I feel guilty about that? No, I don’t think so. I love my Dad and it makes me sad to see what my Mum is going through. You just don’t know how someone will be or react to the death of someone close or even one’s own impending mortality. There was no way my Dad would talk to me about it. That was his choice. I respected that.

In a care setting everyone there will have very different reactions and means of dealing with death. Some may seem inappropriate or gauche to others. Too little. Too much. I am no advocate of the ‘stiff upper lip’, but the cult of showing emotion as a competitive sport leaves me cold. You should feel sad, you should happy’. Our feelings are our own and don’t belong to anyone else. I want to enable people to be authentic, to be real about how they feel. I’m working on that one.

That feeling of freedom I mentioned earlier, is I think about seeing Dad free from pain, that in the end it was a deserved peaceful end for a life where he gave much more than he received. To be honest, I can’t find a word to express how I feel. it changes.

I heard someone on the radio today, express their feelings about death. It’s what I’m trying to aim for and is strangely similar to the words I used in the eulogy at this funeral.

‘Don’t be sad for what you have lost. Be happy for what you have had.’

Consultant Learning & Development Manager
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