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On Finding Peace with Death

I’ve been quiet. Really quiet. For several reasons.

Work has been busy. Really busy. Good busy. Exciting, new, challenging busy. But busy nonetheless.

More than that, though, there are a couple of things on my mind that are quieting my muse.

Pregnancy. It’s different this time. I spent much of the first trimester nauseated. And I’m still feeling exhausted. Yet, many nights, unable to sleep. There are, understandably, a lot of mixed emotions and feelings with this pregnancy. Mostly, joy and excitement. But Mr. B and I both look to each other for constance reassurance and support as we continue to work through nerves and uncertainty as the pregnancy continues. (So far, all looks good, though, and every ultrasound so far has brought positive news.)

But, mostly, it’s my dad. You see, my dad? He’s dying. And it’s not in the all-of-us-are-dying sort of way.

I mean, he probably won’t die tomorrow. But, he won’t ever get to meet Sprout. And Sprout won’t ever get to meet him.

The nurse thinks that, before long, Hospice will be called in. And then? It’s a matter of time.

So, this post, it’s not one of my more uplifting, optimistic posts about life and love. I mean, it is — in a way. But, it’s about death. And I am crying my way through writing it.

Death

Penelope’s death changed me in many ways. Not the least of which is in how I view death. Some people may think I’ve become colder, more indifferent when death comes knocking.

Rather, it is quite the opposite.

When Penelope Joy died, something inside me shifted. Her death was … devastating … in a way that only losing your child can be devastating. It forever changed me. It changed my life as I knew it. And it changed Life as I knew it.

It also changed Death.

Deaths of people I loved have, in the past, made me angry at the world for stealing yet another person from me whom I loved. Dearly.

When Penelope Joy died, though, I learned something critical. Critical to my survival. And critical to my world view. Death is part of life. It is a beautiful part of life. Yes, it can be tragic. It can pull the ground right out from under your feet, leaving you trying to regain your footing for weeks, months, years. Forever.

But, as Mr. B and I held Penelope Joy in our arms as she took her last breaths, I have never felt more at peace, or more reassured, than I did right then. Her death released her from a suffering she could only know in this world. And, in a way, it released us as well. Watching your daughter struggle day in and day out is heart-breaking. It is exhausting. And it can destroy you. Knowing that we were able to send her out of this world in peace saved us.

Would we have done anything in our power to save her life? Yes. Absolutely. We’d have gone to the ends of the earth and spared no expense. But when it became clear over and over again that all we were doing was extending her suffering for our benefit, letting her go was the only choice we could make. It was then that we learned a valuable lesson. It was then that we truly, truly understood the sacrifice of parenthood.

It was then that we understood Death.

And I think that’s why the looming death of my dad has not destroyed me. Am I sad? Terribly. Do I cry? Often. Do I wish I could spend every waking moment by his bedside — soaking up as many glances into his sparkling blue eyes as possible? 100 percent yes.

But, in a way, Alzheimer’s disease took my dad from us a long time ago. When he was diagnosed, he lost his will to fight. He gave in to the disease, and it quickly obliged — taking from him every piece of the man who was my dad.

We are left, after a 30-some-day free-fall into the abyss of Alzheimer’s disease, with a dying man, unable to form a real sentence, unable to get out of bed, unable to recognize most of us. He is not the man who raised me. He is not the man who, just 10 months ago, glowed with excitement at meeting my precious Penelope Joy. He is barely even a shadow of that man.

Grammy and Papa with Penelope Joy

Dad couldn’t stop grinning any time he was near Penelope Joy.

IMG_20131001_162908_403

This will forever be one of my favorite memories of my dad and Penelope Joy. And I will carry it with my in my heart. Always and forever.

Dad’s death, whether it happens before I hit “Post” or in a few weeks or in a couple of months, will set him free. While he was still able to form thoughts and sentences, we all knew he hated what the disease was doing to him. We all knew he didn’t want to live like this.

So, when Alzheimer’s disease does to him what it does to every single person* who has the disease, my dad will finally be at peace. Like Penelope Joy, he won’t suffer anymore. And he won’t be living a life we all know makes him miserable.

And there is comfort in that. And there is peace.


*I want to take this opportunity to provide just a little education about Alzheimer’s disease. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. There are approximately 500,000 people dying each year because they have Alzheimer’s. And every person — every single one of them — who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease will die with it. There is no cure. There is no treatment. There are a lot more eye-opening statistics where these came from. Please take some time to learn a little more from the Alzheimer’s Association

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