The End of Life Journey: Finding Courage to Say Goodbye

As a society, we're pretty removed from death. We don't think about it. Nothing can prepare you for what it will feel like. Even though I was aware of the end-of-life stages, the pain of witnessing it will always be there. Below is a timeline leading up to my father's unexpected death in February 2020. 

January 23, 2020 

Our father went on life support after suddenly falling ill. He went into the hospital with organ failure, respiratory distress, hallucination, confusion, exhaustion, in and out of consciousness, vomiting, and extremely unwell. He spent the last 7-years fighting this gruesome disease called Multiple Myeloma cancer. We learned that our water had harmful chemicals where we grew up in Brevard County, Florida, and where rockets launch into outer space. 

My father suffered for years and is one of the strongest fighters I have ever seen. He endured intense bone pain, could not walk, was on oxygen, continued wound care, took chemo, and had many hospital visits. 

The most devastating thing to witness as a child is the suffering of a parent and feeling helpless as this disease overtakes their body and mind. I confess that we don't understand why things happen the way they happen, but our faith leads us to believe that God walks every life path with us. I pray for strength, clarity, and peace in the upcoming days.

January 26, 2020 

Our father had the life support tube removed to breathe on his own. The first thing he asked for was coffee. That's our Italian father. His heart rate is high, and they are monitoring his breathing. We are taking each day at a time.

January 30, 2020 

I sit by my father's side as he continues to deteriorate from this sudden illness that his body cannot handle due to cancer. He is frail and unable to drink water hardly. He looks tired, weak, and uncomfortable. I'm not sure if he knows just how sick he is, but he has always been a fighter, stubborn, and fierce. 

“A father holds his daughter’s hand for a short while, but he holds her heart forever.”

January 31, 2020 

His only wish was for all of his kids to be here. Tonight we were finally in the same room together with him.

He was insistent about wanting us to shave off his facial hair. As the room was full of chatter, we slowly cut away his beard. He was in and out of consciousness, but through those moments of fighting sleep, he continued to try and make us laugh in his uniquely humorous way.

He was quieter than usual and seemed to notice that we were all there. He did something out of the ordinary for the first time in the past few weeks. He asked us to leave. He insisted that he wanted to go to sleep and that we all left. 

One by one, we prepared to leave and assured him that we were all okay and together. The last thing I said to him was, "Dad, allow your faith to be bigger than your fears." The following morning we planned to have a difficult conversation with him and the palliative nurse. 

“Whatever I might have imagined a terminal diagnosis would do to my spirit, it summoned quite the opposite - the greatest appreciation for life itself. So I will never give up, and I will never give in.” - Craig Sager

“But standing in that hallway, it was all coming back to me. Memories were waiting at the edges of things, beckoning me.” - Neil Gaiman

February 1, 2020 

This morning we walked into a chaotic room of doctors and nurses trying to stabilize him. They had to put him back on life support. It took nearly seven hours for the ICU to stabilize him. The Doctors said he is at high risk for cardiac arrest, among other things. I believe my father tried to let go this morning, but he didn't sign a DNR. 

God, Help my father discover your peace. Let him receive your comfort. Please help him to be at rest and calm his soul.

February 2, 2020 

My little brother passed out in the ICU waiting room. That exhaustion sums up our past few weeks. We all are sick from an upper respiratory illness and dealing with this at the same time. We had a confusing and challenging conversation with a palliative care nurse and doctor. We watched our father in pain and suffering for so long, and the reality of saying goodbye is hard. He wanted to live to see his grandkids grow up, which pushed him to fight against this disease even harder. 

February 3, 2020 

Hour by hour today, we cried, laughed, shared memories, and at times we were left speechless. The scenes we witnessed within the past few weeks will always haunt our minds, but the love surrounding us by family and friends will forever be cherished. We continue to pray for peace and understanding as we watch our father continue to worsen. His mind is still healthy, but his body is shutting down. 

February 4, 2020 

It is one of the most unexplainable conversations anyone can have to tell a parent they are dying and that you'll be okay. We expressed our love, thanked him for being an amazing father, told him we were all together, that he was okay, and to allow his faith to be bigger than his fears. He was able to look us in the eyes and cry without being able to speak, and that is an image I'll forever have engraved in my mind. He communicated with us by squeezing our hands, blinking, and staring at our faces. He was slowly slipping away as his body continued to shut down. 

February 6, 2020 

This morning at 7:20 am, at the age of 59, our father went to heaven. Our dad has always been unpredictable, intense, and stubborn. He fought a good fight. He went peacefully with the people he loved. 

Having to tell someone you love that it’s okay to let go is one of the world's most complex and indescribable feelings. Watching them hurt and in fear pushes you to be strong in those moments. It’s as if there’s a barrier put up so that all emotions can’t escape until things slow down and you can grasp everything you witnessed and went through. 

Those ending moments will forever be in our memories. I don’t know how people cope without faith. I believe my dad is in a better place and not suffering.

I’m incredibly grateful for our family and friends who came together and shared their memories with us. My father was a headstrong Italian who fought until the very end.

He would give the shirt off his back to anyone in need. He raised our childhood friends, was the master at fixing things, made his daughters independent, walked like a gangster after breaking his ribs, built a treehouse from which we kids could jump onto a trampoline, and was always on the go even though with his oxygen tank. Sometimes he needed anger management but made the best out of what he had.

I miss hearing his snoring, his bushy eyebrows raise up and down to our crazy antics, his loud Italian voice, his pranks, his laugh, our late-night coffee runs, racing him around the hospital in a wheelchair, and being told: “you worry too much.” I cherish the details of every memory.

“A father’s love is forever imprinted on his child’s heart.” – Jennifer Williamson

We want to take this opportunity to express our sincerest appreciation for the thoughtfulness presented to us and the love we have during our time of sadness. 

It has been such a comfort to know that you were thinking of us while we said goodbye to our wonderful father. It’s been a tough few weeks, but we are getting through it with the support of friends like you. Thank you for showing us that we are not alone in our grief and for your loving support.

In loving memory of Serafino F. Roccella from April 24, 1960, to February 6, 2020. We will carry on his legacy.

February 7, 2020 

Exactly seven years ago today, our family waited 18 hours as my little brother went through open-heart surgery at the age of 21 to remove scattered tumors. A biopsy of the tumors introduced our family to the world of cancer. One by one, we were diagnosed. That year would forever change our lives. It has become an unthinkable journey of blood cancer and discovering carcinogens in our water. It never gets easier; we get stronger.
#FightForZero #OneFamilyOneCancer #MultipleMyeloma #BloodCancer #ProtestPFAS 

The best resource I found about terminal illness and the end-of-life stages is this Last day of Life summary online. Please take the time to read through it and learn what to expect when it comes to saying goodbye to your loved one. 

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