The End of Life Journey: Finding Courage to Say Goodbye

As a collective, our connection with death is somewhat distant in society. It rarely consumes our thoughts, leaving us ill-prepared for the emotional impact it imposes. Despite possessing knowledge about the stages preceding the end of life, the anguish experienced when personally witnessing it lingers indefinitely. Presented herewith is a chronology outlining the events preceding my father's unforeseen passing in February 2020.

January 23, 2020

Our father was placed on life support following an abrupt deterioration in his health. His admission to the hospital was due to organ failure, respiratory distress, hallucinations, confusion, exhaustion, intermittent consciousness, vomiting, and severe illness. He bravely battled the devastating Multiple Myeloma cancer for seven years. It came to our attention that the water in our hometown of Brevard County, Florida, also the site of rocket launches into outer space, contained hazardous chemicals.

My father had been in constant agony for a long time, and he remains among the most resilient warriors I have encountered. He withstood excruciating discomfort in his bones, his mobility was severely restricted, he relied on oxygen support, received ongoing treatment for his wounds, underwent chemotherapy, and made frequent visits to the hospital.

As a child, there is nothing more heart-wrenching than observing your parent's agony and feeling utterly powerless as this ailment consumes their physical and mental state. I must admit that the reasoning behind life's unpredictability eludes us. However, our beliefs drive us to trust that God accompanies us at every step. May we find solace, determination, and tranquility in the days ahead through fervent prayer. 

January 26, 2020

Our dad no longer needed a life support tube to breathe, and he wanted coffee as soon as it was taken out. He's a true Italian at heart. The doctors are keeping a close eye on his high heart rate and how he's breathing. We're just taking things one day at a time.

January 30, 2020
I am sitting beside my father as he gets sicker from a sudden illness that his cancer-stricken body is struggling to cope with. He is weak and can barely drink water. He appears tired, feeble, and uneasy. I'm not sure if he fully understands the extent of his sickness, but he has always been a determined, stubborn, and strong-willed person.

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

January 31, 2020
He simply wanted his kids to be there. At last, this evening, we gathered in the same hospital room with him. He asked us to remove his facial hair. Amidst a crowd of people chatting, we carefully trimmed his beard. He was somewhat unconscious, yet he made us giggle with his funny gestures despite struggling to stay awake. Being less chatty than usual, he asked us to go. He strongly stressed his need for sleep and wanted the room to be empty. That was an unusual request coming from him.

We each prepared to leave, assuring him we were all fine and staying together. Finally, I told him, "Dad, allow your faith to be bigger than your fears." The next day, we planned to have a challenging talk with him with a nurse specializing in palliative care.
“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 entered a busy room with doctors and nurses working to stabilize him. They had to reconnect him to life support. It took almost seven hours for the intensive care unit to get him stable. The doctors mentioned that he is at a high risk of experiencing a heart attack, along with other potential complications. I think my father may have wanted to give up this morning, but he didn't express his wish not to be resuscitated.

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 younger brother fell asleep in the waiting room of the intensive care unit; this is how tired we have been in the past few weeks. All of us are sick with a respiratory illness, and we are dealing with it together. We had a confusing talk with a nurse and doctor specializing in providing comfort care for patients. We witnessed our father in pain and enduring suffering for a long time, and it isn't easy to accept that we have to let him go. He wanted to stay alive to see his grandchildren grow up, so he fought against the disease with all his strength. 

February 3, 2020 

Today, as the hours passed, we experienced a rollercoaster of emotions. We shed tears, laughed, and shared precious memories. Some moments were so overwhelming that we couldn't even find the words to express ourselves. The things we have seen in the past few weeks will forever stay in our minds, haunting us. However, we find solace in the love and support of our loved ones. It is something we will always treasure. As we witness our father's health deteriorate, we pray for peace and understanding. Although his mind is still sharp, his body slowly gives up on him.

February 4, 2020
Telling a parent that they're dying and assuring them that you'll be alright is a really difficult conversation to have. We told our dad how much we loved him, thanked him for being an amazing father, reassured him that we were all there for him, and encouraged him to have faith over fear. He couldn't speak, but we could see the emotions in his eyes as he cried. We communicated through hand squeezes, blinks, and eye contact. It was heart-wrenching to witness him gradually losing strength as his body started shutting down.

February 6, 2020
This morning, at 7:20 a.m., our father passed away at the age of 59 and joined heaven. Our dad was always full of surprises, passionate, and very determined. He faced many challenges bravely. He peacefully left this world surrounded by his loved ones. 

Telling someone you love that it's alright to move on is a tremendously complicated feeling to put into words. Seeing them in pain and fear makes you resilient in those moments. It's like there's a wall preventing any emotions from coming out until things calm down and you can fully comprehend everything you just experienced.

The memories of those last moments will always stay with us. I can't imagine how people deal with difficult times without faith. I have a belief that my father is now in a happier and pain-free place.

I am thankful for our family and friends who gathered and told us their memories. My father was a determined Italian who fought until the very last moment.

He was always generous and willing to help anyone in need, even giving them the clothes he was wearing. He cared for our friends when we were kids, was skilled at repairing things, taught his daughters to be self-reliant, bravely walked despite having broken ribs, constructed a treehouse for us to jump onto a trampoline, and remained active despite relying on an oxygen tank. Occasionally, he struggled with controlling his anger, but he always made the most of his situation.

I long for the sound of his snoring, the way his eyebrows would go up and down when we did silly things, his loud Italian voice, his playful tricks, his laughter, the times we would go out for late-night coffee, the moments when we raced each other in wheelchairs at the hospital, and when he would tell me that I worry too much. I treasure all the little details of every memory we shared.

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

We want to take this moment to thank you sincerely for your kindness and the love you have shown us during this difficult time.

We appreciate your thinking about us as we bid farewell to our amazing father. These past few weeks have been difficult, but with friends like you, we are finding the strength to get through it. Thank you for demonstrating that we are not alone in our sadness and for your assistance.

We remember and honor Frank, who lived from April 24, 1960, to February 6, 2020. We will continue to preserve and carry forward his accomplishments and values.

February 7, 2020
Exactly seven years ago today, my family and I anxiously waited for 18 long hours while my younger brother underwent a major operation on his heart. He was only 21 years old at that time, and the surgery aimed to remove tumors that had spread throughout his body. It was during this biopsy procedure that we first became acquainted with the devastating reality of cancer. Unfortunately, one after another, each member of our family received the same diagnosis of this terrible disease. That year marked a significant turning point in our lives, altering them in ways we could never have imagined. 

We have since embarked on an incredibly challenging journey, grappling with various forms of blood cancer and uncovering harmful substances in our water supply that contribute to the development of cancer. Coping with these ordeals never becomes any easier, but we have managed to grow stronger in the face of adversity.