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Lost my dad Christmas day. Traumatic death


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I lost my dad on Christmas day after a short battle with cancer he was 59. I found out he was had cancer on my way back from a very close friends funeral. He died 6 weeks later. My dad decided he wanted to die at home so we cared for him as a family. His death was very traumatic, my brother is a doctor and described it s one of the worst deaths he had seen, the palliative support was dreadful and he was often left for periods of time without pain relief ( we are making a complaint) . My main issue at the moment is I am getting horrendous flash backs of the week leading up to his death. I can't get the sound of his breathing out of my head or the look in his eyes (he went blind at the end due to a tumour pressing on his optic nerve). I can't sleep, I'm having panic attacks but desperately trying to keep myself together as I have three small children all under 5 and my husband and I are both in stressful jobs. I don't feel I even got to mourn my friend let alone deal with this... I don't know where to start, I'm usually so strong. 

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Vez, I’m sorry for all the pain and suffering. I remember the last night of breathing from my mom who had COPD among other things. I’m very sorry. I wish I had something I could tell you. It’s good you have at least this mode to share. I also have a grief counselor and I’m joining a grief group in zoom. Take care of yourself

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I can empathize. I lost my mother to pancreatic cancer, on November 2nd, only 5 weeks after diagnosis. It's very difficult bearing witness to a loved one's final illness. Parents take care of us when we are small and provide us with a sense of love and security, then we see them experience pain, hallucinations and delusions, and other aspects of what I once heard so coldly termed "disease processes."

The flashbacks are painful, but it hasn't yet been a month, since your loss. The memories will never go away, but time helps to fade them  One of the therapists with whom I work described it as like an open wound that will eventually scab over. After that, the scab falls off and a scar remains. In the first weeks that followed my mother's death, my own memories of those final five weeks were so vivid it was almost like I was reliving them. Now, two and half months away from her final day, I still see her in that bed and hear what she said, but they memories aren't so crystal clear as to be paralyzing. The important thing to remember is that everyone is different and there is no timeline. Given what you wrote about panic attacks, you might consider talking to your doctor about medicine to help with anxiety. It doesn't have to be a tranquilizer, at least long term. Some antidepressants are good at alleviating anxiety and blocking panic attacks. Talking to a therapist might also help. One thing I recommend is to externalize one's thoughts and feelings. In whatever way you are comfortable, let them out, be it through talking, writing, or even through art and music. You have experienced a profound loss and it will not be easy, but you will eventually come to terms with it. My condolences to you and your family.

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Hi Vez. I'm so sorry you've been struck with two devastating losses close together.  It's normal for you to feel panicked and traumatised. The cruelty is that having to attend to responsibilities such as parenting and work makes it very hard for us to allow ourselves space and understanding for the emotional hurricane that is part of grief. You say that you are normally so strong. Can you reframe the idea of strong to include being able to acknowledge that you are struggling and asking for help from others? You are showing that strength by asking people here. But also talk to friends and family and see a doctor. You might benefit from being signed off work for a few weeks to allow you to grieve and heal a bit more. Can you afford some counselling? It helps to be able to talk to a therapist who can guide you through the traumatic thoughts. There's no way around bereavement, only through it and it will take as long as it takes for you to feel anything close to 'normal' again. 

I lost my father in December to a brain haemmorhage. Because of covid I was not able to see him the first night when he was still conscious. He went into a coma and died three days' later. I completely understand the traumatic thoughts and images. They torture me too. The hospital. Dad's condition. Feeling helpless in the face of all the bad news from the doctors. Feeling terrified that he may be afraid or in pain. Also terrible feelings of guilt and failure that I didn't protect him from what happened. That I didn't see him as much as I wanted before he fell ill. Anger. Shock. Panic and anxiety. I went to my doctor a few days ago and got sleeping tablets to help me sleep as I find that very hard. I've also started antidepressants because I have chronic anxiety anyway and probably should have been on them. That's not for everyone though. Our feelings are very normal at this time, as distressing as they are. I've been signed off work for a couple of weeks because I can't seem to cope with it right now. I know you can't take a break from being a parent but if you have any support from family or friends to give you time off for yourself that might be good. I know this is extra difficult right now with Covid restrictions. I try to talk to friends and family as much as possible. Especially friends who have lost parents. It helps me feel that my experience is not unique and is survivable. I was talking to a therapist myself every week because of anxiety. But sometimes I don't want to talk at all so I stay in a room by myself or go for a walk. A friend sent me Joan Didion 'The Year of Magical Thinking'. I found it helpful to read this unsentimental memoir of grief. I plan to read Pema Chodron's book 'When Things Fall Apart' - this is a Buddhist perspective of loss and pain. I've heard it's very helpful. But despite all this sometimes I just feel miserable without cure and just wish I could sleep. This is normal. Let's give ourselves time to be a mess because we have to be a mess for a while. Those intrusive traumatic images - I completely understand those. I've got slightly better with that lately but who's to say they won't come back again. Someone told me to use a three gate process for these troubling thoughts. If a thought doesn't meet all three criteria, tell it firmly to leave:

1. Is this thought true?

2. Is this thought helpful or useful?

3. Is this thought coming from a place of love and kindness (to me or another)?

This inquiry has helped me bat away some dreadful dark thoughts. Maybe try that?

Above all, be kind to yourself and your family. You're going through immense suffering. Your beloved friend and father are both free from all human pain and suffering now. You and your living loved ones are now the ones in pain. Treat yourself and them with all the love and support you wish you could be giving to those who've left. 

Look after yourself. You will get through this and there will be happy times again. 

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Vex,

I am so sorry for your loss. I know exactly what you mean about the flashbacks. They keep you awake at night and make you feel terrible fear and dread as you relive one of the worst moments of your life. I think Bequet described it perfectly. The memories do not go away but they do fade. I really like the way it was described as an open wound that scabs over but leaves a scar. I promise you the flashbacks will not be as intense with time.

As a Mum to two young children myself I must remind you to take care of you and be kind to yourself. Try and find time to allow you to process your loss and just be with your grief. I know this is not easy. Even just a 10 minute walk alone around the block can make a big difference. 

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