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Father died in an unusual way and it is hampering me moving on


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This is my first time posting here, and only second time on a grieving support group.

My father died in May last year, and the suddenness of it, the circumstances in which it happened and the aftermath are making it difficult for me to grieve and move on, and difficult to find support.

My brother suffers from epilepsy caused by a brain tumour.  Last year he decided to have an operation to remove the tumour, and hopefully lead a normal life.  It was his second operation, as for the first one, three years earlier, not all of the tumour could be removed due to its location, and so the epilepsy remained.  His surgeon persuaded him to have another try.

For the last operation my parents flew in to take care of him.  The operation is long and difficult, and the recovery is slow, and as my brother is single and living alone, he needed someone there to care for him.  My parents flew in for this second operation, my father arriving the day before, and was able to take him to the hospital and make sure he was ok.  My mother arrived the day after the operation.  My parents divorced in '99, and my father remarried, and had another child, my half sister.  

So that is the background.

When my father arrived the day before the operation (Monday) he joked with my brother that he thought he might have malaria.  He said it was most likely just a bug he had picked up that he couldn't shake.  A few weeks earlier he had spent a long weekend in a malarial region - but we didn't know, he hadn't taken any anti malarial tablets while he was there.

He took my brother to his operation the next day (Tuesday), and unfortunately, just like last time, they couldn't remove the last part of the tumour.  My father messaged the family with the news, and apart from seeming a bit tired he appeared normal.

He visited my brother in hospital the next morning (Wednesday), and appeared very tired.

When my mother arrived later that day on seeing him she knew immediately that something was wrong.  She suggested he get to hospital but he said he had forgotten to bring his medical card.  My mother was so worried she called my stepmother, and finally in the evening she had a copy of his medical insurance card.  Again she tried to persuade him to go to hospital but he said it was late, he would go in the morning.  

The next day (Thursday) he was a different person.  He had yellow skin, he was having episodes of confusion, as though he had dementia, and he had been passing dark red urine, all night.  She got him to hospital where they ran tests and diagnosed malaria, which had advanced to the point of black water fever. His kidneys were failing, his liver was failing, and the illness had got into his bone marrow. He was put into a room in the next ward to my brother - literally only a few rooms away from him.  

At this point myself, and brother - who was heavily medicated in hospital and sleeping most of the time - were completely unaware of what was happening to my father.  I had flown to London to house sit for my mother, and a friend was taking care of my two teenage children.  My mother had made the decision not to tell us, and I only found out at lunchtime on Thursday when I called her because I was struggling to get something working in her house.  My mother asked me not to tell my brother, but on realising it was serious, I messaged him anyway, and he read the message when he next awoke.  He was unable to leave his bed as he was hooked up to so many machines, but decided he would go and see my father the following morning.

A few hours later, with my mother there, my father suffered a fatal heart attack.  Doctors tried to resuscitate him for 15 minutes with no luck.  

The doctors, knew my brother was there, but not realising my parents were no longer married (my mother still having the same surname) were amazing, and took great care of her- thinking she was his widow.  My mother phoned me in London with the news shortly after, and it felt as though my world ended.

When my stepmother called the hospital to see how he was doing, they didn't know who she was, and told her he had died, without the care or delicacy that would have been expected  for giving someone the news that their husband had just died.

That evening on speaking to the doctors who had tried to resuscitate him she found out, that in the final stages of malaria every hour counts, and my father may well have survived had he gone to hospital the evening before.  If he had gone to the doctor on the Monday, or Tuesday he would have simply needed a heavy course of pills.  He died for no reason, other than being too busy with work to go to the doctor when he felt sick.

The whole situation was awful. My mother was thousands of miles from home, trying to care for my brother, having been with my father for his last 24 hours of life, trying desperately to save him, my stepmother and half sister not there, and me in a different country to my kids, having to tell them by phone that the grandfather they loved and were close to had died.

My stepmother turned up the next evening (Friday) and said she wanted the funeral held as quickly as possible so she could get back to her daughter (my half sister). My mother couldn't cope and arranged for me to fly over as quickly as possible.  The next flight was Saturday evening, and I arrived on Sunday.  A family member arranged for my kids to fly too, and so their first every flight alone, was across to the other side of the world, with two airport changes. I was terrified for them, but there was nothing I could do, as I was also on an overnight flight, and not able to communicate with them. 

We got there and everything was as bad as expected. My stepmother had brought a friend with her for emotional support, and this person was awful towards us trying to make us feel as though we weren't his real family. The funeral was to be on Monday, the next day, and my brother was trying to get himself rushed out of hospital as he desperately wanted to be there.  In the end the chapel was booked up, and the funeral was held on Tuesday morning.  My brother managed to get himself released from hospital, but was bandaged and weak.  

My children and I, my mother, my stepmother, my father's sister, also flown over from London, and the random friend of my stepmother's who everyone disliked, said goodbye to my father, just four and a half days after he had died, a long way from home.  I couldn't believe that the person in the coffin, right there was my father.  I had been texting him and speaking to him normally right up until Wednesday. We had had a holiday together just a few months earlier, as he wanted to cheer me up after a relationship break up. He was a formidable man, and it seemed impossible that such a thing could have taken him down so suddenly.  It was surreal to me that he was no longer there.

In his last hours he had told my mother that he was glad she was there with him, rather than my stepmother.  Each small detail that came out over the following days and weeks, and even months, has made the fact of his death even more painful for me.  His best friend from school was living nearby, something no one knew until the news of his death circulated.  The rushed funeral deprived him of being  there.  My parents had met each other for the first time in that very city, 39 years later my mother was with him when he died.

I have been unable to move forward with my grieving.  I have been unable to get much support from my circle of friends because, although they want to, I can tell when I talk about it, that it is outside of their own experience and they don't know what to say.  The friend who took care of my kids for me lost his mother suddenly not long after and that has taken over the space that they had for my grief, and I have not been able to speak about my father's death to my circle of friends meaningfully since then.

My mother and brother are traumatised by the experience, my stepmother and I no longer speak, my kids, and my half sister are teenagers, and I cannot/will not lean on them for support as they are all at critical points in their education.

Oddly enough the best support I had was on flying home.  A kind stranger asked me why I was travelling and when I told my story, they were lovely, and so was everyone else in the row of seats near me. I imagine they must have heard what I was saying.  Maybe they understood about epilepsy, or maybe about malaria, as we were flying back from Africa, or maybe they just understood how difficult a sudden death of a parent is when you live a long way away, and when there are two families involved.  I don't know, but they were lovely, and I felt their kindness.

If you have got this far, thank you for reading it.  I am hoping that sharing  this with others who have lost a parent and are still grieving will help me, and maybe help others who have lost their parent in a way that others struggle to relate to.



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CHazelW,   you really have been through a traumatic experience, not just the shocking loss of your dear father but breakdown and the loss of the family relationships and dynamics too.  I'm so sorry, it really is life changing and must be such a struggle to make sense of it all.  I live in different country to my parents, brother and extended family so I can relate to that desperation of trying to be with them during a crisis. I spent all of January with my brother and dad and family after my mother's sudden passing, I missed my kids very much but i had no choice to be apart from them to be with my mother before her passing and my family plus take care of the funeral and all the other things after the loss.  I know that we run on adrenaline during those times of high stress and then it's only later that we can allow ourselves to step back and realise what we have been through and let ourselves grieve.  I found after being on auto-pilot for a month, organizing everything and arranging care for my dad, it was when i came home that i finally 'crashed' with grief and was hit with the truth of what had happened.  This forum will help you I'm sure, especially as you say you have difficulty getting support from your friends now.   I have found that the pandemic has taken over this year and my grief and loss is not at the forefront of my friends minds now....and that's ok because...life,  so it does help to check in on here and read posts, get support and empathy. Remember there is no time line for grief, you can't rush through it and check the boxes (I personally do not like the 'stages of grief' model...i think we can jump from stage to stage and go back and forth and it's still normal) be gentle with yourself and keep talking about how you feel.  ((hugs))

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Thank you so much for your supportive message, Peony.  I can completely relate to you describing the 'auto-pilot' effect straight afterwards, during the time of arranging everything, and dealing with family.  I had exactly that experience too.  And the difficulty of being so spread out, when something like this happens.  I'm so glad I'm not alone in this experience. 

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you are definitely not alone even though you feel it sometimes. I tend to 'live in my head' a lot which is not always a good thing especially with grief. I find keeping a journal helps me to express my sadness, anger and deep grief. It's my place to let it all out because i spend each and every day putting on a 'face' to spare others from my sadness...especially my kids. Try keeping a journal, it really helps. 

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