On March 11, 18:11, my dad passed away. After about a year with lung cancer and two weeks with COVID-19, he finally does not have to struggle anymore.
I miss him dearly. After he got COVID, the doctors diagnosed him with pneumonia. He spent a week in the hospital before being released. He needed oxygen 24/7 and, in 30-minute intervals, switched from lucid moments where he was his usual self to a confused state of mind where memories and thoughts meddled with his conscience. When able to talk, he seemed to relive moments from his past mixed with the input his senses gave him.
To take care of him at home, we prepared to take shifts while my mom was out working. From accompanying his tiny steps into the wheelchair to roll him to the lunch table, to help him with the toilet, and patting his head a bit to help him sleep, we have been there for him. Even when his body resisted, he kept a strong mind and was determined to get better.
On March 8, he received new oxygen tanks, and as I got off the phone, he told me: “You didn’t notice, did you? Grandpa just died while you were on the phone.” Grandpa had died 14 years ago. I calmed him down through his confusion, and even when he thought he didn’t need the oxygen mask anymore (because it was all “grandpa’s stuff”), I pleaded with him to keep on the mask – for me. He did listen, but only grudgingly.
Even though his state was a rollercoaster ride in and of itself, I couldn’t help but notice how the downs were becoming stronger and called his doctor to get him into stationary treatment again. I slightly increased the oxygen flow, hoping his state of mind would improve. With COVID raging in his body, his chemotherapy had to be paused, and I wanted him in the hospital for closer monitoring. When my mom arrived, he noticed but fell asleep.
Seeing that things were not improving, mom was paralyzed. She couldn’t believe the reality of what had happened to him. After all, he survived everything else so far. From suspected Tuberculosis, a coma lasting several weeks, broken bones, pneumonia, arthritis, and, most recently, his lung cancer diagnosis. I decided to call an ambulance as I felt him getting weaker and his breaths taking longer and becoming more irregular. When the paramedics arrived and asked him what place we were at and what current month we had, his responses reminded me of my demented grandma – his mom. Incoherent and struggling to overcome the deafening tone of a mental orchestra of old memories and new thoughts. Mom cried the rest of the day, and I didn’t stop hugging her.
A sleepless day and night passed without updates from the hospital. We prepared to get tested and visit him in the afternoon. Regular calls to the station at least assured us that he was still eating a bit and managed to sit up by himself. On the day of the visit, we prepared to head out for the test center and get the documents in order, when the hospital called: We don’t have to get tested anymore and should come as soon as possible. Things were serious.
They had already moved him to a single-bedroom when we arrived. I helped my mom lower the railing on the bed so she could lie next to him. His lips were chapped from the constant breathing and little movement. His fingertips already had begun to turn blue. With his breath even more irregular and in intervals, that would make your heart stop with fear whether he would have the energy for the next one. We hugged him; I stroked his forehead again to calm him down like I did so many times before.
Knowing that he would hear me, I cried at his bedside and assured him that everything would be fine. We will be fine, and my sister and I will take care of mom, no matter what comes. I pressed his hand, and for a few hours, we all were in a stasis of sorrow and disbelief about what was happening right in front of us. Dad was unable to speak, but his eyes spoke volumes. From passion when he kissed mom for the last time, fear when he wanted to breathe but couldn’t, and pain. The doctors gave him morphine to comfort him as he prepared for the following hours.
Like waking up from a nightmare, I realized that I couldn’t bear the thought of being in the same room as him when he did his last breath. Having read about death so many times, the reality was something else entirely. Seeing my factual knowledge of the world reflected in such a cruel way on my own dad would be more than I could handle. I went home while my mom and my sister stayed with him. I lay down on the sofa, the spot where he was lying just two days before, my phone next to me, waiting for the call to tell me the inevitable. At 18:16, my sister called me. Dad had passed away, falling asleep one last time. His lung had given out.
I cannot begin to describe the pain I felt in this moment and continue to feel as I am writing this. As much as I know it will get better over time, I also viscerally feel that it will never disappear. Likewise, I cannot begin to describe the relief I feel. I had the privilege to be with him and say goodbye, that every time I left home, I hugged him like it was the last time, and that we didn’t have any things left unsaid.
He was a fighter and, while not perfect, always kept a positive mindset. He was rebellious in his youth in the GDR, and the socialist regime denied him any form of higher education. He was proud when I did things my way and went on to study computer science. It made him proud, and I like to think he lived his missed university years through me and the stories I brought home.
Now he found out what happens after we die, as one day we all will. The memories we made together will always be close to my heart, and I am grateful for everything he gave me. I love you, dad!