It’s been 6 months since my Dad went to Heaven. My last blog ended with us wondering if Dad would make it to Thanksgiving because none of us expected him to make it to Halloween. Well, as we know, he died the week before Thanksgiving, but we were so lucky to have him for as long as we did.
So here we sit 6 months later. It’s quiet. It’s hard. It’s sucks. And I’m calling on my Dad right now to help me with these words—these feelings, and truly reaching for the positivity that he would want me to put in here.
When he was dying, actively dying, it was amazing how many special people showed up. Nonstop, there was an open revolving door at my sister Laurie’s house. The love we felt during that time was overwhelming and coincided with a plethora of emotions we’ve never felt before. We so needed you then, and as we navigate this whole process, we still, only 6 months later, we still need you now.
I don’t think or know that people talk about dying, death and grieving enough so I am going to tell our story. Dad had cancer for 11 years. We knew, and he knew, that he was going to die, but no matter how much you prepare, you literally have NO idea what it means or feels like when the person you love the most takes their last breath, nor when you watch them do it.
The night Dad died was actually quite special, he knew he wasn’t alone. Our hospice nurse, who I will deem Saint Devon, was well a saint, as I would like to believe most hospice nurses are. He was transparent during the whole process when we asked questions about how much time we had—and I will never forget sitting around the kitchen table with my mom and sisters and him telling us that we were in the final hours.
The troops showed up during these final hours (you know who you are). The love surrounded him. People had their alone time, the group said their goodbyes. When Dad took his last breath, Laurie, Karen, Mom and I were lying in bed with him, surrounded by tear-filled loved ones that couldn’t leave his side, and we didn’t want them to.
He took his last sweet, serene breath, and there was peace. My compassionate beautiful cousin, who was a long term care nurse, suggested a nice thing to do, to join hands and just say something, anything. I think we prayed, but everyone in the room (say 20 of us) shared their favorite thing about Dad, Jack. I’m not sure if I actually spoke, but it was one of the most touching moments of my life. Thank you Kristen. A little bit later a second hospice nurse arrived to declare his time of death, which was at 1:43AM.
What comes after this moment is a complete whirlwind. In some ways we thought we were prepared because we knew Dads wants and wishes. We talked with him about all of this; we had pre-planned just weeks prior in terms of his burial plot, the church and Priests for his ceremony, what would happen with his body. Those were the major logistics. But then there is so much more to do right after a person dies.
Letting people know that he actually died was a shitty one; I called few people, sent texts to most and then Laurie, Karen and I simultaneously made Facebook posts letting the rest of our world know. After that we plodded through the songs to be played at the funeral, figured out the food served at the “mercy meal,” decided on what to dress him in, shopped for what we should wear, secured childcare for the kids while figuring all this out, amongst many, many other things that I can’t recall at this moment.
My biggest challenge during this time was finding the words to write the obituary and what to say during his eulogy. My Mom, Laurie, Karen and I worked on all this together. It’s almost as if you have to put aside the fact that your loved one actually died and shift your focus onto all these other things, not giving you the opportunity to feel the weight of the death. So for me being forced to write was my first point in “pushing through” grief I guess. The words just came, they had to. The obituary published, and 2 days later we said our final goodbyes.
We opted to skip the wake. We had Dad’s celebration of life, his living wake if you will, when he was here with us just 8 weeks prior. I suppose that’s the “benefit” when you know someone is going to die.
The morning of his funeral we had a private viewing with the immediate family and gave him our last kisses. I think he’d be proud of his funeral mass; Laurie Karen and I delivered the words of remembrance through tears and laughter and we closed the service by singing God Bless America. From what I remember of his burial ceremony was that it was a beautiful sunny day, he’d want it to be that way. After the bugler played the military taps, a gust of wind came through when the Navy man handed my mom his flag, and I was told an airplane flew overhead at some point. We had someone sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow—my parents wedding song. And then played a very touching song called If I Die, which so much of it rings true to my Dad.
The after “party” caused me a lot of anxiety, but I think it was a nice tribute to him. The room was filled with family and friends from near and far, his treasured Victrola’s were on display, and Guinness was flowing in his honor. After all this—this whirlwind, that’s when it gets quiet, as I’ve stated before.
I know there are books, and blogs and whatnot about grief, but what is happening right now just sucks. You don’t know, until you know. And every person’s situation is different when someone dies—keep that in mind when offering condolences.
So here we are 6 months later and it still doesn’t feel real. Right after he died I went numb, literally numb for nearly 2 months. I couldn’t cry and my Mom and my sisters couldn’t stop crying—can’t stop crying. I have cried since, but still cannot seem to make sense of this or what this thing called grief is. I often reach for my phone to call or text my dad to get advice or help me fix something and quickly realize he’s not going to be on the other end, and that’s when my heart shatters—again. Repeatedly. Over and over again. I need him so much; I miss him so much.
I am struggling with permanence; the fact that I won’t be able to see, hear or hug his physical being ever again.
I see his smiling face every morning when I have my coffee (his superman picture is right next to my Keurig); and will catch a glimpse of him on my fridge or other various places in the house, and I smile, because he’d want me to, but then become filled with a sadness when I quickly come to the realization that he’s not coming back.
But he does show up. Like we asked him to. He makes his presence known through ladybugs and frogs and cardinals and songs, and coincidences that just can’t be explained. And oddly enough, he’s sitting in my kitchen. Quite literally; we had a mock burial, so after the service he was cremated and his beautiful wooden urn is sitting in my kitchen until we bury him this summer. He wanted to be cremated to be sure that every last cancer cell in his body was killed, pulverized, annihilated.
The coolest thing about having him cremated is that we asked to have his cremains, or ashes, filled into 36 small vials so we can spread his ashes in special places. So Dad comes on vacation with us; we’ve done this twice already. The only rule is that the 4 of us have to be together. Over St. Patrick’s Day weekend, we were all in Naples, FL and brought Dad to a special place where he and Mom would catch the sunset, and spread his ashes in the ocean. Earlier this month we were in Jamaica, which was also a special place for our family, and let him go in the ocean. This summer we will head back to the house were we had our last family vacation and will set him free there too. Which, by the math means we have 6 more special trips we need to take (Mimi!) and bring him with us so we continue to keep his memory alive.
And in keeping him alive, his name, Bampie, is spoken so often everyday in my house. The kids will see a ladybug on a cartoon on TV, and say “Mom! Look! Bampie!” And I know the same happens in my sister’s homes. We talk about him ALL the time. And we won’t stop, and apparently, neither have other people.
Three weeks after he died we went to accept a lifetime achievement award on his behalf from the Patient’s View Institute, this was an incredibly touching evening that made us even more proud of the man we already knew he was. Since then there have been blogs written, conversations had, and most recently we found out that a doctor my father had worked with had accepted an award in Amsterdam and dedicated it to my Dad. There is more to his life out there that we can’t even begin to scratch the surface on. He was a bit of a celebrity in his circles! We are going to keep talking about him, and keep doing the good things he’s done. The Jack Whelan Foundation was incorporated in 2017 and his legacy will stay alive, stay tuned.
With that, thank you to everyone that keeps talking about my Dad. And thank you to everyone that has and continues to show up, and I mean that in so many aspects; whether you followed him and us on this journey, sent socks, partied with us at his celebration of life, brought or sent food, were there with us to say goodbye, came to the funeral, sent a card, made a phone call, prayed, or thought of us and didn’t know what to say—thank you. And for those of you who do still check in, thank you, we need it now more than you know.
And Dad, you can keep checking in too. Thanks for making your presence known, not only to me, but to others that are still talking to you; we will always need you and will forever love you. Keep smiling down on us.