10 Lessons You Learn When Your Dad is on Hospice

1. You will learn, somewhere between changing your dad’s diapers before he’s even fifty, watching his ribcage become more and more visible as he goes days without food, and suctioning fluid from his mouth, that life is not fair. Life is not perfect. Life is messy. Life is hard. Life is the worst thing, the best thing, the most beautifully tragic eyes you will ever get to gaze into. There is gentleness in the end of life. Things become simpler. It is not fair, but you are stripped down to the core of your humanity. And from that, you will rebuild, smothered in scar tissue, stronger than before. 

 

2. Self care does not have to be yoga and bath bombs and face masks. Self care is stepping out of the room. Brushing your teeth. Changing your clothes after three days. Crying so much that you shake, and then getting up off the floor. Self care is keeping yourself alive while the person that you love is dying. It is that simple. 

 

3. It's okay to laugh when you “shouldn’t”. It’s okay to laugh over labored breaths and heart rate monitors. It’s okay to laugh through tears, and it’s okay to laugh because of them. Laugh because you are tired, and you are worn, and you are losing. Laugh at it. Laugh with it. Laugh in it. And watch It become it, not everything, but something. Not all of life, just the brunt of it. 

 

4. People will show up. Everyone sprinkles love in different colors. Flowers. Gift cards. Meals. Visits. Let yourself be deeply held and radically loved.

 

5. People will not show up. People who should call, won’t. People who should stop by, don’t. Do not meet them with hate. Meet them with understanding. Maybe they don’t know what to say, or do, or feel. That is okay, but it is their load to work through, and theirs alone. Focus on the ones who at least try, who come when they don’t know and just simply be. 

 

6. There will come a point where death is more welcome than “life”. It doesn’t matter if you believe in heaven or hell or dust. Anywhere is better for them than here. So you pray, even if you aren’t sure who you’re praying to. And you watch the worst case scenario become the best case scenario. Bittersweet ash, crusting on your tongue.

 

7. The people that walk into your house as strangers branding stethoscopes become the shoulders that keep you upright. Nurses. Social workers. Pastors. All of them, there, in the worst time of your life, giving up their midnights to make yours an ounce easier. Even if they aren’t saving lives, they’re saving hearts. You understand, now, that souls are harder to preserve than bodies, but are so much more vital. 

 

8. The dog doesn’t leave his bed, because she knows he’s going to be leaving this world. Shih tzus are smarter than you think. 

 

9. Grief is abstract. It can not be kept down with zip ties and promises and comparison. It bubbles, it festers; it comes, it goes. You can not fight it. You have to let it in and out, watch it filter through your pores at dusk and let it exit through your heart at dawn. You are not in charge of the way you feel. Let me repeat that. You are not in charge of the way you feel. And that is not weakness. 

 

10. It’s love. That’s the answer, the coveted fountain of youth, the meaning of life, the key to salvation. You learn it as your mom cares for your dying father for two straight years, wakes every hour to give him medicine. You learn it as people swarm in and out of your house, holding his hand, saying goodbyes. You learn it as the Hospice nurse cries with you. Love waltzes through the air, a gentle breeze and a tropical storm and the best thing you never knew you wanted, never knew you needed. It does not matter when it all ends, because love never does. It will hold us together and plate us in gold. And when nothing else is certain, that is. That is.