Guest Blogger Leigh Ann: On Death and the Fragile Nature of Life

Leigh Ann is a good friend and coworker of mine at the animal hospital. She’s one of the strongest people I know. She is a self-proclaimed “person who comes home each day reeking of dog feces, or cat urine, and has the stains to prove it. [She’s a] pug enthusiast, cat tolerator, and veterinary technician who resides in a small apartment at the top of the stairs.”  Enjoy her post!

I have never considered myself to be a “writer.” Sure, I can post a quirky, sarcastic status update on Facebook on occasion [my personal favorite: “How many times do you think Ke$ha says ‘timber’ in real life? I bet she says ‘urinary tract infection’ more.”], but never have I tried to seriously write down something that I’ve truly struggled with. A great friend came to me with a fantastic idea. In the month of March she’s highlighting one writer per week, with the focus being overcoming a person struggle, mental illness, or situation that felt like an obstacle greater than themselves. I figured, why the hell not.
So bear with me. I’m no Charleston Dickinson, but I hope to be able to entertain a little bit, and maybe even help someone out that’s been in a similar situation.
I was a normal 24 year old girl in 2011. I was two years into a successful relationship, lived in an amazing apartment, and had just started a new job at a specialty veterinary practice. I was self involved, and honestly was at that point in my life where going and seeing my family (who lived fifteen minutes away) wasn’t at the top of my list. That was until midway through the year when my dad got sick.It started out as heartburn, but then the pain came on. He physically couldn’t eat. Finally my mother convinced his stubborn ass to go to the doctor. Blood work and a CT scan later, we had answers, but not the ones I wanted.
My father had adenocarcinoma in his esophagus, and squamous cell carcinoma in his liver. Man, did we win the lottery?! Not ONE but TWO different awful kinds of cancer that both didn’t have very good success rates with chemo, were not surgical, and due to location couldn’t be cured with radiation. Now, I beg my own clients at work not to Google/web MD illnesses, but because I’m a hypocrite and the doctors wouldn’t give us survival rates, I had to know. Ended up being that my fathers chances of even making it a year were less than 5%.
I won’t go into all the gruesome details of overdoses of chemotherapy, skin sloughing, and withering away. No one wants to hear all that bullshit woe-is-me crap. We’ll fast forward to ten months after diagnosis where the real story begins, because this story isn’t about my father dying, but about learning to live without him.
The truth is, my dad’s last days were not ones full of dignity. The three days before he passed were the worst. His liver and kidney’s had started to fail. The toxins that his liver couldn’t process were allowed to ravage his body. He became neurologically inappropriate, jaundiced, and couldn’t speak. In total he had lost 100lbs since being diagnosed. One of the memories that plagues me was not his actual death, but days before. I drove straight to the house after a call from my mom letting me know that things were getting worse. The day before, he was talking, grumpy, and seemed like himself.
When I got to the house, I wasn’t expecting that drastic of a change. I sat on the couch with dad and held his hand. He had no idea where he was, who I was, and couldn’t even look at me. It was like sitting next to the body snatcher shell of the man that once was. And, ironically, Revenge of the body snatchers was playing on TV. As I sat, quietly cried, and held his hand, I couldn’t help but wish that it would end for him. He squeezed my hand, and to this day the daughter in me thinks it’s because he knew I was there, but the nurse in me knows it was just his brain misfiring.
The day dad died he was laying in a hospice bed in the living room. The hospice nurse said the living room would be better so he could watch TV. Let me be clear. At this point, I’m not sure he even realized that he was human, or even that he was still alive. He laid on his back and stared at the ceiling. I spent the majority of the day sitting on the couch next to him talking to him about how much of a bad ass Gordon Ramsey was, and asking if he thought the Rangers would win the Stanley cup this year. He couldn’t hear me. I guess I was doing it to feel some sense of normalcy.
Seems silly now.
Later in the night, his family went to the Olive Garden for dinner. My sister went to a birthday party after much insistence from my mother and I about how “Dad would want her to have fun.” My mother, the hospice nurse, and I were left alone with my dad. Since my mother and I hadn’t eaten in 48+ hours, I decided to make baked potato soup, a meal that I would never eat again. As the soup boiled, my dad started going into respiratory failure. We ran to him, and professed how much we loved him, and then… He died. Just like that, he was alive one second, and dead the next. It still amazes me how fragile life is.
Since dad passed, things have been hard. I’ve realized that it takes a greater effort to be happy, than it does to feel sad. Even though I’ve had to come to terms with a constant hole in my heart, there is so much to feel grateful for.  Each day gets easier, and I’ve still got my memories to keep me going. So maybe I won’t feel complete this week, or even this year, but eventually (hopefully) I think I’ll heal.

About Allison Anarchy

I write because I have to
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