How can I make this beautiful for my dad?
December 31, 2006 6:45 PM   Subscribe

What should be done/said when the family gathers to witness someone's passing? I need planning to distract me.

On Wednesday night my dad's heart failed. Based on the amount of time he spent without oxygen going to his brain before the heart could be restarted, and the poor results of neurological testing thus far, the doctors have told us that it's extremely unlikely he will ever wake up. If the next day or two doesn't show any change, my family will be following his wishes to discontinue life support.
The only thing holding me slightly together right now is my attempt to focus on logistical issues, so I have a question for you all. What should we do when the family is all gathered in the hospital room once the support is removed? Do you know of something I could read aloud? Some kind of ritual or something we could do? Dad is liberal Catholic with a Buddhist bent, most of the family is Catholic, some are agnostic, and I'm an atheist. I don't know how to handle this. I want it to be something Dad would love, and something the other family members will appreciate too. Please help. Thank you all.
posted by vytae to Human Relations (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
So sorry to hear about your Father.

Since he is Catholic, I suggest "Last Rights". I'm sure the hospital will have a clergy on call.

Here's a thought to help you through this time.

“Love is stronger than death even though it can't stop death from happening, but no matter how hard death tries it can't separate people from love. It can't take away our memories either. In the end, life is stronger than death.” - Anonymous
posted by JujuB at 7:11 PM on December 31, 2006

when my grandmother recently passed, all 20 odd of her grandchildren stood up and related a funny annecdote that revealed another layer of her. It was hilarious, everyone in the chapel was cracking up. I thought it was nice.
posted by stormygrey at 7:22 PM on December 31, 2006

My Dad was a moderate Catholic. He liked his rosary, so we prayed a modified version for him at his bed, aloud. I am not religious, but I still sat in a prayer circle and held hands w/everyone else.

This was the only formal gathering and recitation we felt we needed; most folks wanted to say their goodbyes in private. In the final moments, all you can really say is "I love you; it's OK to go home."

Several folks decided to keep vigil over all or part of the 3 days it took for him to pass. Most of the family chatter and bonding happened outside his room, by those of us who were "off duty". If you go this route, bring lunch/dinner/etc. for everyone. People will remember it more than anything said at the bedside.

I think as long as you are there in some capacity, for your father and for each other, that's all that matters.
posted by Sangre Azul at 7:28 PM on December 31, 2006

I'm sorry about your dad.

Can I suggest though that maybe you should take the earliest opportunity not to hold things together. He's your dad, wailing and sobbing and tears is an appropriate response, and it will probably help clear your head.

When my father died I don't think I could have pulled together the obituary or talked to people at the memorial if my brother and I didn't first take ample opportunity to unleash our emotions.
posted by Good Brain at 7:43 PM on December 31, 2006

Sorry to hear this.

Play his favorite song/artist/album as he goes.

It will help your family and him.....
posted by peewinkle at 7:58 PM on December 31, 2006

Sorry to hear of your inevitable loss. My hospice training has taught us to do nothing more than "be there". I suggest you talk to him quietly while you can- holding his hand- even if his brain function is not there and he is not aware of you. Let him know you love him, thank him for all he has done for you and your family, and tell him it is fine if he 'goes'.

Believe me, there is no "rush" to do anything. Be there. I promise you there is more than enough time to do any planning, calling, organizing, list-making in the coming week.
posted by bytemover at 8:22 PM on December 31, 2006

I am sorry to hear about your father.

Since your father is Catholic, I think the sacrament of "anointing of the sick" (sometimes called last rites) is important to bringing appropriate closure to his life. It's one of the traditional seven sacraments of the Church.

The hospital surely has a Catholic chaplain who will administer the sacrament; we went through this when my grandmother died last year, and there was actually a department of the hospital that dealt with meeting people's religious needs.

You could work with the priest to arrange for you to read something of your choice. In fact, it's my understanding that anointing of the sick is supposed to be with the participation and presence of the family.
posted by jayder at 9:09 PM on December 31, 2006

My father was on life support about two years ago, and we were in the same boat -- we knew it would just be a few hours, and were preparing to remove life support. My family's minister was there (UU), and she said a prayer to and in honor of my father around his bed with all of us there (and before we removed life support). Then we all said goodbye in smaller groups and individually. (This was all sort of organized/orchestrated by the minister, who was incredibly intuitive and helpful.) Then my mother told the doctors she was ready and the life support was removed. It took a few minutes. Some people, including mom and minister, sat with my father while his body died. I decided that wasn't for me, and sat in the nearby family room for that part. It was very sad.

I will never forget, or stop being grateful for, the skill, grace and presence of my parents' minister. She was able to do the logistics and spiritual centering and all of that stuff that the rest of us were far too distraught to handle. I hope you are able to find a person who can in some way play that sort of role.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:22 PM on December 31, 2006

Nothing to add but I'm sorry.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 10:46 PM on December 31, 2006

Sorry to hear about your father too. Try to remember all the reasons and aspects about him you love. Talk to him as much as possible. Perhaps everyone could go around recalling their favorite memory of him?

But, you know what, letting whatever emotions come out and working from there might be the best of all.
posted by skepticallypleased at 11:08 PM on December 31, 2006

One suggestion I have: Did your father like music? Could he hear well before his heart failed? If so, maybe it would be nice to have some soft music, something that he liked, playing in the background in his hospital room. Something not too terribly distracting - maybe instrumental music of whatever kind your father liked. It'll remind everyone of him and if he can hear it at all it might help him too.

I'm so sorry for you and your family.
posted by watsondog at 12:15 AM on January 1, 2007

We have to love, support and lift each other up at times like this, the toughest we will face. This is what I want from my family. That's why we have each other.
posted by wsg at 2:33 AM on January 1, 2007

Hospice nurse here. Being with someone when they die can be very beautiful. We pass from one life to the next just like we do when we're born. I have heard that analogy made by many family members who were open to the experience of being unafraid. Nothing dramatic will happen. Your father will stop breathing, and his life will pass from this one and into the next,and you will see him again, if you believe in that. In fact, your father has already begun the journey. But I am not really answering your question yet, I am just encouraging you not to be afraid. This is the way of things. It's normal, natural, and part of living. Nothing dramatic or scary is going to happen. Be calm.

OK, now to really answer your question. I am not sure what kind of life support that you are talking about, so I will assume that your father is on a ventilator and is expected to die when the ventilator is turned off. If you are talking about something like removing a feeding tube, death will take a few days.

Although your father is most likely unaware of your presence, deep down he will know the voice and touch of love- and that's you. Ask the hospital chaplain to be there when it's time- they have been through this with many, many families, and will be a comforting calm presence even if you don't want any religous sort of intervention. However many of there are of you when you let your father go, touch each other. Hold hands. Cry if you must, but cry for yourself and how much you will miss him, but let him go with joy. If he is sort of Catholic and sort of Buddhist, then he felt that what happens next is beautiful. Hold his hand. Touch his face. Tell him good-bye, you love him. Tell him it's time to go, to walk to the light, to see all the people that he loved who are waiting for him. Tell him you're OK and ready for him to go ahead. Don't try to hold him back. Just talk to him, touch him, and if that doesn't feel right, just hold his hand. If you feel the need for ritual, the 23rd Psalm is beautiful. Remember, he believes that he is going somewhere beautiful, so wish him off with joy for him. Talk to him and touch him. Let him feel your love. Talk about something wonderful that you did together and how you'll always remember. Talk about how he'll always be with you. Just touch and talk, let your other family do the same, if they can.

Again, try not to be afraid. Your father has started on a wonderful journey. Help him to continue.

I am sorry for the loss of your father. But you will be lucky to be there to see him on his way, just as he was here to welcome you when you came.
posted by puddinghead at 3:09 AM on January 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Be prepared for your dad not to die immediately upon the removal of life support.

That said, very good advice, all of it, based on my past experiences with my mom and granddad, both of whom continued to live despite what the doctors said.

My's always hard when a family member passes, especially an immediate relative. My family talked a lot while we were waiting at the hospital, and it helped us all through it.

The nominally Catholic hospital had chaplains of many faiths on hand, and they were very helpful before our own priest could make it. (I'm not personally religious, but most of the family is, and they found both of them comforting during the whole process)
posted by wierdo at 3:55 AM on January 1, 2007

I have a suggestion that is more passive, but I think it will be a wonderful way to unify your family as you say goodbye. Bring lots of photo albums to the hospital. Even while grieving, my family always finds some time for laughter, and looking back through photos may help you say goodbye.

If you really need a project, I was at a recent wake that had a powerpoint show of photos.
posted by saffry at 7:06 AM on January 1, 2007

I would also agree that since you dad is catholic, last rites would be very appropriate. You might try to find something by Thomas Merton to read. He was a catholic monk who was highly influenced by Buddhist tradition.
posted by allthewhile at 8:46 AM on January 1, 2007

I think the ideas for sharing memories and looking over old photos are good ones: they give you something to do (writing down what memories to share, digging through old albums, organizing your thoughts) that's both constructive but doesn't isolate you from your grief, either.

It depends on your family of course, but mine sounds somewhat similar to yours (liberal Catholic parents, younger generation agnostic or atheist) and we tend to find comfort in reflecting on the good times, as opposed to prolonging solemn religious rituals. What do you think your Dad would have wanted?

If you're able to, you might want to talk to other close friends or family members about it. They might have some suggestions, or you might just find the conversation itself cathartic.

You have my sincere condolences.
posted by AV at 9:02 AM on January 1, 2007

My condolences.
posted by SirStan at 10:34 AM on January 1, 2007

To build on what saffry said, the powerpoint show of photos is especially helpful to the person amassing the photos. I was up with my friend while she scanned in albums upon albums of photos and picked the best ones to display in the powerpoint, and what kind of music to set it to. It really gave her something to ground herself to, I think, and the memories of happier times offset the grief she was going through.

That said, my sincere condolences.
posted by Phire at 11:45 AM on January 1, 2007

I just went through this with my mother. I recommend that you give everyone time to talk to your Dad alone before the final gathering, even if it's just for 5 minutes; everybody else out, close the door. Don't concern yourself with whether he's able to hear it; it just important to say whatever you need to say. Good luck, its rough even in the best of situations.

We also had the digital photo presentation thing, at an impromptu memorial that we had for her days after her sudden passing. We simply did a slideshow of images in a folder, no PowerPoint. And, longer term, I'm now in the middle of putting together digital photo frames for everyone, with hundreds of photos including old one scanned in from photo albums.
posted by intermod at 2:50 PM on January 1, 2007

My heart goes out to you and I am sorry for your loss. The following is what I plan to read (or have read) when my mostly atheistic mother passes. It is perfect for her and you may find it comforting considering your own beliefs. I have no idea who wrote it so I can't credit anyone:

Do not stand at my grave and weep,

I am not there, I do not sleep,

I am a thousand winds that blow

I am the Diamond glints on snow

I am the sunlight on ripened grain

I am the gentle Autumn rain

when you awaken in the morning's hush

I am the swift uplifting rush

of quite birds in circled flight

I am the soft start that shine at night

Do not stand at my grave and cry

I am not there, I did not die
posted by forensicphd at 2:54 PM on January 1, 2007 [3 favorites]

Update: looks like this may be the credit for the above poem.

"I am not there" by Mary Elizabeth Frye (1932)
posted by forensicphd at 2:55 PM on January 1, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for these beautiful suggestions. The priest from my parents' church came to do the last rites for Dad already, and my mom has been talking to the chaplain in the hospital too. I'll be working on these other ideas over the next few days. Thank you guys.
posted by vytae at 6:52 PM on January 1, 2007

Response by poster: On the off chance that anybody's still looking at this thread, I wanted to let you know that some kind of miracle happened and my dad woke up! (Yeah I know, I don't believe in miracles... but still. The doctors are flabbergasted and my family and I are just exceedingly thankful.) I brought in a bunch of pictures and we read him some Thomas Merton (among other things), and we played all his favorite CDs. Now it'll be a long road with physical, occupational, and speech therapy, but he seems to be making great progress. I never thought I'd be so happy to see my dad smile at me. Thank you again for all of your support.
posted by vytae at 11:18 AM on January 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

vytae, that is so amazing. I was just reading this thread that I'd opened up 4 or 5 days ago. It had e/thing except for yr. comment of yesterday. Anyways, I decided I should hit Reload to see if anyone had added anything else and saw your closing comment. It's really wild that your dad came back to consciousness. Wow.
posted by kaymac at 5:00 PM on January 12, 2007


:) I am so glad I was looking through old human relations threads today. Thank you for updating us, vytae.
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:26 AM on January 17, 2007

Oh wow, that is awesome beyond measures. :)
posted by Phire at 10:53 PM on March 14, 2007

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