The Day I Helped Murder My Father!
It's is exactly 5 years ago today that my father passed away. To me the memories of that day are etched in my mind forever. My father had been diagnosed with Chronic Lymphatic Leukemia. He was 62 years of age.
On the day of his passing he'd had Leukemia for approximately 4 years. By the time he left this world, he could not swallow even a sip of water without excruciating pain. The morphine dosage was already tripled to ease his suffering, but to no avail. His hands and arms and face had red and purple blotches from the Pretnison and other chemo-therapy drugs he's had. His brown skin had turned yellow due to a failing organ functions and his body was a forth of the size this big man once was. There was a permanent IV entry on the back of his left hand. The glass of water on his hospital side table was almost full.
I'd had a phonecall during the last stage of dinner at home with my husband and children. It was my sister at the hospital. She said the doctors were there with dad and had something to say. Did I want to be there too? I did. I drove there immediately.
As I stepped into that hospital room, I noticed 3 doctors, my sister and her husband and my mother all gathered around my father in his bed. At that moment I was a bit surprised but didn't have a clue what was about to evolve.
The doctors started explaining that my father had done everything in his power to participate in every medical treatment and even experiment known to them at that time, but to no avail. That the doctors had conferred and conferred again among themselves and with other unprejudiced colleagues about my father's situation and had finally reached the stage of his treatment where they all voted that all had been done for my father that was in their power. That now the moment had arrived where the law too would be satisfied that the doctors and my father had done all they could. And by law this was the moment that they were allowed to administer the leathal injection which would terminate my father's suffering and his life. Euthenasia. All that was required now was the unanimous decision of his wife and children that they agreed with this action to go ahead and proceed. It was my father's only wish and I had known long beforehand that this was what he wanted and now seeked desperately. He had fougth a long, agonizing battle bravely but knew he was defeated and was suffering inhumanly, the doctors agreed.
Even at this very moment tears are dripping from my cheeks and goosebumps cover my arms with the memory of the flood of contradictory emotions that swept through me during those quick confronting moments. All present had given their consent and were looking at me for mine. Inside I struggled. Was I to say yes to murdering my father? Did they really expect this of me? I looked at each in turn and at my father. He just laid there with his eyes pleading yet kind with understanding.. My mother looked at me as she always did; compelling and impatient...I felt torn between my love for my father and not wanting him to suffer and between my own personal Christian beliefs which rebelled inside me at agreeing with the taking of a life. I succumed to giving my consent and all heads turned towards my father. With that, to them, it seemed conclusive.
My insides screamed to wait, to stop, to reconsider....but outwardly I had turned to stone, walked to my father's right bedside and stared down at him. He in turn stared at the doctors, listening intently to their precise description of what was to take place and how. They asked if he had any questions and he didn't. They asked if we had any questions and I shook my head no in a trance. I followed their gaze to my sister who was sitting in a chair crying and to her husband who was standing next to her chair and to my mom who was sitting in a chair on the left side of my father's bed, holding his hand and crying silently trying to look strong and brave, and to the doctors who obviously hated doing this and were trying to be as thoughtful and understanding as they could in a professional sort of way in their desinfectant white coats.
As the syringe was handed from one doctor to the other, I stepped closer to my father's bed and took his hand. For me, a timid person and feeling very vulnerable, it was a courageous thing to do. A strong primal force -love- compelled me to do this instinctively. Looking back I am immensely pleased that I did. For I felt his warm familiar hand clasp mine in a strong but gentle grip and again he silently looked at me with pure love and acceptance. I remember feeling awed not even being able to discern even a hint of fear on his face, but rather an impatient curiosity to get started. He then turned his head towards the doctors who were waiting next to his bed for his signal to proceed. He said yes in a decisive and clearly audible voice.
They inserted the syringe with a yellowish fluid into the IV taped onto the back of his left hand. Then it was quiet. I looked at my father's face. It was calm, at peace, relaxed. He'd shut his eyes and breathed calmly as a man asleep. I looked at his hand in mine and at his still visibly moving pyjamayed chest, trying to take it all in, not 'wanting' to miss a single detail.
The doctors had told us before that once the drug was administered, it would cause his heart to gradually beat slower until finally it stopped. By then he would be unconscious and feeling nothing. No pain. Just as if he were asleep. All this would happen in the space of about 10 minutes.
During that space of time I looked at my father. Still feeling the grasp of his hand, I remember thinking how strange it was that he didn't turn cold or lessen the strength of his grip even a fraction. His hold remained as it had before and during death. A strangely comforting deduction.
I looked at the doctor after what seemed an eternity and they checked his pulse and listened with a stethoscope on his then immobile chest, looked at their watches and officially proclaiming my father dead at a few minutes past seven, that evening of January 28th 1994.
My mother started sobbing uncontrollably. Still sitting in the chair on his left side, she slumped foward over his waist facing towards him. The doctors tried consoling her and the room was eerie quiet other than the sound of my mother's sobs.
We children had had our differences with our mother and I felt them even then, but I also felt compassion for her grief and walked towards her, stood by her chair and put my arm around her shoulders in a gesture of comfort and love. She didn't even flinch or acknowledge me. She was in a world of her own. Completely oblivious to me or my sister. I felt a knifelike pain stab me through the heart but I remained standing beside her nevertheless for awhile, feeling somehow selfish and invisible. Eventually I walked back to my father's right hand side.
Then my sister and her husband gently but firmly got my mother out of her chair and together we walked out of the room and into the lobby where the doctors extended their condolences and went off on their way. I looked at my mother. She had dried her tears and composed herself. Then she hugged me. I went rigid, feeling only disgust and disbelief at the hollow sincerity of her stage-like actions. Once again she was playing her mother role to perfection.
We all left the hospital together. We went to my parents' house where I phoned my husband at home to tell him what had transpired. He sounded surprised and concerned and extended his condolences and told me to stay as long as need be, that he'd take care of and tell our 4 children. I hung up.
The next memory is that of my father's wake. My grandmother on father's side was the only other loved one's death I'd experienced before then. Her cremation etched into my memory for life. Still missing her daily.
I'd never ever been to a wake though.
As I entered the aula I found it to be gloomy and impersonal. I followed the caretaker, my husband and other relatives to the room where my father's casket lay, containing his lifeless body. I hesitated but felt a strong moral obligation to enter the room... I glanced at the casket, saw in a flash the empty shell; the lifeless, boney complexion of my beloved father's face and was flooded with panic. Everything inside me screamed to escape. To flee this chamber of horror. But yet again, I stayed. I walked slowly over to his casket and was surprised to notice he had on his captain's uniform complete with shoes, tie and stripes. Although I'd never seen anyone in a casket until then, somehow the uniform seemed out of place. I looked closer. I noticed how the caretaker had made discrete folds in the garment, pinning them neatly around his boney figure, creating the illusion of a well dressed pilot instead of a skeleton in an oversized suit. Awe and horror swept through me in turns.
My husband looked at me closely and gestured if I wanted to leave the room. I nodded yes feverishly, feeling guilty and relieved at the same time. I dashed out of there, this time ahead of my family, while my husband stayed behind taking pictures at my request to look at years later when or if the need arrived.
The cremation ceremony followed the next day. One of dad's former colleagues held a praising and comical speech. Then it was my turn. As my elder sister and brother could not attend, I felt I had to keep the family's honor high and say a few words during the ceremony too. I had written down a general thank you to family and friends for their support and presence and had rehearsed it the night before. As I stood there on the alter behind a pulpit in front of a microphone reading the words and looking into the room at the pitying and teary faces looking back at me, something broke inside. I heard my voice becoming husky and fought against the tears. I choked out the last words and without further ado, stepped down blindly from the alter and sat down in my seat in the front row next to my sons. Behind me I heard sobbing...
The caretaker announced in a dimmed voice the name of the predetermined tune which would be playing while the casket lowered itself into the floor of the alter off to who knows where...as a sad melody filled the aula, I watched my father's casket disappear from view.
I heard a sudden tick, and then another. It seemed a strange sound, out of place somehow, and instinctively I turned my head towards the source. I saw my teenage son's face staring straight ahead at his grandfather's casket while the tears dripped off his chin and fell onto his leg, making the curious sound I'd heard. It was then that I realized they too were feeling the loss of a loved one severely, and all my love, heart and soul went out to them. It was at that moment I vowed to be strong -for them- from there on out.
The passing of a loved one is extremely traumatic. It changes people forever. One never stops grieving for the one who passed on. In time, however, the good and happy moments creep back into the numbed brain and bring light and joy back into the darkness. Memories of childhood and as a teenager and later as a young parent myself prevail now. It is then that the edges of the pain of not ever seeing that special and dearly beloved person again, begins to loose its sharp edge and become more bearable. Instead a time of looking back with fondness and acceptance finds it way into the heart. And they become the loving memories.
This was the sad part of my father's passing. Now I'd like very much for you to REALLY get to know this man who was my father. So I've set out to make some pages of happy times which so characterize my dad. Please, follow me to "In Loving Memory of Sijmen Bergakker" or return to my index page.
The same account of my father's death, but written 12 years later. Notice how time has softened the painful edges and made way for love, understanding and acceptance.