It's rough, this end-of-life business

It's rough, this end-of-life business



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

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Dedicated to my dad, Bob Boyce, who passed away on Sept. 1, 2013 — four days after I wrote this. Heaven reclaimed a great and noble soul that day. We'll miss him every day and look forward to eternity.

SALT LAKE CITY — “You have multiple blood clots in both lungs and need to understand that if you go to the wedding, there is a high likelihood that you won’t make it back. You’d have to be OK with that.”

It was one week before my niece’s wedding, a three-hour drive from my parents' home. We all knew that Dad’s lung cancer was in its late stages. But until we heard those words from the doctor, we hadn’t even considered that he wouldn’t be able to attend the wedding.

In fact, because we have literally experienced miracles with Dad’s cancer — most notably, a four-month remission, unheard of with such an aggressive cancer — we were shocked that the end was actually here. No more miraculous delays, only weeks left. We’d had 14 months to prepare, but we weren’t. I’m not sure it’s entirely possible.

So four days before the wedding, Dad was transferred from the care of his oncologist to hospice home care. How does one react to such terrible news? Well, here’s what my parents did.

First they cried. And then they dried their tears and moved forward.


Our heartache at how much we’ll miss him is very real, very much on the surface. But our joy is also real (although not so much on the surface yet), knowing that Dad will soon be in a much better place. And that we will one day see him again. Forever is a long time.

Mom skipped the wedding dinner the night before but attended the wedding itself without Dad. And Dad spent the day with two of my siblings, who traveled from out of state to be with him that day.

Aside from the void left by my father’s absence, the wedding was wonderful and beautiful and practically perfect. The pictures, in which we were smiling with genuine joy, couldn’t capture the full range of our emotions. Essentially, we were celebrating the beginning of my neice and her sweetheart's new life together while mourning the end of my parent’s life together. Here on earth, that is.

More poignantly than ever before, I experienced both true joy and true heartbreak at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive emotions, as it turns out.

It’s now six days after the wedding. I’m sitting with Dad in his home, watching him struggle for breath and lose mobility, while Mom drives to the airport to pick up another brother.

It’s rough, this end-of-life business.

I cry sometimes. And then I dry my tears and move forward.

My dad, my mom, my siblings and I, we have been experiencing joy. We listen to Dad reminisce, understand what a great man he is and feel abundantly blessed. We tell silly childhood and crazy teenage stories (we have more than our share), make fun of each other, laugh. Sometimes, we laugh until we cry.

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My dad, my mom, my siblings and I, we have been experiencing heartbreak. Mom and Dad have to get their final “ducks in a row,” painful necessities like signing a Do Not Resuscitate form and choosing burial plots. We talk about life without Dad. No one knows, or wants to know, exactly what it will look like — he’s always been around.

One sister and I live near my parents in the Dallas area. My other siblings have made or are making their way here from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Utah, Pennsylvania, Houston and California to visit Dad for the last time. I’ve already hugged two of them goodbye; the other farewells will be sooner than any of us want.

While packing up her car to drive across the country back home, one of my sisters said, “How am I going to be able to just drive away, knowing this is the last time I’ll ever see him? How can I just leave?”

Our heartache at how much we’ll miss him is very real, very much on the surface. But our joy is also real (although not so much on the surface yet), knowing that Dad will soon be in a much better place. And that we will one day see him again. Forever is a long time.

It’s rough, this end-of-life business.

And I’ve never loved my parents or siblings more. We’re facing it together, head on, and managing to embrace — albeit tearfully — both the heartbreak and the joy. Susie Boyce is a mom, writer and public speaker. Her column, "Momsensical," is featured in North Dallas-area newspapers and posts bimonthly on KSL.com. Visit her website at seriousmomsense.com or like her Facebook page, Writer Susie Boyce.

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