When A Tragedy Strikes

The call comes in the middle of a simple, normal out of the blue, day with no expectation of the news we are about to hear from the other end.

The voice on the phone is crying, sobbing, while trying to get the words out to tell you what’s happened. It’s hard to comprehend what the other person is telling us.

It’s all very tragic and overwhelming. I have been on the receiving end of many calls like this.

Once the initial shock wears off, our first response is to go into ‘fight or flight’ mode. I’ve seen both of these modes in action, but, for me, it is always the ‘fight’ mode that takes over. It’s like an instant calmness overcomes my mind and body and my head springs into action.

With this latest tragedy, the call came around 6:30 two nights ago and I quickly assessed what I needed to do and went into the ‘fight’ action but now I don’t seem to be able to leave ‘fight’ mode. The worry lingers on. My heart aches and I can’t figure out how to help. Is this a journey that I am to walk with the person or is it the role of someone else? I am the mother…shouldn’t it be me? I feel lost.

I remember another situation like this not too long ago, I went out to California to see my Dad and help him to make plans for his future. His wish was to live in his home until the day he died and he wanted to downsize and make plans for that to happen. He was already in his mid 80’s when I went out to see him. He was being released from the hospital after a minor surgery and the plan was for me to help him with his future.

A little background on my Dad. He was a pragmatist and a prankster among all the other qualities that made him who he was. He did love a good joke. This time, I do believe the joke was on me. I think he subconsciously knew that day was his last when I arrived at the hospital. As soon as he saw me, he told me to go tell the nurses that I was there and that I was taking him home. It was a favor returned, really, as he did the same for me when I was two years old and they wouldn’t release me but he said to them he was going to be in charge of my care and take me home. We waited and visited with him all afternoon at the hospital and as evening rolled in, my sister and I took him home.  During the afternoon, we reminisced, we laughed about things from the past and we talked about the immediate future when all of the sudden, he looked up and said, “you know what I want when my time is over, right”? I knew full well what he meant as he and I had talked about all of it on the phone many times. He said he wanted a funeral Mass and that he would be buried with my mother who had passed earlier. He wanted no extraordinary procedures done to preserve his life, and he wanted certain songs at his funeral. Looking back on it, he must have known because we took him home that evening, got him dinner, and visited with him. My sister then left and it was just he and I. He didn’t seem to want me sitting with him as he watched t.v. He seemed to want to be alone.  I went in to the kitchen to clean up and then went back in and sat with him. At that point, he wanted to talk. He wanted to know what time his caregiver would arrive, he said how tired he was, he said, “I just don’t understand why I am still here”….and, so on, and so on. Another hour rolled by and he asked again about his caregiver. I said she would arrive in an hour and half and asked him why he was asking. He said he didn’t think he could wait that long and wanted to get into bed. I said I would help. And, so I pulled him up and started the ‘long’ walk down the hallway. Halfway, he says to me, “Diane, are you still there”? as I walked behind him and I responded….yes, Dad, I’m right here. As he turned the corner to enter his bedroom, he gasped, and fell to the floor, with his eyes wide open and I knew he was gone. I knelt beside him and rubbed his chest and felt a strange sensation when I realized that I had to back away….no extraordinary measures to save him…that was his request. He got me! This had to be his biggest prank yet. He knew he was having mild pain in his chest…probably had it before he even left the hospital but was determined to die at home. He got his wish. He never actually said any of this but looking back on it, it all played out as if it had been orchestrated.

I called my sisters, first the one I had spent the time with at the hospital, then the other one that lived in town. She came first with her daughters and when she realized what was going on, she left and took them home. The paramedics came, the police, the firefighters….all responding to the 911 call. Then the parish priest came late in the evening. We started to make plans….I was in ‘fight mode’ and had been since he had the massive heart attack right in front of my eyes. My ‘fight mode’ would continue through the Saturday night of his services that following week until after many people had left that evening, and my husband packed me up and took me to a hotel to ‘debrief’ after what we had all been through. Was it selfish? Probably, but it was necessary for me. I had handled enough for the time being and he knew me well and knew to get me out of the situation at hand. We got to the hotel when it all hit me like ‘a ton of bricks’. There, laying on the table was a single white rose picked from a rose bush and put in our room. A message from my Dad saying all is well….at least, I’d like to believe it was from him as Dad loved his roses and had grown a rosebush for each grandchild. Many years earlier, he had planted a white one in his backyard for my daughter.

I find it difficult to leave fight mode once I have been hurled in to it and I feel lost the next day or two once the tragedy or crisis is over. I am feeling that way today. There is nothing left for me to do to help with the latest tragedy and so I think today I am going to take care of me and heed the lessons that comes from all tragedies…..help while you can and remember to cherish and honor those around you. And, when you are no longer needed to be ‘front and center’ step back and let others take the role but stay in the shadows until you are needed again.

Life will always throw tragedies at us but if we learn from them, we will carry on and grow into stronger and better people. Another great lesson learned while living life on the patio💚.

2 Comments on “When A Tragedy Strikes

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