Posted by: medicblog999 | May 3, 2010

A son’s goodbye.

1877_346839546_man_20crying_1__H120751_L“I’m so sorry John, but I’m afraid that there is nothing that I can do…….Your Dad has died”

“I thought so, they asked me if he was breathing, and I said I didn’t think so, so they asked me to get him onto the floor but when I tried to move him, he was so cold and stiff”

I try to look into Johns eyes to judge how this one is going to go. Everyone handles the death of a loved one differently…

“Oh, well…..Do you want a cuppa?”

“No thanks John, not right now”

Looking towards the bed, I see Bill. He was a 75 year old man with no real medical problems. This most certainly wasn’t an expected death. John and Bill had lived to together for the last 3 years following the death of Judy, Bills wife and Johns Mam. Bill is lying naked, sprawled diagonally across the bed, lying on his back when he should obviously still be on his side. His skin is a deep maroon colour down the right hand side, telling all who know, the exact position in which he died, which is this case appears to be very peacefully during the night whilst sleeping.

There is nothing I can do here for Bill, instead my focus of concern turns to John, who right now, looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck, but is very definitely trying to display that out going British characteristic of a ‘stiff upper lip’

“Come on John, let’s go back downstairs for a while. I need to fill some paper work in and get some information from you if that’s ok?”

“Yeah, of course. No problems!”

John appears almost bubbly in his demeanour, although he isn’t fooling me.

“Do you have any family close by who you can call so that they can come and be with you and help with all of the practical things that need to be done?”

“No, it was always just me and Dad after mam died. I have some distant cousins but they are down the other end of the country and we don’t really talk anyway”

He gives a big smile, shrugs his shoulders and heads off into the kitchen.

“John, I just have a couple of things to do in your Dads room for a few minutes, ok? I’ll be back down in a couple of minutes”

I go back up stairs and into the bedroom where Bill lies dead on the bed.

This is no way for a son to remember his Dad. There are no suspicious circumstances apparent so I gently swivel Bill through 90 degrees so that he is lying normally in the bed again. His head and arm fit exactly into the depression on the pillow and he resumes his final resting position, now looking peacefully asleep. I pull the quilt back up around him and snuggle it in just under his chin. One eye remains open but is easily closed with a little bit of pressure for a few seconds.

I turn on the bedside light and pull up a chair from the corner and place it next to his side of the bed.

One last look around the room and I notice the photographs of Bill and his late wife at various stages of their life together, then glance back to take one last look at Bill in bed. I hope they are back together again. It’s still not my belief that there is a heaven and hell, but it is nice to think that they are in each other’s arms once more.

As I return downstairs, John is sitting in his seat with a cup of coffee.

“Well then, what happens now?”

I explain about the police having to come due to it being an unexpected death and reassure him that it is nothing for him to worry about, purely procedural; then ask if he has any preference of a funeral director to come and take his Dad to the chapel of rest.

As he is explaining about the service that they had for his Mam, his bottom lip starts to quiver and a hint at the internal anguish starts to filter through.

“John, are you okay?”

“Yeah, of course. You`ve got to be, haven’t you”

“No, not really, not right now…….You don’t have to be the strong one right now”

“I just cant take it in, he is still here, still upstairs. It feels as though he should be coming downstairs soon”

His eyes start to fill, but he still keeps his composure.

“Why don’t you go and sit with your Dad for a little while. I’m ok down here”

He looks up to the ceiling as if looking at his Dad through the roof, picturing him across the bed, undignified and exposed.

“I’ve put your Dad back into bed properly, John. He looks at peace, just like he is sleeping. There is a chair by the side of his bed……..Go and be with him”

John takes a deep breath and seems to allow some of his pain to show through for a moment. His voice breaks as he says

“Thank you”

As he walks upstairs, I listen. Half way up the stairs, the sobs starts. A pause outside the door of his Dads bedroom followed by a deep breath then the door opening. Then it happens.

“Oh Dad!………Dad, what am I going to do without you now eh?”

John lets go. I stop listening and busy myself with my paper work. All I needed to hear is that he was okay; I don’t need to intrude any more than is absolutely necessary. There are no screams of anguish, no shouting or dramatics, just a quiet and constant sobbing as a son says goodbye to his last remaining parent and realises that he is now alone in his world.

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Responses

  1. Never easy to be in that position. Most people outside our profession think we are just like TV shows, all glory. They never see this side, when we have to be the ones to comfort a family & provide grief support, even if for just a little while. I commend you, Mark, for being an there for John and telling this story. Thanks.

  2. Wow. Touching… and powerful. I wish everyone in EMS could read this. Especially the ones just starting out that only see the promise of glory and lights and sirens. Very good work.

  3. Mark, What an extremely wonderful piece of writing. This is a part of EMS that is widely unknown and grossly under-taught as well as mis-understood. I have seen several medics that are clueless as to how to deal with the family and do not understand that this is indeed a big part of the job. As one who has spent several hours with a distraught spouse at a suicide as well as many natural deaths, I can attest that this can be the part of the job where we fail most often. Helping the patient we are called to is important, but making the shift to helping the family is just as important in cases like this. The care and thought you put into 'preparing' the patient for his son was nothing short of genius. Thanks for the lesson. I will use this in some form or other the next time the situation presents itself and I am reviewing the last several of these cases I have handled and judging myself as coming up short. Thanks for the lesson.Capt. Tom

  4. […] *  Mark Glencorse at Medic999 has a lovely and touching essay about a recent call and helping a son face the grief of losing a parent unexpectedly.  This one is a MUST READ. […]

  5. […] article about a patient’s death.  He related the reaction of the man’s son to the news of his elderly fathers sudden death, the way the body looked in his bed with evident lividity, and Mark’s working through […]

  6. Mark. Very well written. This is what makes a great Paramedic, the compassion we bring to the job. People can be taught to memorize medications and treatment modalities, but; you can not teach compassion.

  7. I like the topic choice, Mark. We don't discuss this side of EMS care as much as we should. I think this is a mistake since death is as much a part of health care as defibrillation, starting IVs and splinting. It is certainly more common than childbirth. So why don't we discuss it more and prepare our new providers to deal with death and dying, talking with family members, and similar aspects of death?I'm looking forward to more as always!

  8. Thank you for sharing this article. I became a Paramedic because I care and it is nice to see it from another medic. Compassion is big because we see it all and sometimes we forget that most of the time all the family needs is a little compassion.

  9. Good stuff! Been thru this as a medic and recently as a son. Patient interaction is a skill too!

  10. Mark, your writing never fails me. I am always amazed by your ability to capture the mood and the feeling of a job, and make it jump out with nothing more than you words. I have started blogging recently and I don't think I will ever be the writer you are, but you inspire me to try. Your compassion is another source of inspiration. You and a handful of other EMS bloggers' stories really push me to become a better medic, and a better patient advocate. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and your amazing gift for writing with us.

  11. The compassion is the same when a parent loses a child. They deserve the time to say goodbye, with dignity, in horribly difficult circumstances.

  12. Wow, that was so beautifully written. I teared up just remembering a simular experience with my mom. Thank you for your kindness, compassion and dignity to both patients. It made a difference and I daresay that his son will always remember that. Death is a hard thing to deal with, and you made it okay and safe for his son to grieve. Beautiful.

  13. Well written Mark, this article descibes the other side of the paramedic that some seem to either forget about or never seem to learn how to put into practise. It shows that its not all cannulation, tubing and all the other that goes with the job, but just simple thought, kindness and compassion.

  14. Well Mark, I gotta say you really tugged at my hear strings with this one. Beautifully written. I can't add anything because you got the emotions of the situation down so correctly. An ocean may separate us… but I've been to that scene too. We all have the same humanity. You've captured it… as always.

  15. you made me shed a tear. over my phone. in the dark. good show.

  16. Thanks Joie.Compassion is most definitely one of the tools we should all routinely pull out of our own personal kit bag.

  17. As always Chris,Same patients, same situations, same medics……Different Countries!

  18. Thanks John,And lets be honest, you have shown me the way many a time in my early career. Great to FINALLY get a comment from you! 🙂

  19. Thank you for your sentiments Theresa.

  20. I agree, the compassion is needed more than ever in those circumstances. Fortunately, I havent been in that circumstance too often, and would quite happily never have to be in that position again, of having to support and comfort a parent who has just lost their child.

  21. Thanks Dan.It really does mean alot to hear people like you say things like that, but dont put yourself down though, I can guarantee that your blog will have the same effect. I am no writer, believe me, if you say my school exam results you would realise!The difference is, when you right about your experiences and your feelings, it is easy for the words to flow on the paper, and I am sure that you will do the same sort of things!.

  22. Thanks Isaac, and Im sorry that you have had this same experience recently.I hope you are ok….

  23. Thanks Jamie, and thanks for the mention on the medic cast blog (http://www.mediccast.com/blog).Myself and Kyle are working on something that may plug a gap!

  24. Hi Ian,I agree that you cannot teach compassion, but I believe that you can raise awareness and educate providers to be a better care giver in times such as these.

  25. Hi Capt,I am truly humbled by your comment, honestly. Thank you for taking the time to post it and share your own experiences.

  26. Thanks Medic 22,I appreciate your comments and I too wish that medics and all pre-hospital care providers could have access to educational and awareness material to help them cope and deal with similar situations which still remain very daunting for a significant proportion of us.

  27. Thanks Rescue Monkey,I appreciate it.

  28. Well done, Mark. Having the interesting experience of both a Fire Capt. for a dad and being a copper myself, I've seen and heard innumerable stories of death. It's reaffirming that there are those in Public safety that take the time to show some heart and humanity at a time that, too us, could simply be “just another call”.

  29. […] last post,‘A Sons Goodbye`, really seems to have struck a chord with many people both reading on this blog and those that […]

  30. You remind me daily why I follow your blog. Thanks again.

  31. I just stumbled over this post, I don't know how I missed it when you posted it. Anyways- wow. I am bawling like a baby over here… the way that you capture this scene that we see so often is spot on, as usual. Thank you for sharing, Mark…

  32. handling deaths on scene is so simple yet so difficult. it disappoints me to see crews who don't know how to deal with surviving family members. thank you for thist post.

  33. WOW beautifully written. I was in tears when I finished reading this. I experienced the same situation with my father. It is so good to know that those who share this wonderful job still have compassion. I have worked with many EMT's and Medics who are so burnt out I wonder why they are still on the truck. Thank you for sharing this and giving hope there is still compassion in the field. I have been an EMT for 8 years and I ho9pe I NEVER lose the compassion I have for my job and my patients.

  34. Thanks for the comment, I never thought about the impact it would have on so many people who have lost parents. I'm sorry about your loss, but I am sure it will give you an empathy and understanding which so many of your future patients will gain so much comfort from.Mark Glencorse,http://www.999medic.comHost and European Programme Director of 'The Chronicles of EMS'http://www.chroniclesofems.com

  35. WOW beautifully written. I was in tears when I finished reading this. I experienced the same situation with my father. It is so good to know that those who share this wonderful job still have compassion. I have worked with many EMT's and Medics who are so burnt out I wonder why they are still on the truck. Thank you for sharing this and giving hope there is still compassion in the field. I have been an EMT for 8 years and I ho9pe I NEVER lose the compassion I have for my job and my patients.

  36. Thanks for the comment, I never thought about the impact it would have on so many people who have lost parents. I'm sorry about your loss, but I am sure it will give you an empathy and understanding which so many of your future patients will gain so much comfort from.Mark Glencorse,http://www.999medic.comHost and European Programme Director of 'The Chronicles of EMS'http://www.chroniclesofems.com


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