Dealing with the grief of losing someone to cardiovascular disease (CVD)

I’m not one for remembering anniversaries of people’s deaths.

Growing up I used to think that remembering and ruminating on when people had died meant people weren’t moving on with their lives and I couldn’t quite understand why people would want to do that.

Sometimes we don’t get it until we get it and 3 years ago, I got it.

It was on the morning of the 23rd of July 2019 that I got an unexpected call on my mobile. It was my nephew. He was in a waiting area at the hospital in Sheffield, the UK anxiously waiting to hear news of Dad who had been taken in with a suspected heart attack.

He wasn’t able to see him as he was being assessed and treated by the surgical team and he was waiting anxiously for news.

Dad and I had spoken twice a week on Skype for years and we had only chatted on Sunday evening before and this was not what I expected to hear.

In hindsight, it was actually on the cards. Over the previous few years, there were obvious signs his heart was deteriorating; he had many minor attacks, frequent chest pain, feeling out of breath and low in energy, and in 2014 had to have his right leg amputated above the knee due to a vascular blockage.

He had recently had an assessment of his heart and found that a large section of his heart wasn’t functioning. That’s also when we received the news that he also had an aortic abnormal aneurysm (AAA) that could burst and kill him at any time. It was inoperable and he handled it remarkably well but feared dying alone and in pain.

Dad knew he didn’t have long to live; they gave him less than 2 years and more likely less than 12 months and if his heart didn’t pack in the aneurysm would kill him. His body had been showing all the classic signs of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

I was in shock and anxiously waiting to hear what was happening. I called the ward and asked for more information.

“A member of his family is here,” the nurse said, they will let you know when we have more information.

I was on the other side of the world in Australia I explained that I’m very worried and want to know why Dad is at the hospital and how he was doing.

A short while later my nephew called me back. “He’s gone,” he said. I was speechless. Gone?! But we only spoke just a day ago and everything was fine, how can he be gone?!

It was surreal and I felt helpless and overcome by an emptiness that I had never experienced before. I just broke down in tears in my room and was left speechless.

Even though we knew it was going to happen I never expected it to happen so soon, we go into denial mode, and I felt we had so much more to say to each other, and I had been left without being able to say goodbye.

My anxiety was high and I felt the need to do something so I started ringing around to get some answers to understand Dad’s final hours.

The team were unavailable which was frustrating me more than anything but I was given the basics and told someone would get back to me.

I pursued my need for more information and to speak with the medical team leader who was heading the team who comforted him in his final hours.

A few days later she called me and explained that his heart was in such a state she didn’t know how it was even functioning and so terribly damaged beyond repair that it couldn’t take anymore. The final attack was just too much for his body to take.

Dad was being medicated, comforted by the medical/nursing team and whilst still consciously aware of his situation was still able to laugh and joke with the nurses, his usual way of dealing with a bad situation.

Today is the eve of Dad’s passing and I now get it; I get the need to remember the anniversary of my loved one’s deaths.

This year seems so much more significant than any other. I awoke a day or two ago with an intense urge to help others and help them prevent having to go through what Dad went through.

This intense urge came out of the blue and I couldn't understand why I had been affected this way. I had heard others say "it was a calling" and it felt spiritual that they had a job to do.

I’m now on my mission, and the time is right to make a difference and to do what many families who have lost loved ones do; to act to help others before it’s too late.

CVD has genetic components and I know that on my Dad's side we do have a history of heart problems, however, this can be mitigated it is very preventable by modifying behaviours in simple ways such as stopping smoking, reducing weight, reducing alcohol/salt, intake, eating healthily, exercising more, preventing hypertension, etc.

Like many families who lose loved ones, the anniversary of a loved one’s death can be a start of a new journey when the time is right!

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