The First Time My Dad Died

When my dad died the first time – yes, you heard me right, the first time – he met his guardian angel.

Weeks ago, my dad had a seizure that sent him to the hospital. At 85 years old, he’d been suffering from Alzheimer’s for about five years. During that time, he became childlike. He was sweet. Adorable, even. Quite different from what many experience with aging parents who become curmudgeons. My dad did the opposite. Dementia made him childlike and innocent. I guess he could no longer remember the bad stuff.

When the seizure sent my dad to the hospital, his heart rate was too low and he was unresponsive. My mother was frantic. She was pacing the waiting room, terrified that she was about to lose her husband of 64 years. They had known each other seemingly forever. My mom was 14 years old when they met. Dad was 17, a football player at the local public school crashing the Friday night Catholic School dance.

One request for a stroll around the dance floor led to four years of dating followed by a wedding ceremony just a couple months after my mom turned 18. Decades of happiness followed, with enough obstacles to build a strong foundation of teamwork and perseverance. Through two kids, the purchase of a small fishing camp that became the regular weekend family getaway, and a lot of laughter, my parents built a family that they treasured and a marriage that remains the best I’ve ever seen.

Fast forward to the Alzheimer’s years, which is how those of us who have experienced this disease label this stage of our loved ones’ lives. Their memories fade away. They no longer make sense when they talk. Conversations are impossible. Personalities change. Confusion reigns. And as they say, it’s even harder on the caregivers and survivors to watch the person you love slowly forget who you are.

My mom thought about all of this, I’m sure, as she sat anxiously in the waiting room. Then, the moment that sent her into panic. A nurse rushed out of the trauma room and asked my mom if she wanted my father resuscitated. In the amount of time it took for my mom to answer and the nurse to disappear again, my dad’s heart had stopped beating and the doctor believed, with all her heart, that she had lost him. Then, boom! The breathing miraculously resumed, and he was alive again. The doctor told my mom, in no uncertain terms, that it was God alone who had saved my dad that day. She had done nothing. My dad should have stayed gone. But I’m pretty sure I know why he didn’t.

When he awoke, my dad couldn’t stop talking about the fact that he had died – yes, he said those words without anyone telling him what had happened. But more importantly, he talked about the woman who was waiting for him. “She knew everything about me and she loved me so much!” he exclaimed, over and over again for days, until he forgot that too.

He was never really content after that. He kept saying he wanted to go home, even when he was home, and I couldn’t help but think that he had gotten a taste of heaven and wanted more than a taste. I came to think of this woman who was there for him, wrapping him in her warm embrace and ushering him into a much better place, as his guardian angel. It doesn’t matter if it was someone he knew – a deceased family member or friend – all that mattered is that she was there to comfort him. He knew he had died, but there was no fear whatsoever. He wanted to be where his angel wanted to take him.

Is there anything more comforting?

My dad died last week, and this time, he allowed himself to be wrapped up in that all-encompassing love. God has restored his clear mind and he can now watch over all of us. He knows everything. His memories are all there, and now he can see how my mother cared for him in the final years and how much we loved him in every stage of his life.

Dr. Rebecca Deurlein
Dr. Rebecca Deurlein

Rebecca Deurlein is the author of Teenagers 101: What a top teacher wishes you knew about helping your kid succeed, and President of Teenager Success 101, a one-on-one academic coaching company dedicated to helping kids find success. She blogs and writes internationally, speaks to parents across the nation, and loves every minute of living in Sugar Land, TX. Find her on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Huffington Post, or through her own blog A Teacher’s Guide to Understanding Teenagers. All can be accessed at