How Thriving Got Me Through My Biggest Challenge In 2018

At 2.30pm on Sunday 28 October I was holding my father’s hand when he died.

It was unexpected. I say that, yet he was an old man. Life is predictable in that we all know life eventually comes to an end for us.

It was unexpected because three days before that Sunday he was just an old man in hospital recovering from a fall. He thought he’d recover in 4-6 weeks and so did we.

Pneumonia sneaks up on the frail.

My experience of death, losing someone close to me, is minimal. My mother and all my siblings are still alive. So holding my father’s hand knowing he may take his last breath in minutes, hours, or at a stretch, a couple of days was taking my own breath away.

There are many beautiful people in this world and one of them was Gary, the nurse looking after my father. A big bear of a man with deep brown eyes and a gentle voice. He whispered to me “we’re not meant to have favourites, but your dad … he’s a sweetheart”.

And then there was another nurse who was tasked with putting a permanent syringe in dad’s bruised thigh that would provide the pathway for a shot of morphine every four hours. As he was gently going about this task, he was humming a tune. It was an African-sounding tune that matched the darkness and richness of his skin colour. It was a beautiful and distinctive sound that provided happiness in an environment that didn’t feel happy.

From 10.30am to 2.30pm on that Sunday, Gary the nurse had dad washed, shaved, changed and his mass of white hair was brushed. With his olive skin, green eyes, white hair, all tucked in tight under crisp white sheets, he looked like a meditating guru.

Holding his hand, tickling his head, stroking his arm … each touch letting dad know he wasn’t alone.

His laboured breathing had a rhythm and a sound. At about 2.25pm the sound stopped. He was still breathing as we could see his stomach moving up and down. Then the breathing stopped.


My husband quickly found Gary the nurse in the hallway and told him. He came in, looked at dad, turned to us and said “not long now, keep speaking to him”.

I understand that hearing is the last sense to disappear. I told dad how much I loved him and gave him a big kiss on the forehead. At that moment, after having stopped breathing for what felt like minutes, he took a big, deep and final breath.

Two weeks later his funeral service was held.

I’m grateful that through studying positive psychology and teaching others to thrive, that I was able to manage my thoughts, emotions, and behaviours in a way that allowed me to feel the deep sadness that was inevitable, but to also navigate my way back to happiness quickly. Here’s what I noticed:

  • my mind felt coherent and calm throughout this difficult time - I wasn’t overwhelmed with the information I was receiving from doctors and nurses

  • I was able to think clearly about how my mum might be feeling so I was able to speak with her about what was happening in a way that didn’t overwhelm her but instead provided her with what she needed during this time

  • I felt incredible gratitude for the people making my father’s final days comfortable and I made a visit back to the hospital after he had died to say a personal “thank you” (and I gave a card to Gary the nurse)

  • instead of focusing on how sad I felt, I chose to be grateful that his death wasn’t painful, that he had his family around him, he felt loved, and he had lived a happy life

  • how fortunate I am to have my own family/friends who supported me during this time and reached out with words of comfort and care

  • and on a larger scale I was able to think how fortunate we are to live in a country where we have access to clean hospitals, modern medicine, and secure/safe environments

This blog isn’t about me. This blog is about being human.

We will all experience challenges in life, and we can all thrive and grow through these challenges, and find our way back to happiness.