Dying a Good Death: My Father’s Non-Linear Journey

By Ilana Shapiro Yahdav, MPA, ACGRS; End Well eCaregiver

“Time is non-linear. I’ll always be with you.” My dad repeated many times to my mother, brothers and me, when he learned that he had terminal cancer and approximately six months to live.

Photo of Ilana and her father

Glioblastoma Multiforme. Those two words still make me shudder. That was my dad’s cancer diagnosis, a very aggressive brain cancer that takes no prisoners and leaves a disaster in its wake. My dad’s cancer was spread widely throughout his brain that even my untrained eyes, upon looking at the x-rays, could see the invader that had made my dad’s brain it’s permanent home. It was inoperable and unresponsive to chemotherapy and radiation.

Learning this news, I was paralyzed. Not my father, though. He immediately sprang into action taking advantage of the time that he was still lucid. He sold his medical practice, settled all his finances, planned and paid for his funeral, and made sure his family and friends knew how much he loved them. He planned his ‘good death’ knowing and sharing where he wanted to die and who he wanted near him during his last breath.

While my dad methodically planned his death before cancer fully took over, I simply fell apart. I was grieving all that I WAS losing –him –and wasn’t able to truly understand what my dad was losing. I remember saying to him, “you’re not losing you; I’m losing you.” How wrong I was?! He was losing the chance to see his three children grow up and have children, to grow old with the love of his life, my mother, and get that apartment in Tel-Aviv that he often talked about. Only years later, having done lots of my own grief work and becoming an advanced certified grief recovery specialist, did I realize how wrong my words were. My dad was losing him, just as much as I was losing him.

There’s no instruction manual — for the person that is dying and their loved ones — of what to do when you’re given a death sentence. How was my dad supposed to balance settling his affairs, managing his healthcare, and grieving the loss of his own future with a very short deadline looming over his shoulders? How should he forgive his body for that ultimate betrayal? How were we supposed to balance our own grief while supporting his final wishes? It was truly difficult. A lot of it is a total blur to me, but I do know he courageously looked death in the eye and died on his own terms.

Photo of Ilana Shapiro Yahdav

Ilana Shapiro Yahdav is an Advanced Certified Grief Recovery Specialist, passionate about healing the world, one heart at a time. After losing her father to brain cancer the day after her 24th birthday, Ilana promised herself that once she got herself through her own grief maze, she would devote herself to help others do the same. Since then she’s raised nearly $100,000 for the Eric A. Shapiro MD Memorial Scholarship Fund, in honor of her father, within the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), a non-profit that strives to end poverty and promote human rights in the developing world.

In late 2018, Ilana left her marketing job at an artificial intelligence technology startup to found her company, The Non-Linear Journey, LLC, named lovingly in memory of her father who, as he was dying often said, “time is non-linear, I’ll always be with you.” Her focus is to meet grieving people exactly where they are and support and guide them through their grief journey. She is grateful every day that she gets to follow her heart’s mission to help others heal their hearts.

Ilana volunteers as a peer grief counselor at Kara, a nonprofit that provides grief support to children, teens, families, and adults. She is also the San Mateo Host for the nonprofit, the Dinner Party, that builds community among 20–30 somethings who have experienced a loss. Connect with Illana on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter to stay in touch.

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