The bond of blood: What my father’s terminal illness taught me

Brooke LakeExhaustion, in every sense of the word, defined me.

This was the sixth straight day I had spent in the hospital with my terminally ill father. By 2 a.m., every morsel of comfort had escaped my body. For an hour I stared at his chest as it rose and fell — I thought maybe if I concentrated hard enough it would never stop. Finally, I could not handle any more and I stepped out of the room to get a glass of water just around the corner.


What happened next changed my life.

It was my turn to spend the night in hospice with him while the rest of my family found rest at home. As I was walking back to the room I heard the sound of my father violently choking.  Panic set in as I sprinted past the nurse’s station and found my dad struggling for air as he choked on his own bloody vomit.

I rushed to raise the head of his bed with the remote. As my father’s body rose to a position capable of expelling vomit properly and obtaining air, he opened his eyes wide like the moon, tears streaming down his face as he gave me a look I will never forget. I saved his life. That was the last time my daddy ever looked me in the eyes.

Hours after the nurses cleaned up the mess and dispensed his dose of pain medicine he fell into a coma and passed away at 11:32 that morning.

Blood was the reason my father would wake up, without complaint, in the early hours of the morning to give me a bottle when I was a baby. Blood was the reason he worked as hard as he did, without question, to provide for me for twenty one years. Blood was the reason he would stay up until ridiculous hours of the night until I returned home just to say “good night” and “I love you.”

I was his daughter, and that meant blood — the deepest connection two humans can share.

I believe, however, that brotherhood exists beyond the confines of a biological blood tie.
Why were my friends willing, at the drop of a hat, to bring my family food for weeks at a time, smother me with warm hugs, build me up with words of encouragement, sit with me as I sobbed relentlessly and drive forty minutes to pray over me after working for twelve hours?

The answer is blood. These people made the decision to adopt me in their heart as their own blood tie. They sustained me in my most dire hours of need.

My father’s life and death taught me an important lesson — we put those we love, albeit family or friends, before ourselves — sacrificing comfort, time and tears in order to make sure none of our brothers are gasping for air.

My blood comes from the United States, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and India. My blood speaks English, Arabic, Kurdish, Persian and Hindi. My blood identifies as Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist, Buddhist and Catholic. When my brothers and sisters are choking, I will run to their side, lift their head and treat them with the dignity and love they deserve — no matter race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.


Stepping back into reality after my father’s death has left me swelling with hope from my experience, yet speechless in response to the selfishness and hatred I witness on a daily basis.

This imbalance needs to change. If we choose to keep ignoring the sounds of choking, we are intentionally allowing our fear of differences be the reason a fellow human being is left without a brother to raise his head for air.

For what makes us human? Is it our anatomy — flesh and blood? Or rather, the vast potential for empathy over intellect, the aptitude of brotherhood beyond blood and rising above all; the capacity to love another beyond self.