The Weight Of Shame And The Lingering Impact Of My Father’s Traumatic Death

When a PTSD nightmare becomes a reality.

The weight of shame, father haunting woman in her dreams IG_Royal, qback, meen_na | Canva

Throughout my life, my father and I have gone years without speaking before reconnecting, only to repeat the process. He hated himself, but since I’m a spitting image of him, it was easy for him to aim his abhorrent behavior at me instead. No one sees that clearly when they’re drunk, anyway.

He probably didn’t remember many of the things he said to me, but I'm not so fortunate to forget.

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Dreams Can Traumatize You

During the summer of 2022, I learned dreams can traumatize you. When I found myself in the dreamscape version of Colorado Springs, Colorado, I knew that whatever was coming would be unsettling. There is no street in that city without a trigger lying around somewhere.

I was in a dimly lit restaurant, choosing toppings for a pizza. When I reached the end of the line, I realized that my father’s corpse was lying across the counter. He turned his head to the side, opened his eyes, and laughed at me. When he stood up, I saw that his entire body was blue, and his autopsy stitches looked infected.


“You aren’t fooling anyone! Everyone here can see how worthless you are!” He continued to grow and take up more of the room as he laughed. “Look, everyone! Isn’t she pathetic?”

Dreamstate me was unphased as she walked out and went to another restaurant. The scene was repeated in two more restaurants with different announcements that echoed the same message. At some point in the dream, it was time for my father to be cremated. My mother and I stood at the end of a conveyor belt that fed into a furnace. The blue corpse was hovering above the belt and dancing like a character in an arcade game, his stitches bursting at the seams.

“Look, Mom, he’s dancing.” 

“No, he’s not sweetie. That’s all in your head.”

@shayt143 My father's death taught me so much.. about family, about friends, about life.. but most importantly, it taught me the only person I've ever needed, is myself 🖤 #loss #grief #lifelessons ♬ original sound - itsnoelle

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Highs and Lows

Last October, my husband and I had just finished a competitive round of Jeopardy. He didn’t like that we started keeping score because I beat him every time. We were wrestling and laughing.

As we settled down, I nestled into his neck and pleaded once more, “Let’s have a baby. We’ve thought about it long enough, and I’m ready to take my IUD out.” I had been making this request for months. Though also eager to have a baby, my husband is more cautious and practical.


“Okay,” he said. “Let’s do it.”

I couldn’t believe he finally agreed.  We were kissing and giggling with excitement when my phone rang. My heart sank when I saw it was my mother. My mother rarely called me — I called her every morning — and she never called at night. We skipped the “hello’s.”

Your father’s roommates found him stiff and unconscious today. They think he OD’d, but they gave him 3 doses of Narcan, and it isn’t working. I think he’s already dead, Cina.

I dropped to my knees. I don’t remember the rest of the call, but it ended shortly after. There was no longer any air in the room. I ran outside and tried to ground myself. At some point, my father appeared behind my eyelids, blue and stitched up like he had been in my dream, laughing and mocking. At first, he would disappear when I opened my eyes and reappear when I blinked. Eventually, he was standing next to me when my eyes were open.


He’s just like the dream. And it’s real. So mean. Go away. Please no. Dad, stop. Please.

That was all my husband heard until he convinced me to take my anxiety medication and soothed me to sleep.

Woman grieving her father Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock

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Three days later, I returned to Colorado Springs. It turns out that Narcan, a medication that counteracts opioids in the bloodstream, didn’t work because he had not overdosed. Instead, he had 12 strokes simultaneously and lay in his room, barely breathing, for an undetermined amount of time.


My mother had been telling me that she thought my father was going to die soon for the last two years. I thought she was just being paranoid or perhaps trying to pressure me to reconnect with him in case he did. Looking back, if horses can sense when a member of the herd is dying, I’m sure people can, too.

The hospital allows 7 days of indecision before you must decide whether to permanently intubate. For 6 days, my mother held on to hope — despite the anoxic brain injuries and stroke damage in every brain structure except his brain stem. She was convinced he was going to wake up.

On day 6, my mom finally broke. She couldn’t stand to see him that way anymore. Despite being separated for almost 20 years, my parents loved each other very much. They were best friends and next-door neighbors, and they saw each other every day.

After repeatedly deciding and then backtracking only to change our minds again, we finally agreed to let the medical team remove him from life support. As soon as the nurse left the room, the blue corpse appeared next to me again.


You couldn’t even wait 24 more hours? You’re pathetic! You are so quick to give up on the people you love!

I wanted to throw up. I wanted to tell the nurse we changed our minds again, but I was paralyzed. When she returned empty-handed, she informed us that the organ donation alliance requested we wait 24 more hours so they could run more tests. The relief was so strong that I nearly collapsed.

The following day, he was taken off life support, and we found ourselves in the peculiar position of praying for his passing. He needed to die within 60 minutes of removing his breathing tube for his wishes to be an organ donor to be honored. After a lifetime of having beer for breakfast, he was somehow eligible to donate his kidneys and liver.

13 hours and a failed organ donation later, he suffocated as he succumbed to his anoxic brain injury.


He was blue. The hospital later conducted an autopsy due to the odd circumstances. The funeral home offered me a package where my mother and I could watch his cremation. I promptly declined.

I couldn’t bear to stand with my mother at the end of a conveyor belt that fed into a furnace, to watch as they cremated his blue corpse with the stitches bursting at the seams.

In therapy, I once named a traumatic memory. “When my father dies, he will be the state’s problem and not mine.” I was wrong about that. I thought that my father’s death would have no impact on me. I was wrong about that, too.

I never knew I was waiting for my father to realize he was wrong about me until it was no longer an option. When he died, all the shame that lived in him and spilled onto me had nowhere to go anymore, so it sunk its claws into my chest and made me its new host.


After all, I'm his spitting image. I can see why he feels so at home.

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Cina Lenee is a memoirist, blogger, and freelance writer. Her blog on Medium features articles on mental health, relationships, social justice, and compelling personal narratives.