top of page

My Dad Squeezed My Hand While He Was in a Coma

Updated: Aug 19, 2023

The doctors said it was just reflexes but I'm not so sure

Close up of a child's hand placed on an adult male hand
Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas:

Last week, I read Widowish by Melissa Gould. I highly recommend her touching, shocking and full-of-love memoir.

Through circumstances you’ll have to read for yourself, Melissa recounts visiting her young husband in the hospital while he lay in a coma. That’s it, that’s all you get, go buy a copy of her book ;)

While reading about her experience, I was transported right back into the hospital room in Kingston, Ontario where for six weeks we visited with my still, silent dad after the car accident.

No one can prepare a fourteen-year-old for visits like those.

I had so much hope.


After the accident had taken the lives of three people, my father was the only one who was still alive.

Alive technically, but not really living.

After our surreal, otherworldly initial visit with him the day after the accident we knew his ICU hospital room would become a familiar place. We just didn’t know for how long.

So many people hoped and prayed for his recovery. Four little people believed it was imminent. My older sister, younger brother, younger sister and I all needed him to come home. Our mom was gone so it was a no-brainer that Dad would get better.

For me, no other option was considered.

Various strategies were suggested to arise a reaction or response from my dad while he lay there, a vegetable (such an odd term to describe comatose patients — vegetable. When I think of a vegetable, I think of fresh, life-giving, and colorful. My dad on that bed was the complete opposite — limp, life-lacking, and pale).

He was a lover of choir music. He’d become a member of every church choir in every church he attended. I remember his pitch-perfect baritone rising and falling with the notes coming from the record player while making bacon and eggs for us every Sunday morning.

At the hospital, instead of playing soothing sounds for him through the earphones of the Walkman that lay at his bedside, the thought was presented that perhaps rock music or something more jarring would stimulate his brain.

I don‘t remember specific conversations with the doctors about this. I do remember being surprised when I heard rock coming out of those gray circular sponges on the sides of his head on one of our visits.

Kenny Rogers, Neil Diamond, or Zamphir for sure, but Kiss? Jarring no doubt. Stimulating? Who knows. Did it wake him up? Nope.

At some point, he did open his eyes though.

All the days back then are grey in my memory. It was late winter, so I’m likely not far off. I remember walking through the door into his room one day and his eyes were open! As I walked in, his head heavy and fixed to the pillow, he locked his eyes on me and watched me ever so perfectly.

This mind-blowing (to me) occurrence caused me to move slowly, as if in a dream state. I walked past the foot of his bed to get to the side where machines wouldn’t crowd me out, watching him watch me with every step.

His head couldn’t/wouldn’t move. Just his eyeballs in their sockets. Did they rest their gaze on me for a bit or did he stare blankly at the ceiling after we’d shared that initial gaze? I don’t remember.

It both creeped me out and mesmerized me.

On future visits, his eyes were often open. On occasion, it seemed he looked right at me but usually, there was just a vacant glaze.

It was nothing, they said. Just reflexes.


My dad was a strong guy. He could tackle any size home renovation project and mess around with car engines, figuring everything out along the way.

Dad had rock-solid biceps. We’d hang on them as he made my mom count how many times he could raise us kids up and down. On Friday nights, we’d lay on those biceps, curled up close, while watching Fantasy Island or Knightrider, with our once-a-week treat of a Tupperware cup of Coke and a small bowl of chips.

To try to keep him from losing his muscles completely (or so I understood), we were encouraged to hold his hand and lift his forearm, bending at his elbow and back down again for several minutes at a time. There was no obligation to do this from doctors or the adults we were with. It was something I was happy to do, for surely, this would speed his return home.

During one visit I held his large, previously calloused hand in mine. Up and down, up and down. I was doing all the work, his hand limp in mine.

Suddenly, he clenched my hand so tight I thought he might pull himself up. He just held on and on. It felt like minutes but it was likely just seconds.

I looked up at the doctor in the room, alarmed and ecstatic and hopeful and sure recovery was just around the corner.

My expectant face and wide eyes willed the doctor to exclaim, Hurrah! Pack his bag and call for the car!

It was nothing, he said. Just reflexes.


For the two months leading up to the accident, my dad had been studying to become a real estate agent. He’d taken his last exam just before the crash. We’d gotten his last test in the mail while he was in the hospital.

A big fat ‘92%’ was written in red in the top right-hand corner. We brought it in and taped it to the wall above his bed.

We pumped him up and told him how well he would do in his new career.

Well, the adults around me did that. They were able to talk with my dad about so many things. The doctors told us to talk to him as if nothing had happened. To be cheery and ‘normal’.

Although I had beyond massive hopes for my dad’s return home, I found it very, very hard to act or talk any degree of normal. Nothing at all was normal and would never be again. I was amazed that people could chat into my dad’s ear about the weather or about what they’d been up to.

One thing we were advised not to talk about was Mom. The feeling was that if Dad knew that Mom had died then he may lose the will to live.

Lose his will to live? Wouldn’t he want to live for his four kids?

It all felt so unnatural to me.

No matter the obvious severity of his condition, with everything inside of me I believed my dad was ‘in’ there. He was in there somewhere. He knew what was going on.

He wanted to scream and rip the tubes out of his body.

He wanted to vault out of bed and gather the four of us into a massive group hug. When we heard the numbers, it all sounded impossible.

A 5–7% chance he’d come out of the coma, they said. If he came out of it, there’s only a 5% chance he’d ever be normal.

I understood what the numbers meant. I just chose not to believe them. If there was ever a time we needed our dad, this was kinda it.

But he never made it home. He held on for six weeks.

After the Good Friday service, we drove in our church clothes to see our dad for the last time. Of course, we didn’t know it would be the last time.

I remember walking just inside the door of his room and looking at him. He looked more still and gray than usual. I didn’t feel like being in the room. My big sis must not have been feeling it either.

We watched TV down the hall in the waiting room.

Within minutes, our little sister was running down the hallway frantically motioning for us to come.

That’s all I remember. He died shortly after that.

I’ve been told by my cousin, who drove us home that day, that he had to stop the car on the side of the road because of a guttural scream that began to slowly erupt out of me from the back seat. I was a pretty quiet kid most of the time. This wasn’t most of the time. He pulled over, helped me out of the car and I let it all out.

It’s a complete blank.


I still believe my dad had moments of lucidity and in those moments, I think he had some understanding of what was going on. I’m not sure why, but that thought comforts me even though if he was aware at any point, he would have been beyond devastated.

It amazes me that I had any speck of hope during those dark days.

But we are meant to hope. We hope in things we can not see or understand.

Hope is imperative in leading us toward our futures. Sometimes we limp there, sometimes we sprint.

Sometimes we have to stop and erupt on the side of the road.

113 views5 comments

Recent Posts

See All

5 則留言

評等為 0(最高為 5 顆星)。

評等為 5(最高為 5 顆星)。

Touching, shocking and full of love! ❤️


評等為 5(最高為 5 顆星)。


I too believe that he heard you and felt your touch. One day you will see him again face to face and I can only imagine the biggest bear hug he will give to you and your siblings! What a reunion that will be!


Yes and amen to this! xo



Ah Julie… I remember so clearly when Art told me that story. He was pretty choked up about it years later, but remembered thinking he was relieved to hear you rage and scream, instead of being quiet. Your memory resonates… and your writing is healing.


Thank you. I wish he was still here too...xo

bottom of page