Another year gone. Where DO they go? Cliches exist because they are true, but time is flying, isn’t it?
A lot of this year’s time, energy, emotion and focus centred around the diagnoses and short illness and ultimate death of my father from pancreatic cancer. I still have the text on my phone on the day my mother implored me to ring them. Never a good type of message, so the very date of learning that Dad didn’t have an ulcerated hernia but cancer is etched firmly on my phone as 20. Jan. 2011. As a year’s opener it was a sucky start. Never one to stick my head in the sand, or my fingers in my ears, I quickly read everything Mr. Google had to offer about pancreatic cancer, whilst friends offered advice about who the Man was when it comes to which oncologist he should ask to be referred to. My parents are lucky to live within driving distance to one of the best pancreatic specialists in Europe, but Dad didn’t want to goto him, preferring to stay close to home. I will never understand that decision. I think it probably cost him weeks of his life, but Allahu Alim.
February was a month I spent knitting for my Dad – hats, vests, making rice pads and other things I can’t remember, anything to ease his pain, keep him warm, show him I loved him. It was a month of living proof that the NHS postcode lottery was appallingly true whn it took the hospital over two weeks to call Dad in for his results and more tests – in fact, had Dad not gone to his GP and asked for them, and had his GP not demanded they fax them over ASAP I’m sure he would have fallen through the cracks altogether. They wasted two weeks. It would turn out to be two of only the eight he lived before he died.
March – it arrives like that, doesn’t it? Marches on. Ploughing into the start of the year proper – with outside play at last, and the days getting noticeably longer. Time to garden, make it to the allotment.
One night Dad was taken into hospital, a week later he was due to start chemo, and that’s when the bombshell dropped – he was too ill for chemo; all they could do was send him home. If my mother hadn’t been a broken woman before this, then this was the moment she almost lost it – chemo had been her last hope; to be told there was nothing they could do… well, no one likes to be told that, do they?
I spent some time at my parents’ house. They didn’t really want visitors until Dad was sorted out with chemo and the like. I kept away for as long as possible. Other people visited, but for some reason they didn’t want me with my lot confusing matters. And if you’ve ever met my kids you’d understand. You don’t need two forces of nature ripping through your house when you want to curl up and whimper. But at last I ventured North sans children, completely nervous at what Dad would look like. Have you ever seen that last picture of Steve Jobs before he died? Yeah, well that’s what pancreatic cancer gets you like – a Belsen victim. I’ve never seen anyone look so ill. He was wizened now, needing a stick to walk, have help up and down the stairs, and a syringe driver attached to his stomach stopping him from constantly vomitting. It was clear that someone should be with them in case Mum needed help – one night poor Dad fell and it needed two of us to help him get back to his feet – and so we arranged a rota so that Mum would have either me, my brother, my siser or my aunt to stay. I had just passed the baton over to my aunty for a three day break before planning to return the following Wednesday, my brother had then turned up so she could go home, and it was then that I got the phonecall that he could ‘go anytime, come as soon as you can’. It was afternoon and I had a five hour drive ahead of me; I pondered whether to wait til the next morning and make a fresh start, but my husband said I should go or maybe regret that decision. He went to put oil, water and petrol in the car – filling the front seat up with snacks on the go, and I packed for me and the kids – everything except anything I needed, it turned out – before driving the 250 mile journey in record speed. I mean, record speed – I even got stuck behind a milk wagon on the Pennines and I still broke the record of how long it took me to get there. The national speed limit was just a technicality at that point. Parking up, I ran into the house, manually lifted my sister out of the way, and ran up to my Dad who was in bed, breathing hard. He had the ‘rattle’. It was all I could do to get a damp cloth and literally mop his brow watching him struggle for breathe with one collapsed lung. I told him I loved him, he said he loved me too. The kids ran in to say ‘hi’, he seemed pleased to see them, though for the midget it was a shock to see his Granddad like that, and he didn’t come back in. Nurses came to change his syringe and get him comfortable, and I put the kids to bed in the double bed. You can imagine the none-sleep they were getting as they bounced on the bed and poked their noses out the curtains…
A while later Dad was having real difficulty breathing and we called the nurses back. It was as they tried to make him comfortable we heard his ‘rattling’ stop and were pleased to think he was now breathing properly. That was when the nurses ran in and told us he was going, and it was time to say ‘goodbye’. We called the others from downstairs. I stood mopping my Dad’s brow as he slipped away surrouned by me, my sister, my brother and my mother. We all told him we loved him as he went. They say hearing is the last thing to go…
After a while I asked the nurses to come in and tell us what we already knew; they said gently, ‘he’s gone, I’m so sorry’, and in the beat of a wing it was over. And although I have forgotten their names I will never forget those nurses; one of them hadn’t been meant to have been on duty that night, but she said she was so glad she was, so she could have been there for him. I told her that I had just arrived, and how glad I was that I and my children made it before he died, to which she said, ‘he was probably waiting for you before he felt he could go’, and I think that was probably the straw that broken my heart. Doing the job she did she said she had met many cases like that – that the patient sees the person they wanted to see before quickly passing over. Talking to DH later on he said that if Allah loves a person he grants them this one last mercy. Maybe it was a mercy for me and my children.
That night is etched in my memory as large and surreal. I remember hugging the nurses as they cried and thinking how odd it was to feel so much love for someone I’d only spent an hour with. I remember clipping a lock of my Dad’s hair for something real to hold onto. I remember that awful bloody black bodybag being man-handled down the stairs and into the star-filled night under the inky sky and the ‘special ambulance’ he was rolled into. The anger I felt that I thought they weren’t being gentle enough, that this precious cargo was not prime meat but my Dad. My Dad being driven away in the dead of night away from his home, his family. I remember standing bare-foot on the drive, staring at the stars, listening to the lone engine of the hearse driving into the distance. Ferrying a man away from life. I remember seeing my brother come back out of the house to hug me and bring me back in. I remember lots of hugging. Lots of hugging. Lots of kindness. And then, as there was no room at the inn, my sister and effective brother-in-law changed the bedsheets on
my mother’s bed, and I had to sleep in the very spot my father had died in not two hours before. And I could hear my children giggling in their beds, oblivious to the life-changing events that had just occured.
Children being children, they accepted the news of Dad’s dying with characteristic acceptance. It was obvious that having children around was not what we needed just then, and I owe my brother big time for detouring a 350 mile round trip to drop my boys home before driving home himself. Lord, I couldn’t have done it. Not then. I had developed a migraine and literal tunnel vision and couldn’t have trusted myself behind a wheel. I kissed my babes (they, it turns out, were excited to be sitting in a kick ass Audi with DVD entertainment on demand…bye mum), and when they rounded the corner that is when I felt myself buckle – it was like someone had dropped a weight onto my shoulders and I stood and cried and cried and cried and all of a sudden my sister, who had been hanging washing in the garden and being the practical housewifey one, was hugging me. I don’t know if we were hugging, or simply holding on for dear life. Everything was just as it was when Dad was alive – his papers on the windowsill, his phone on the mantle, his slippers by his chair. Oh it hurt. Opening his phone to reply to a message that Dad was dead, please pass the message on for his funeral, all welcome – I saw two unread messages from me :: Love you, Dad. Just another message to let you know I love you, in case you’d forgotten. He never read them. I hope he knew it anyway.
And the whirlwind of erasing him was both really, really long and dreadfully short at the same time. Time is weird like that when someone dies. Some things seem unbearably long, and other things take no time at all. I remember going through his papers, sorting the bureau (actually, I owe my brother nothing, I just remembered, we’re even – up to my knees in policies and statements…), going into the bank with Mum to let them know she was in charge now (another kick to the stomach it turns out they were waiting for her, as Dad had gone straight into the bank after his diagnoses to let them know he was dying and that his wife had to be looked after because she’d never dealt with the finacnes before, “he told us to look after you” was the bolt that had us both aching – like a message from the old sod after his death. That was typically Dad). I remember walking down that high street thinking, ‘I’m erasing my Dad’ – the banks, the state pension people, the library – all were deleting him from the records. And not to mention the house – when my sister and I had finished, well, it was like he was never there. How cruel and merciless life is; everything you are that can be fit into a bin-liner and hawked in a charity shop – that’s all that becomes of you.
The funeral was a cold, grey, windy day. It felt apt. I don’t think I could have handled a funeral with birds chirping happily in the trees. The church was packed. Whoever I’d phoned to let them know when the funeral was did a good job. Everyone knew. They were all there.
And then, as is the case when the body is buried, people trickle away. Life goes on. It doesn’t mean no one cares, but life just has a way of forging on, and that’s a very good thing. I tried it. My house was suddenly very clean as I used all that sadness and transmuted it into making myself as exhausted as possible to keep the sadness out. Some days I would hold onto things of Dad’s and sob my heart out, and only holding onto a trinket of his would make the pain go. Other days were fine. But you can’t mourn properly when other people around you suffer.
The rest of the year has been a healing. A sadness and a healing. The shock of losing Dad so quickly, from being a patient with cancer to being dead in eight weeks it was a lot to get used to. Most of the year has been a ‘walking on egg shells’ or ‘treading water’ kind of vibe to it. We’ve tried to keep doing the things we do, to keep the yearly rhythm going, but there is always that accompanying tone to it all. Dad’s dead. Things aren’t the same really. Like carrying a stone in your pocket – you carry it with you where ever you go; sometimes you forget and put your hand in your pocket and think ‘what’s that? oh yeah, it’s the stone’, and you move on. It’s always there. In your pocket.
But. Here we are at the start of a New Year. A new beginning. Unless you believe in Mayan Prophecies in which case, the end is nigh. And that’s OK too, because life is for living, and that’s just what we should do before we die – live. Grab it with both hands and suck the marrow out of it. Love with every ounce of love in you, and live with a rabid passion. And that’s just what I feel like doing. I want to leave this world a better place than when I got here. And I want to live a life worth living before I die.
2011, you were a bit sucky, it’s not your fault, but you really were. I am glad to see the back of you.
2012. Here is is. A new start. And may 2012 be The Best Year Yet!
Hoping and praying that ALL of you have the best of years. I really, really do.
Take care, friends. May all your dreams come true, may Allah bless and protect your families, may 2012 be Your Year XO
~ Debbie xx
*** *** ***