It seems that the cancer which my father has already given up parts of himself to try to slow up is not going to give him much time at all. A very difficult few weeks has seen him go downhill quite quickly and he’s now back in hospital. None of us are labouring under any illusions about what’s coming – he’s going to be moved to a hospice very soon if the admin can be worked out.
This isn’t something we didn’t know was coming. The surgeon, after his op last November, told us that there was nothing more they could do for him. Kidney function that was only just above requiring dialysis meant that chemo- and radiotherapy were out, so it was only ever a matter of time.
That doesn’t necessarily make what’s happening now much easier to deal with. Perhaps the worst of it is seeing him so reduced. My father was always a big bloke – 6' 1", fairly chunkily built – but is anything but that now. I inherited my low embarrassment threshold from him; he’s always been a proud bloke, worried about his appearance and keen to retain his dignity at all times. Those things have now also been denied him.
Watching Mum’s dedication to him, and her exasperation at being able to do nothing, is extremely upsetting. She’s spending as much time as she can at his bedside but he’s only intermittently lucid and doesn’t really want anybody there. All he keeps saying, even now, is that he’s alright. Don’t worry about him. Do what you need to do. Go home.
The undirected, impotent fury I’ve felt for his cancer, and the anger with him for refusing to go to the doctor when the early signs were there over a year ago, have been replaced by a sort of flat, hollow feeling. A sense of guilt that my desire that neither he nor Mum suffer any longer than necessary feels like a wish that he’d die. I don’t, of course, want him to die. But he’s going to. And what he’s experiencing now could hardly be called living.
There have been, paradoxically, some very good things that have resulted from what’s happened these past few months. I can’t, yet, write about all of it here. It’s certainly brought our family closer together. I have a renewed sense of love and respect for my brother, who’s carried the bulk of the everyday burden of moving people around, dealing with hospitals, finances etc., and have learned that, even more than I ever dared to believe, my mum is an enormously strong woman with an apparently infinite capacity for love, forgiveness and care.
There have even, in all this, been moments of great levity. When he was re-hospitalised a couple of weekends ago, he was initially taken to the Royal Sussex County in Brighton. It was chaos there – they’re under a Code Black at the moment, and redevelopment work on the crumbling buildings has exacerbated that. In the ward, all the usual noises of pain, misery and frustration were evident. A woman crying, the man in the next bed groaning in pain. Stark reminders that there are plenty of others in similar positions. I could clearly hear a chap, behind curtains, diagonally across from Dad’s bed. “Oh, I’ve never been in such pain,” he said to whoever was attending him. This was followed immediately by, “Ooh, I’ve been wondering where they’d got to – them’s me kippers.” I absolutely swear this happened and those were his exact words – I was so surprised to hear this that I wrote it down immediately. What? His kippers? Was he in for some kind of kipper removal procedure? Or was he using rhyming slang for slippers that I’ve simply never heard of? Even at the time we laughed about this.
We have also seen just how close, just how purely good, our friends are. Plenty of people have gone out of their way to help us, or to visit Dad, or simply to call and see how things are. This has been hugely reassuring – it really does help to feel that there’s comfort in numbers in circumstances like this because, while I realise that we’re a very long way from the first, or last, family to suffer what’s happening now, it could easily feel like we were without all that support.
(This has been written with the consent of Mum, Dad and my brother).