What comes next

Sunday, November 20, 2011 Permalink

Is it possible, I wonder, to get increasingly sadder after someone’s passed away? Wouldn’t you expect the passing itself to be the peak, and recovery to ensue?

I’m starting to realise it doesn’t happen that way.

It’s almost exactly four weeks since my father passed away. I’m still having problems with the ‘d’ word and – in all honesty – it’s still not very real…. but it hits me when I least expect it.

I had a pretty big meltdown last Monday as I caught the train to my workplace. It came from nowhere. One minute I was sending a self-satisfied tweet about the fact I’d risen early and completed that day’s blog post, and next minute I’m a sobbing mess on the train, doomed to wiping my tear-soaked and snotty face with a t-shirt I was to wear to a lunchtime gym class. Once at work I calmed down. But the melancholy stayed with me.

I’d been slowly slipping deeper into a hole since the previous morning when I went to a bootcamp at the ungodly hour of 6.30am (yes, on a Sunday!). It’s a class I go to infrequently and I hadn’t been for a couple of months. It was just after 6am that I drove through the relatively new (toll-controlled) tunnel which costs a hefty sum if used regularly, but which shortens the journey considerably. Of late I’ve used the tunnel but rarely, but this time last year I was a relatively regular user.

In November last year my father was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of cancer, Merkel Cell Carcinoma, which attacks those with compromised immune systems. My father, as a heart transplant recipient on immune-suppressant drugs had been plagued by skin cancers since his transplant, despite diligently avoiding the sun. Treatment involved 25 separate sessions of radiotherapy delivered over a five week period – which spread across November and December last year. Fortunately both my brother and I live in our State’s capital city and my parents alternated between our places; with dad’s treatments in the evenings, so we were able to drive them to each appointment.

My father’s dementia meant that each trip was a first for him. So, on my weeks, each night as I drove him through the then-even-newer tunnel his comments were the same. He was surprised at its length. Then he would wonder how much it must have cost to construct. And, just before we passed through the automatic toll sensor, mum and I would prepare him for the beep of electronic tag indicating I’d been charged for the trip.

Last Sunday, as I entered the tunnel my mind immediately flashed back one year. I could hear dad’s comments coming from the seat next to me. I could recite them word by word. The shock was such that I almost had to turn around and go home. I had to blink away the tears to see the road and I felt numb with sudden grief.

Later that day my mother called. We’d already had a conversation about the fact that I needed to change the contact details on my mobile phone from ‘Mum & Dad’, to ‘Mum’. But it felt wrong. It felt too soon to be erasing him from my life like that…. the man who’d raised and loved me for over 40 years. But, as the phone rang and I looked to see who the caller was, for the first time the ‘Mum & Dad’ was too confronting. Although I’d initially resisted the change, I realised that it was becoming increasingly shocking each time I saw the name(s) appear.

My mother and I have talked A LOT about our grief; what we’ve experienced to date, what we expect to experience, as well as what others expect us to experience. When I first returned to work a week and a half after dad’s passing and just a few days after the funeral, many asked me if I thought it was too early to be back there. “Was it?” I wondered. Was I not honouring his memory enough by not staying away longer? Was my devotion not sufficiently evident enough to others?

Those who know me well, know we were close; my father and I – throughout my childhood (as my mother and I clashed more then, as Freud predicted), but later my mother, my father AND I. I have to confess that when I was younger, I sometimes looked upon adults’ over-closeness to their parents with some disdain or pity. “Losers!” I would think. And yet that’s been me. I suspect some of my continued dependence on them (for my emotional support) comes because I don’t have a partner or family of my own. No one has usurped their place in my heart, or in my world… which is what often happens once someone partners up and has their own family. With only two children and one grandchild and a lot of love to give, my parents have most certainly remained devoted to my brother, his wife, my niece and I.

But… prone to over-analysis, I have pondered on my thoughts and feelings over the last month. I know there are resources out there. I could read about the stages of grief; or how to deal with it. But – at the moment, anyway – I’d prefer to just live it. My mother has been ‘keeping busy’ and completed a plethora of tasks rather than wallow. I have mostly avoided thinking too much about ‘the event’ at all. Living three hours away from my hometown probably helps feed my denial. Sadly my mother doesn’t have that luxury as she is (I suspect) both comforted and haunted by 48yrs of memories as she passes through each room of the house they shared.

A couple of weeks after dad’s passing it occurred to me that I had cried a lot more for him before his passing than after. It was hard to watch as he faded away mentally and physically over the last couple of weeks of his life, but at the same time I found myself more and more compelled to be there. At the end.

I couldn’t stop stroking his face as his cheekbones became more and more prominent and experienced shock at his appearance each time I left the room and returned – as if seeing his fading body anew. In the last few days my mother, brother and I sat beside his bed listening to his breathing. There were long gaps and we would count the seconds. After reaching 20 or so, we’d catch each others’ eyes in fear and uncertainty, just as he’d take another gasp. We didn’t know how his story would finish. Just that it would.

In the week or two after his passing, the notion that I would never stroke his face again, something I’d probably never done before he’d lay waiting in his hospital bed, was one of those thoughts too painful to consider and needing to be pushed out of my mind as soon as it entered.

Last night I was sorting through electronic files on my computer. And there he was. Photographs from years gone by and some from just a few months ago. Again I was struck by how little I’ve really considered his passing. I realised I expected to see him again. Sometime soon. Suddenly the notion that I was never going to see him again hit me. Fuck! It didn’t seem possible. It didn’t seem right.

I try hard not to think about what dad was, or wasn’t aware of in his final week or so, or of what came (comes) next. I won’t say his passing was futile, because he lived a long and fulfilling life and was loved and liked by many. But it just seems wrong that he won’t play any further role on this earth and it doesn’t seem right that the world continues without him.

It just seems wrong that he will never again call me Snugs and ask me the same questions – again and again. It just seems wrong. For him and for those of us he left behind.

10 Comments
  • risingontheroad
    November 20, 2011

    Feeling for you as you start to foind your way through the loss of your dad. I think in many ways 4 weeks is no time at all so be gentle with yourself as best as you can. It is 6 months since my dad died – he intially had merkels cell and then another cancer – and I still have days when I cry, when photos, facebook and silly things take me by surprise. Grief is a journey that is full of surprises..

    • rockafellaskank
      November 20, 2011

      Hi there. Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry about your father and guess I do realise that I will continue to miss mine throughout the rest of my own life! Grief is certainly full of surprises.

      Deb

  • Kek
    November 20, 2011

    So sorry about your Dad’s passing. 🙁

    What you’re going through is normal – and painful. It took me way longer than I expected to start feeling normal again (whatever “normal” may be) after my Dad died. He suffered from dementia and was in a nursing home for four years before he died, so in some ways, it was as though he died little by little.

    Still, when he finally took ill and died within days, it was a bigger shock than I expected, and yet a relief at the same time… And after a while I felt that I should be moving on and getting back to normal, but something was stopping me. I eventually got a referral from my GP to a psychologist because I felt as though I was going crazy, and her words at our initial session were: “It’s only been two months; give yourself a break.” Two years on, I still miss him, but I’m good.

    Grief moves at its own pace. It’s different for everyone, and yet somehow similar. And all we can do it take each day as it comes and be kind to ourselves when we don’t live up to our own expectations.

    • rockafellaskank
      November 20, 2011

      Kek, I completely get what you mean about the shock and relief. Dad didn’t wake, eat or drink for the last 6 days so in some ways when he finally stopped breathing and was at peace (etc) it was a relief but those 6 days were also such a tiny part of his life… In many ways I feel bad because my life ‘has’ gotten back to normal, but think your comment about ‘being kind to ourselves’ is a good one in that respect!

      Deb

  • Kristyna Meehan
    November 20, 2011

    Deb,

    My mother died nearly 13 years ago and I’ve found in some ways it gets easier as day to day life does go on. I have also found some big events really difficult, even though they happened so long after her death. Coming up to the ten year anniversary of her death I felt incredible guilty that my life had gone on and I have had so many happy times. I struggled with it being okay that life had gone on. And next year Mike and I have been married ten years and it saddens me to know how much joy Mum would have had from knowing him and seeing me with him. Mum and Dad were besotted with each other. Dad was devastated when Mum died and my memories of those first few hours, then weeks and months after she died are still painful. Dad got married again five years ago and while I know he would never wish Mum to have died, he has been able to continue to live his life and he has many moments of happiness that I’m confident Mum would not begrudge him. It’s very hard in the beginning and the pain still comes up from time to time but it does get easier. Coping doesn’t mean you forget them or dishonour their memory.

    Kristyna.

    • rockafellaskank
      November 20, 2011

      Thanks Kristyna

      Mum & I are expecting Christmas to be hard this year and it will just be the two of us and we are planning for it to be very low key. We can wallow if we need to. I guess I also believe that dad knew how much we loved him and wouldn’t have any expectations himself about how we should be acting or reacting.

      Deb

  • Nikki Parkinson (@StylingYou)
    November 20, 2011

    Deb, I am SO sorry. For your dad, for your mum, for you. And I feel like a shit friend. How did I miss this on all the social media networks we hang out on. I hate that I know what you’re going through. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. 16 years on it can still catch me. A big mistake I made was not getting counselling. It all seemed to hard and I didn’t have anyone to just organise it for me, drive me there and be there with a tissue box at the end of the session. Anyway, I’m here if you need someone else to talk to. I’m a good listener if not a shit social media friend. xx

    • rockafellaskank
      November 20, 2011

      Don’t worry Nikki… I blurbed a bit about it on FB & Twitter etc but it’s hard to go into a lot of detail in places like that. I have written a couple of blog posts about it and they really helped I have to say. Am better at putting words on paper (keyboard / screen) than talking about them it seems!

      So far I’m up and down a bit. My biggest worry (I must confess) is that it hasn’t hit me / isn’t real so suspect I will hurtle back to earth with a resounding thump at some stage (and fall into a big heap).

      Deb

  • Marcia McPherson
    November 23, 2011

    Dear Deb, you’ve already had so many wise & loving responses that it would be useless to say much more. However there is a tradition in some cultures, that is confirmed by the experience of manypeople I know, that a minimum of forty days is needed before you can start to get back to a semblance of normality. Even then, a person needs loving support in order to come to terms with their experience.

    • rockafellaskank
      November 23, 2011

      Thanks Marcia… I think the hardest thing is wondering what’s right and what’s not. Or how one should feel…. Mum’s here on a visit this weekend – although I will only see her briefly – I’m looking forward to it!

      Deb
      xx

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