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.