CW: This post is about illness, death and dying
“Family isn’t something that’s supposed to be static, or set. People marry in, divorce out. They’re born, they die. It’s always evolving, turning into something else.”
― Sarah Dessen, Lock and Key
In 2014, when I was in the throes of a new relationship. When my estranged husband was still trying to hedge his bets and my son was learning to adult. My dad was dying.
2014 was a strange and wonderful year, but also it was quite horrific. My attempt at holding together work, home, life and family reached peak craziness.
For the first time ever I’d begun to put myself first. But suddenly I was faced with the knowledge that my parents needed me. From then on it was a real juggling act.
Learning about death and dying
At the end of August I wrote this:
“I also visited my parents a couple of times. Essentially it was my turn – my brothers were both working. As dad becomes weaker and struggles to walk distances it is a sad reality that he can no longer safely drive (due to medication). He also struggles to find the strength to lift and carry things. My mum is struggling with anxiety, not feeling safe walking out of the house. Neither are particularly old at 75 but they are frail (dad with cancer and mum has had several strokes). But visits are proving fun. We are chatting and laughing, enjoying each others company in a way we haven’t for a long time. Going shopping with them is like a Darby and Joan outing. They have both developed a dark humour (when not complaining about something) and I am definitely embracing these last few weeks of being a girl with two parents.“
“As a nurse I have watched the dying process and I have been with people when they have died. I have cared for people afterwards, washed them, prepared them for their loved ones. I have spent time with those loved ones at all parts of the process. As a nurse, I have cared for people for many weeks, from the time they knew they would die, until the end. What I am realising is, that I was less prepared for the long process of dying than I knew. Especially when that person is your own parent.”
“Since last Christmas, we have pretty much known that this is the year that will be his last. The deterioration has been gradual, though at times there have been major problems which made me wonder if things would be more sudden. Instead this process is painful and it is slow. Day by day, week by week, I have watched him waste away. The big, strong man can now barely lift a light bag of shopping. His disease is bit by bit removing his strength, his mobility, his ability to get through each day.”
Taking time away to be cared for
This was an important part of the last few weeks with dad. Taking the opportunity to let Master take care of me, even for a few hours.
“Yesterday morning, this whole process was the most amazing way to escape from the pressures of my life as it is right now and to give myself completely to Him. To be able to go from Julie the daughter and sister, providing that supporting and caring role to the pleasing bitch for her Master. To be able to sit on top of him, to appear in control and yet to be controlled in every way. And to be able to submit, to be His slave.
Afterwards we lay curled up together, completely relaxed. I realised that I felt no need to move any part of my body but instead was happy to just be. This is progress for someone as fidgety and restless as I sometimes am and as stressed as I often feel right now.”
Sadly the interlude couldn’t last. I had to go off home and do a few household chores and to see my son before heading back over here to spend the night supporting my parents. Over night, listening to dad’s breathing while lying awake in the spare room I was grateful to have those lovely thoughts to return to and to know that there will be plenty more times like that to look forward to. The end came shortly afterwards.
I’m glad I wrote these words at the time. Reading back is difficult, but at the same time they fill me with love form my dad and family and also for Master and the support he gave me.
Struggles with mum
We all (my brothers, Master and I) knew this was just the start of the challenges with family and in particular with my mum. Newly bereaved I took her away for a weekend in October 2014. To say it was challenging would be an understatement. She was mainly quiet and withdrawn, but she did have her moments:
“Yesterday when we were out for a drive in the french countryside she told me about some of the adventures she and dad had when they were ‘lost in France’ and how, often they had found themselves on narrow tracks and once a farmers field. Perhaps dad was with us, because shortly afterwards, following a diversion sign we ended up on a small, bumpy, potholed track which might have led to a farmers field, but luckily ended up back on the main road”.
Back home, though mum became unwell herself and for a while we wondered if she would follow dad. But stubborn to the last she recovered and is still going strong. Further thoughts on mum and other family matters are for another day.