Monday, 4 November 2013

Deep Freeze

For the first time since my arrival in England 7 years ago, I find myself aching for winter. The cold, the blankness, the silence. Trees asleep in white woodlands, punctuated by ravens, by the soft swish of falling snow. Deep, quiet nights. Storms. I ache for storms, and then silence.
This year, I will put my arms out of the window in the first winter storm. Then I will walk under the trees in the quiet after.
No 'winter landscape with robin', this year. Sickening. No fireside, no mugs of hot chocolate.
Come winters past, I began to dream of red scarves and fur hats and the smell of burning wood. Pine cones, and log cabins and ice-skating at the Natural History Museum in London. Fairy lights and starry nights. My friend and I would make apple pie and Christmas cookies. We'd spend evenings writing indoors, watching the mist gathering outside. Outer and inner would merge: As autumn danced on, my make-up turned copper, then brown.

This year, it is gunmetal and black. My new coat is black. My three new dresses, my hair, my new eyeshadow, my new diary, my pens.

This year, it's dark feathers and ice. Bare branches, and grey skies, and the silent, knowing winter. White, and black, and wild.

Monday, 26 August 2013

My sadness comes over me suddenly. One minute I'm asleep, the next I'm awake for no reason, disturbed and anxious. I get out of bed, make a cup of coffee. The light is changing outside. Perhaps I'll go for a walk, I say to myself.  I creep out of our bedroom, not wanting to wake the man.
But no, my body doesn't want to go for a walk. I sit on our couch, and curl up with a cup of coffee, watching the light change. The house is quiet, there's a bird chirping outside. And suddenly, it's quiet and private enough to cry.

I miss my Dad, I feel his absence, I feel my need for him, and I feel my sadness at thinking that throughout our time together, something separated us.  Something I can't explain or pinpoint. He was a great Dad. He was actively a great Dad, right up to the time he was physically unable to speak or open his eyes. He always sensed my moods and needs, struck the right balance between support and teaching me independence, was a strong, guiding presence in my life. So why, why did I feel this way so much?

I don't know. But the fact that I did - and still do - really kills me.  I wish, so very hard, that it was different. That it could still be different.

The light moves from blue to grey, the sky turns, and all of a sudden, it doesn't feel quiet enough to cry anymore. I put my coffee cup away, come upstairs, and start to work.   

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Guilt is a fearsome enemy.
I used to wrestle the idea that if I am feeling guilty about something, I should simply change my actions.

But here's the thing.  I find myself now wrestling with my guilt rather than changing my actions.
It's a stubborn thing, and I sense it runs deeper and stronger than I even know.
I know that answering its every heartless call affirms my goodness and braveness and strength.  I can be guilted into being a golden child, a care-taker, a healer, a martyr.  But I am not happy, and I feel like a phony.
Of course, I love my Mum and want to help her at this time in our lives.  But my guilt whispers injunctions that go beyond 'help' and tend towards 'rescue', 'save' and 'redeem'.  It whispers that I should have thrown up my life in England and moved back to India.  It whispers that I should consider doing this.  It whispers that terrible things will happen to me if I don't - I'll lose my health, I'll regret it, I won't prosper, I'll regret it.
It's never a happy voice, beckoning towards the higher path. It's a slave-driver with a pitchfork to my back, driving me.
And that is why I feel the urge to fight it, and I think having made this distinction, I have a way forward. 

Thursday, 22 August 2013

I wanted to link to this post by the beautiful Claire Bidwell Smith. 

Claire writes about her life in California with her family, and I've been following her blogs for many years. She lost her parents young, to illness, and so when I first came across her writing, I felt ... that feeling you feel when for an instant, you don't feel alone (except of course, I still have my Mother!) 

The last lines of her post made me cry. She writes (in a letter to her daughters): 

"If there’s ever a moment in your life when you’re feeling unsure of who you are, take a little journey like this one and you’re sure to remember.
I think that’s one of the bravest things you can really do in life. Remember who you are."
How beautiful, and so true. 
I think I will take a "little journey" too, very soon, and do what I ache to do - remember who I am, behind, under and above all the pain and sadness of the last few months. If there is anything left of that person, I think she will come out to say hello if I am alone, under a tree, with nothing but a landscape and the weather for company. 
Yes. I think I will :) 

Sunday, 18 August 2013

It struck me today how different people's reactions to loss are.
And how, the very people you think will understand exactly what you're feeling, are sometimes the ones who are experiencing things so differently that you're unable to even communicate.
Why did I expect that we would all be able to cry together, or rail together, or derail together? My 'process' so far has followed this trajectory:
Intense fear (before my Father's death) --> Acceptance and 'care-giving' --> Intense calm --> Intense anger --> Sadness and anxiety.
My Mother's journey has been so different that we have often clashed when attempting to communicate.
We are feeling different things at any given time, and it turns out what we really believe is different too.
The reason this is a problem is that we expected things to be different. We expected that we'd both feel the same way, at the same time, for close to the same reasons. We thought we knew what the other thought about death, loss, life.
Without going into the details of it, it turns out that my Mum actually feels very differently about certain things than I do. For example, I would have thought that she believes that 'Things happen for a reason' and 'No one goes before their time'. Instead, she seems to believe that my Father went before his time. Or at least, she is intensely dissatisfied with the timing of his passing, convinced that it could have been avoided.
It turns out that I believe that my Father's time had come. Period.

I don't know how to explain the discrepancy between this belief and my belief in prayer and wishing and what not. I just know, as I explained in my last post, that I knew his time had come. I knew it in my heart. It took some time for my head to catch up. But it did.
My Mum, despite a lifetime of telling me that she thinks that everything happens at the right time for the right reasons, thinks that there was something amiss in the timing and process of my Dad's passing.

The point of all this is twofold.
First, it was surprising to me that we'd think and feel so differently. Now that I reflect on it, I see how naive the expectation was that we should think the feel the same things.
I see how that expectation has stopped us from sharing our most intense thoughts and feelings during this process. Instead, we get defensive and stony.
I see that it's okay that we feel so differently.

Second, I guess if you're going through 'something' like this, I want to say in the gentlest possible way: Other people might not get it. The people you trust most to get it, might not get it. The gap between you might be too wide to cross while you're both still trying to keep your heads above water (or ever!) Forget about that for now, I guess would be my advice. Just focus on your journey and, since I believe in wishing, I will wish that you find someone who understands and accepts what you are thinking and feeling. Even if that someone is just you, alone.

Friday, 16 August 2013

I've been thinking about what it means to make wishes about the people in our lives.
If you've been through an average adolescence, you know the feeling of willing someone to ring you.  (My sympathies; I know your pain.) Sometimes, you regret having wished things quite so hard. Would our lives be much simpler if we didn't actively wish people into our lives who later turn out to be utter shits?
But perhaps we'd learn different lessons too.

Anyway I digress. The kind of wishing I refer to is the kind you first feel when you really want someone or the other to ring you. Or you want that place at College. Or that first job. You throw your soul into saying Please to the Universe. That kind of wishing dominates the life of children growing up with ill parents.
There is so little else you can really do (care-taking aside).

But I have thought this thought: We rarely know enough (about others, the world or ourselves, about what is best), to make fervent wishes that directly concern other people.

I assume that wishing works, on some level, to some degree.
And that is why I am now cautious about it.
With great power comes great responsibility.
Some very wise people have told us, over thousands of years that we have fearsome powers, that the great secret of the Universe is that it is actually amenable to our whims. That our destinies are in our control.
I buy that, to a point.

And so I wonder: Can you do more harm than good by wishing for say, other's health or longevity or presence or good fortune?
When a wish stems from anything but Absolute Unselfish Love (and who of us can summon this at will?), when it is founded in personal fears and ego attachments, is it wise to wish?

In the last days of my Father's life, I found myself unable to wish, as I had before, for his recovery. I hoped for it, of course. But I couldn't bring myself to will it. I kind of felt that he willed differently. It was difficult to accept, and the effort of doing so has cost me an amount of energy I didn't know I could expend and still keep breathing.

I thought, during those days, of the amount of prayer and sheer willing that went into the years of his illness. My Mother, my sister and I. Friends and family. Nurses and doctors who knew him. The nuns who visited him so often. Priests we hired to perform special prayers. Candles at this grotto, offerings at that temple.
Did we do it because we were terrified of losing him, or out of love? Did we do it for him, or for us?

At the end of his life, he was a shadow of the man he used to be. Nothing was pleasurable any more. There was still something of him 'there', but it was nothing compared to how it was. All we could really do was sit together and hold hands. In fact, that's all he wanted. And for the last weeks, he wasn't even conscious. There were no spoken goodbyes between my Mother and him. None for my sister or me either.
One minute he was conscious, about to be discharged from hospital. The next, he was in cardiac arrest, and he never woke up.
What did we gain from wishing so fervently for so long that he would survive one illness after the other, so that he went out slowly rather than fast?

Wondering all this, I realise, is academic. Should another loved one be diagnosed with an illness, I know I will be on my knees in front of the little 'shrine' I have at home, begging and praying. Saying please, making deals, giving reasons why recovery is a good idea (as though it were a grant proposal!)
(God forbid!)
It couldn't have been different, I realize.  And who am I to tamper with the delicate physics of it all or even wonder about it?!
But I do wonder it all the same.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

I had an amazing day last Thursday.
I went on a woodland 'day out' with some amazing people who are recovering from all sorts of things - homelessness, addiction of various kinds, and one of them was recovering from an abusive relationship.  I went in the capacity as a researcher for a project I'm working on, but I got some therapeutic benefit out of it, I'm sure.
There was a campfire, and we pottered around doing woodwork, or just enjoying the woods. There was a stew bubbling over and roast potatoes. Coffee, tea or hot chocolate, and a radio playing music in the background.

It was beautiful, and for some reason, it didn't hurt. I didn't have the sharp cut of feeling, or the dull ache of numbness, that have accompanied more or less constantly over the past few months.  I could just be.
Maybe it's because I was surrounded by people who were also just being after surfacing from a low point (lasting years, not months as in my case).
Maybe it was the woods. Oak trees on all sides, ivy, ferns.
Maybe it was the little tea-light holder I made. First time I held a drill, first time I sanded down a piece of wood.

I felt calm. I stopped thinking so much about what I was feeling. I wasn't spinning, or stagnant. I was fine.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

My Father claimed that one day, he simply decided that he would never cry again. And he never did.

I wonder why he told me this.
I remember him saying it. I was sitting on his lap, my head against his chest, sobbing about something I can't remember now. It was night-time. Only one lamp was on in the living room.
When he said that, I looked up at him, tears temporarily stalled. I remember him smiling at me, but it was not a smile of joy.

My heart convulses with pain when I remember his smiles, his face in pain, his face in repose, his face after he said he loved me, his face angry. His face at rest.
And however much I decide I will not cry, I find myself unable to hold my tears as they run over. 

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

no one is ever ready

Do you watch the White Queen?
I came across it only yesterday (I know - where have I been?)
In the space of an evening, I'd devoured all the episodes online.

There's a scene in there that grabbed my heart and clenched it hard.
As her mother lies dying, the 'White Queen', though she is Queen of England, and a mother herself,suddenly becomes childlike again. Small, vulnerable, afraid. She wants help, she wants to know what her future will be. She begs her mother to stay with her. "I'm not ready" she says, her voice breaking. Her mother smiles at her and says, "No one is ever ready."

No. One. Is. Ever. Ready.

My God. It was so good.

And it is so true. You can't be ready.  You can be readier than completely unprepared. But when it comes to losing those we love, especially a parent, no one is ever ready.
This is healing to hear. It is healing to that little forlorn child who comes upon you, out of nowhere, no matter your age, or how 'together' you are, the one who is panicked and desperate. She tries to bargain for more time saying that she isn't ready. But of course, she never will be. And actually, that's okay.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Ships in the night

A woman said:
She watched her 92 year old father die, slowly, over a week.
And it was "hell."
Seeing him die "crucified me."

(Seen in: A letter to the editor in today's Independent newspaper).


Note to self: Others have seen what I have seen. Some others have seen worse - or much worse.
If you're out there, give me a shout. I need to see you wave your hand, even if you're just passing by. 
What do I love? And how do I know?

Are you parenting a child while going through an illness?
More power to you.  And all my prayers.  I can't imagine how difficult this must be.

Or are you an adult child who has grown up with an ill, older parent?
More power to you.  And all my prayers. I know how difficult this can be.

A tip, if you're the parent:
Don't celebrate every birthday as though it might be your last. Don't load every event with megatonnes of significance because there is a gun to your head (and by extension, your child's head).
It's exhausting.
It dilutes the happiness.
It's not actually all that exclusive, that gun: everyone has it. We forget that sometimes, in families with illness. Everyone is living with the gun. It's always loaded. So chill the fuck out. Relax, cut the cake, smile a lot, hug each other, forget the shadow.

I remember 24 birthdays (mine) when I clung to my Father - either literally or over the phone. My memory does that thing it does when I am sad or scared - it becomes super sharp, and I remember every tone of Happy Birthday darling I ever heard from him. The thing about sharp memories is that even the good ones wound you deeply. There's a reason people don't remember things so sharply. I remember smiles as I cut the cake, but also tears behind my mother's eyes. My mind remembers the smiles. My heart remembers the tears.

And while I completely agree that we need to live life 110%, I also know - really know - that there's a good reason why people seem designed to forget about that loaded gun, that sand slipping through the hourglass.
It's because we need to just be sometimes. We need to think we can live forever. We need to feel invincible a little. We need to make mistakes, waste a little time, take detours, wander. We need to remember a birthday for it's joy, not for being joyful-and-potentially-the-last. 

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Despite being able to come on here every day, several times a day, and spill my guts, I'm surprisingly quiet.
Perhaps being quiet is one of the things that drives people to blog.
My writing here is stream of consciousness. I don't think of topics for posts, and I don't edit. I come on, type and leave. Which, I'm sure, is seriously abusive to you if you're reading this on a regular basis. But seriously healing for me I'd like to hope.
Because we all need to spill our guts sometimes, right?

In my 'real' life, I have fewer and fewer words, and none at all to talk about my Father, or family, or what happened.

I wish it wasn't like this, because I feel like I want to be heard.
I want to hear Yes I know. Or me too. Most of all I want to hear: You're fine. It's fine. I get it. 

Here is what I do not want to hear.
Childishly, I blame the following sentences for shutting me up over the past few months.
Things like:

He's here with you.
Be strong for you Mother.
You're the Elder one. You're in charge now. You must be strong and responsible.
He's in a better place.
If you do this, what will your Mother do? She needs you.
He sent me a sign! Yay!
Everyone goes through this.
You're very strong.
You're doing amazingly well.
You dealt with it (past tense) really well. We're all very proud of you.
I'm so proud of you.
You never complain. That's amazing.

I'm sure each of these platitudes has comforted other people in the past, because that's why they're still used. Right?
I must be an exception, because all they do to me is make me feel gagged.

What if I am not actually strong enough, wise enough, good enough, to live a human life (without the guidance of my Father) 

What if it's all too good to be true and, like my worst fears whispered to me, my Mother's grief makes a spectacular and overwhelming resurgence and she dies?  

What if my Father thought I was a negligent daughter?What if he meant it when he called me selfish? 

What if I am, in fact, selfish in the worst possible way, or just plain evil, for having thought the thoughts I thought, and felt the feelings I felt when he was sick? 

What if I am not capable of feeling just one pure emotion at a time - sadness unclouded by anger, relief, remorse and guilt; happiness unclouded by guilt; anger unclouded by guilt. What if I'm just damaged or broken? 

What if I get cancer - because I smoked, or because I didn't say certain things, or because I felt things I didn't let out (does blogging count? I don't think so). 

And here comes the self-involved neurosis.  8:30pm sharp, every evening.  Ugh. 
My sister and I had a long talk about who should be in the hospital room when my Father died.
I could not bear the idea that he'd be alone.  For a week, he slipped in and out of the 'edge', and we couldn't stay by his bedside 24/7. So we started taking it in turns, and I stayed as long as I could at night. 
Given his status (senior, highly respected surgeon), we were allowed special dispensation to stay in the ICU with him at night as long as we were super quiet. I sat with my cheek against his hand, drifting in and out of sleep, for as long as I could every night. People came in and out, to change his position, to administer a drug, to check his vitals. 

One night, he seemed to be coming 'to', and fighting the ventilator. 
If you haven't seen a loved one coming to and fighting his ventilator, I pray you never have to. 
If you have, I pray you can forget the sight. I pray that it is possible to forget it.  

A nurse came in and on the instruction of the presiding doctor, gave my Father a syringefull of morphine.  I sort of intuited that when you give a syringefull of morphine to someone in that condition, it is possible that their heartrate will drop, and maybe not recover.  I maintained eye contact with the nurse the whole time, and he maintained eye contact with me.  I would have given away everything that is mine to give, in that moment when my Father was struggling. Anything to make him either come to completely, or sink back quickly, anything to stop his distress.
In the event, all I had to give, I gave back with my eyes. Before the syringe was half empty, the struggling stopped and everything was calm again. Pulse 60, BP normal, oxgen saturation almost normal. 

As the nurse left the room, he squeezed my shoulder.  The room was darkened, and his face was dark, but if I see him again, in a crowd of thousands, a thousand years later, I will remember him. 

Saturday, 3 August 2013

How we know

Intuition is much stronger than fear.

I knew my Father would not wake up from his last illness when, late one night, after returning from the hospital, I decided to ask a Tarot deck what the outcome of his hospital stay would be.

I drew this card.

The Three of Swords, Reversed, indicates a time in the querants' life when old pain can finally be faced and released. In very rough terms, in an upright card, the swords appear to be stuck.  They're embedded in the heart, and it bleeds tears.  In a reversed position, the swords are able to 'fall out', as it were.  I got a start when I saw that the biggest and most central sword has a snake wrapped around it.  My Father was the Chinese sign of the Snake, and 2013 is the Year of the Snake.

It's a flimsy set of signs to go on if you use the left side of your brain (and if you do, I hear you saying that it's a flimsy set of signs if you use your brain at all, period).  But I knew, immediately, that I would soon be coming up to a time - within hours or days - when that central sword would be pulled, painfully, out of my heart, and that it would bleed, and hurt, and I would rather it just stayed there, but that it would be pulled out nonetheless.

With my Father no longer alive, I can release the sword that was the fear - no, the terror - and sadness that accompanied my journey through his illness.

But I would pay, in swords through the heart, for him to be alive and here with me.  
I miss my Dad.  
I miss him.  I want to call, to hear his voice, to talk to him and feel his arms around me, to feel loved by him.

I read this post yesterday, which made me think about what it will be like many years from now.

Is this what life is like?  We never get over loss, so as one gets older, there is always a sad part in our souls?


Friday, 2 August 2013

I'm tired. 

I want to forget about everything that's happened this year, and everything it's done to me, and just have some fun. I want to go dancing, get piss drunk, lie in the grass on a sunny day, have sex in the afternoon, spend 1000s on clothes and get my hair done. 

Mostly, I want to sleep. A lot. 

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Comic Relief

The Times of India piece on women - the cached version

"We all know women are pretty, soft, sexy, and attractive" 

And its author

"Sex without love or passion happens only in porn movies. Men can do it but women can't." 

"The Times Of India, with a reported circulation of more than three million, posted "Weird, funny facts about women"to its website Monday, quickly prompting shock and outrage on Facebook andTwitter.It's not hard to see why."

Sweet Lord. 

Such things that go on. The sadness of it all, the absurdity of it all. 

Hospitals as sacred spaces

Think about it.

The walls of a hospital cradle the living and the dying. People in hospital drift into and out of heaven or the hereafter or the great beyond or the dark void or whatever you want to call it. 

Don't let those sick green walls, that smell, decieve you. Those brisk footsteps, those spotless white coats.  Hospitals are sacred spaces.  They hold up the living and dying to whatever is to come next. Heaven opens or closes above hospital beds and the walls are drenched with prayer. The prayers of those with eyes closed, forehead against the wall, begging for him to open his eyes, or her kidneys to start working again. For him to be born safely, for her hands to be steady in the operation theatre. For blood to be found, an organ, a doctor, a drug.  

Please, let him get through the day.

Please, please please, God. Thank you, thank you, thank you, God.

I don't know if I believe in you God, but if you're listening, please help me.
Please let it not hurt, please let me get well.

Promises, too.  I will stop smoking if I get out. I will be nice to her if she lives. 

I am sorry I said that. I am sorry I did that.

Please forgive me.

There are no more prayers more deeply felt, nowhere else are hearts as broken open, pouring forth to heaven.

Please, Thank You, Sorry.


Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Shock comes slowly

It's been a few months now, since my Father died. Sometimes I still think I haven't fully absorbed the sense of shock. It sometimes hits me: That Happened. 

And sometimes, it feels like I've absorbed it fully, and have moved through several of the 'stages' you hear about: sadness, anger, confusion, whatever. 

My point is that it's surprising how mixed up all of these passing emotions are. They appear in no predictable order for me, and they don't necessarily resolve before giving way to something else.  

My anger of the past few weeks has given way to a sense of hollow sadness, and horrible pain when I remember the sights and sounds of the hospital.  Even though they are in the past now, they hurt me much more than they did when I was actually in there.  I guess it's that way for everyone. You focus on getting through the thing you're navigating. You keep your head above water. When you're done, it all hits you.  

I wonder if it feels more momentous to me than it does to others?  I wonder if I'm going through all the run of the mill stuff that everyone goes through. That's what I told myself again and again during the weeks and months when he was ill and dying.  Everyone faces this at some point. Most people lose their parents. Everyone goes through this. I'm just going through it now. It's not a big deal. It's all totally normal.  

It is.  But it is also lonely and frightening and confusing, because no one talks about it. What is normal? How do you know you're okay? How do you know if something is too much?  

I am in a state of 'functioning' grief. I have relatively regular days and I sleep through the night. But what about that time that I got so angry I nearly passed out with giddiness?  Was that too much anger?  What about the time the Man hugged me and I couldn't stop crying? Is it okay that for weeks at a time I don't - can't - cry at all?  
And here's the question I kind of keep returning to: Does it matter? To me? To anyone? Is all this important? Yes, whispers my intuition. And no. 

A proposal: How not to feel alone in the things you've seen

Some people have seen things that others, who haven't seen them, cannot understand. There are no words to describe how it feels to have seen these things, and it seems important not to think you're the only one who has.

So I propose a tee-shirt that says I've Seen: __________ (wearer fills in the blank), tee-shirt sold with a fabric pen.  Others who have seen the same can nod, wink or smile at the wearer to indicate their presence in the world.

What would your tee-shirt read?

Mine would read I've seen my Father die. 

If this is idea has legs, I hereby give you permission to use it. 

Live-tweeting the passing of a loved one

Scot Simon has been tweeting about his last few days with his Mother as she lay in the ICU in a Chicago hospital.

The Independent had a piece about it, and I looked up his Twitter and read through the tweets (@nprscottsimon)

One tweet in particular took me right back, instantly, to the dawn of my Father's passing. 10 hours ago, Scott tweeted, Heart rate dropping. Heart dropping.  

I can recall those moments too.  I can recall the shape of the zigzag line of the ECG. I can recall the size of every peak and trough. I can recall how they changed.  I can recall the shape of the vein on his right temple. I can recall feeling my own pulse in the palm of my right hand, which was gripping the cold metal bar on the side of his bed. I can recall how mercilessly steady my own pulse was.  If I had counted it, I can bet money it would have been a perfect 72. It hasn't been 72 since.

I could not possibly write about how these tweets make me feel, because I don't have the words to do so. I don't think these kinds of emotions have names or words. They can be described in metaphor at best, and that too seems crude and cliche. Nonsense like a sword through the heart comes to mind, but those are the only words I have.

He is a better writer than me.
Go check it out if you want, and if you feel like it's all too recent and raw, and you're trying not to break apart, then don't.
I'm going to work.

Monday, 29 July 2013


Survival is made of little touches of magic.  Or at least, my survival is. 
I am completely unable to change the big things in my life which have wounded me so deeply. But today, I had dinner with friends, unexpectedly. It was one of those coffees that turned into a long conversation which turned into dinner.  I walked home at sunset.  The air turned golden, then rust, and a soft rain began to fall.  
It is these moments that gently lift my heart.  Softly, powerfully, tangibly. 

They happen un-asked, un-anticipated.  But they happen again and again, you can count on it.  Watch out for them and let them love you.  

The care-takers mantra

I tried something on for size yesterday. I said to myself: I am responsible for my well-being first. (Sure, caveats apply, but not right now). There's one way of finding out if you're a care-taker. If you're a compulsive care-taker:  This thought gave me anxiety, and a headache.  I found it difficult to relax, and didn't know what to do with myself.

Today, my head still hurts, but I'm having none of this. I'm taking a headache pill, turning my phone off, and doing my work.

Be kind to yourself, it's okay to just give yourself what you need first.  
Such easy words. I can write about not meeting my needs, and I can rant and whine. But I still can't practice actually meeting them, or allowing others to help me do so. 

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Compassion-fatigue is real and this is what mine looks like

A friend and I belly-laughed on the phone today, as we recounted the hateful, angry-making, mad-making, crazy-ass nonsensical antics of our parents.
The things that occurred at 10, or 12, or 16, which broke your heart.
The things happening now which, were you 10, 12, or 16, would break your heart but which now befuddle or anger, those two emotions sometimes acting as a wall against hurt.

At 10, and 12, and 16, I was able to listen for hours to my Mother, and empathize with her pain. Her pain at recollections of a difficult childhood, her pain at loneliness, her grief over this, or anger over that. I listened because I could feel her pain and wanted desperately to do anything I could to alleviate it.  I sensed that listening helped. Listening does help, doesn't it? I'm a good listener when I sense you're in pain.

I once held the hand of a boyfriend who had cheated on me with my sister (yes), and listened as he told me how confused he was.  I listened well enough for him to confess, for him to confess in every tiny detail. I didn't let go of his hand, and I didn't stop stroking his head.  I told him I'd forgiven him.  He held on to me like there was no tomorrow, and cried his eyes out. He said he'd be back after a short trip with friends, and we'd pick up where we left off.
Never saw him again.

It wasn't easy for me to be angry at him, but I have never forgiven him.

It is becoming easier and easier for me to be angry at my Mother.  I desperately want her to feel better. Because I love her and because (and here is the guilty-making part) I can feel her pain.  I can feel it.  I don't kid you.  I have a heavy heart and a tight, cold band of pain across my head when I listen to how much she misses my Father, or how "shattering" her loss is.  I feel crucified to her pain. So I try to offer a word of advice or a positive message.  I try to offer a different perspective because we are both trapped together in her sadness.

This is not what she wants.

She wants a listener. I can't listen to any more sadness, anger, fear or confusion.  I just can't. I feel it, and I also feel enough of my own to fill me right up.

I want to help - her and myself. But conversations don't go well, and my head and my heart hurt.

This week has been intense.  A research conference, a number of 'developments' at home, a visit by the Man's parents, a 4 hour meeting with the Boss, and a day-trip to a nearby town yesterday.  This morning finds me anxious (no. outright panicked.) and headachy.

Oh. And I told my Mum yesterday that if she didn't want to hear what I had to say, she shouldn't ring me.  

On reflection, I think, cancel out the paragraph of things that I think were too intense, and let's just stick to that last sentence. Uttering it took a lot out of me. 

Now of course, I'm torn between putting my phone off and wanting to ring her and say it was all a huge mistake, and she can ring me any time she wants, for any reason, to say anything, and I will always listen.

The person who asked people to be kind because people are fighting a great battle was on to something.  Except I hope all people are not feeling the way I feel at the moment. If you are, here, have a hug. 

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

I have had a magical day.
And I am very happy about that.
But I am also in more pain than ever.

The hopeful message is that it is possible to have a happy day - genuinely. So, go out, meet a friend, laugh, drink that wine, dance to that song like no one's looking.
The horrible truth is that the happiness of the day doesn't make the ache go away. So don't be surprised if when you shut your eyes, you feel more tortured than ever.
A little helpful hint from me to you, if you are in a torturous place too, like me.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

What is a 'normal' family?

I wrote yesterday about how kids with 'special' responsibilities develop special abilities, and take on personas that help them cope.  Or, to sound less like an Expert, I wrote about my personas (just two of them) that helped me cope. I've no idea if these are universal. Perhaps I am just messed up. 

At any rate. 

That post got me thinking about who the 'normal' families are and whether there even is such a thing.  I don't want to this to turn into a research paper, so I'm just going to list all the 'family types' where I think kids might have more emotional or practical responsibilities than my imagined norm. Each is followed by a question mark for obvious reasons. 
  • Single-parent households? (E.g. through divorce, bereavement, personal choice)
  • Households where grandparents or other relatives are care-takers (instead of parents)? 
  • Households where a sibling has been ill or died?  
  • Households where someone has a physical disability other than illness?
  • Households where a parent or child is ill for a long time? (Keep in mind the huge numbers of people who have the so-called 'lifestyle diseases' now. Chronic, long-term conditions that require continued care and can sometimes be very debilitating and involve complications.)  
  • Households crippled by debt? 
  • Homeless families? 
  • Families who have to move a lot for work?
Is it possible that within each of these, kids take on relatively more emotional responsibility than the imagined or actual norm?  Is there a norm?  What is it?   

And more importantly I think, if there are so many types of situations where this kind of thing can happen, are many of these kids feeling alone?  Like I did?  Like I still do?  WHY? 

Monday, 22 July 2013

I am exceptionally afraid of physical suffering because of the suffering I have witnessed.
I am also afraid of my own fear - of its implications.  I really do believe that what we fear, we only bring closer to us.  

I remember, very clearly, the first time I thought that I would have a horrible, long-term illness.  I was very little, and at dinner with a family friend.  She is a doctor and my Father and her were discussing the recent news that HIV/AIDS was turning into an awful global epidemic (remember this was the late 80s or early 90s).  I was curious and wanted to know more.  They explained the disease and its cause and prevention.  I said something to the effect of, Well. If I get that AIDS thing, I'll fight it off.  My Father's friend said, You can't fight it. You have to just not get it.
For some reason, I could not process the fact that I would just avoid this new disease they were talking about, and leave it at that.  I thought to myself. Oh. Maybe if I don't get AIDS, I'll get cancer instead. For some reason, I couldn't compute a disease-free life.

That thought stuck with me.  Now, just over two decades later, I am more afraid than ever.  And I mean, really afraid.  Heart-disease is in my family, but do I fear it? No.  Is it a fearsome thing? You bet. It sucks big time.  But it isn't in my consciousness.

Maybe fearing an enemy you have never seen is easier than fearing the one you've observed closely.  And maybe we are conditioned to fear things.  Even as children.

I want to know how to un-think that thought I had, way back then. I want to live free of the fear that I will suffer, and free of the burden of remembering the suffering I have witnessed.  

Parents with special needs, kids with special abilities.

Every household has it's own dynamics and everyone develops habits to navigate them. The way I grew up, I think I developed special abilities with two, related roles: 

I've become practiced at playing these, and seem to be able to recognise very quickly when others are too. 

The care-taker is the child who magically understands your moods, needs and limitations, and moulds herself subtly to suit them. She might not be the child who does the dishes, he might leave a mess on the floor. But he will be the one who can sense you are sad, and hug you. He'll sometimes seem to know what you need. More often than not, she'll grow into a teenager who other people go to for advice. The one who can mentor younger children with ease.  
The caretaker is the child who seems to see. The child who can sense. 

The victim is the child who knows precisely how to use a situation - any situation. To generate attention, love, a cuddle, a lollipop, a day off school, a delayed exam. The victim is the one who can get off the hook by claiming extenuating circumstances. Often, these will be extenuating circumstances which everyone will understand. My Father is ill. My Father is dying. My Father this, my Mother that, my feet this, my head that. Often, the victim hides behind a pillar of competence. That's because he is the care-takers twin. He keeps her alive by allowing her to fall down in a heap. She keeps him alive by picking up the slack. 

Together, they dance through the years, pulling and pushing this way and that, balancing the see-saw. They give power, they draw power. They expend energy, then they suck it back up.  

Finally, when the abyss which was the 'extenuating circumstance' is finally over, it takes time and effort to overcome that mad dance, and move towards a better balance. I don't know if I can do it, but I know I want to try. Both roles are exhausting, and though life may be a stage, playing these roles is more puppet-dance than glorious stagecraft. 

If you are caring for a child who has more responsibilities - practical or emotional - than 'normal' children, look for this. Tell me if what I've seen, looking back at myself, is also looking up at you. With a too-knowing smile, or an anguished and powerless grimace.  
At work, I am confident, decisive, enthusiastic, energetic and focused. 
I wonder how that, and the forlorn child inside me, can co-exist. 

Sunday, 21 July 2013

What it feels like to lose a parent you loved

I feel that hollow, dejected, despairing, sad and panicked feeling you had as a child, when your parents were to pick you up from school but were very late. Or perhaps you had it one day as you walked with them on a crowded street, suddenly realising that you were not holding their hand anymore. You remember this feeling? That's what it feels like. 
I once asked my Father, Do you actually love me? I was 16 or 17, and really in a dark place. I was crying, and he was reprimanding me for something I'd done wrong.
I hurt bad enough to ask it through tears, in a hotel lobby in Singapore.
I don't remember what he said in response, because the answer was not of course I do.

Years later, he said it more. And I understood to read his actions more. But something stayed hidden from me that I felt I could never quite touch. Something reserved for my Mum and sister that I could never quite match. No matter how well I later did, or how well I took care of him when he was sick, or how guilty I felt when I was in England. In the months and years just preceding his passing, he said it actively and often. I hung on to those words like I've never hung on to anything before. Our last words to each other were I love you Papa and he said I love you to. Yes, I do.

I wish I could hang on to them always. I wish I could believe them always. But the old doubts return. I hear that he has sent a sign to my Mother and sister and wonder why I am not selected to receive these. Without asking, without begging. I hate that I then feel rejected, and in turn, feel a stab at anger at him and at them. I feel like turning away and saying, fine, I get it. It's just not there for me. Some people just do not feel a certain way about some people. He loved me as much as he could. I should love myself unconditionally and deeply and then I will not feel this need.

But for now, that line of reasoning doesn't really work.

I feel it's important to say that I do feel sorry for myself when I think about this aspect of my life. I have spent many hours tormenting myself for "feeling sorry for myself" and thus trying to push it all down.
I should clarify that I am trying to overcome the ridiculous notion that one cannot feel sorry for one's own pain. If I was my friend, or a sister, I would feel tremendously sorry. I would cry for me. And then, I would try to help.
That's what I'm trying to do here. 
So. More on anger. 
I was asked by Mum why I didn't sound so hot. 
I said I didn't want to talk about it. She sounded concerned. 

I should clarify that she always sounds concerned, and that my anger about being unable to communicate with her is not because she never asks, or is dismissive.  She asks. It's just that her subsequent responses shut me down completely. 
Responses like: Yes I understand it's just a shattering kind of loss. I know, because after all, I've lost my spouse. 

The first part of that response primes to recall all the uber-drama of many years past. As a result of those years, I've become allergic (literally - I break out into hives) to anything that I perceive to be nonsensical amounts of dramatics, hysterics or OTT-ness.  
Excitement, I can do. Squealing about pretty things, I can do. But frame a problem in nonsensically sad terms (even if it is nonsensically sad,) and I can't take it. My first instinct becomes: It's not that bad. Pull yourself together

The second part of her response - after all I've lost my spouse. Well. Who the fuck is competing. It makes me feel invalidated and subordinated. It makes me feel like I have to turn my caretaker on and console her
Sometimes, this is fine. But I detest it when people attempt to console you by pointing to their own greater misery. It kind of defeats the fucking purpose. 

The anger stems from my expectation that I should be able to talk to my Mum. The expectation stems from the fact that once, I felt like I could. No,  I knew I could. In fact, she was my sole confidant and closest friend. I felt understood, protected and loved unconditionally. I still know that I am loved but something has changed and I don't know how to change it back. Every conversation stresses me to the point of a headache because I start out wanting a different kind of conversation, an authentic communication, but our habits of communication inevitably lead us down the same old paths. I hang up feeling resentful and very angry. I think she hangs up feeling sad and confused, wondering where her daughter really is.  

I don't know how to change this. 
I've tried many different things none of which really work for prolonged periods. I still want it to change - I'm not able to accept that we might never feel connected again. That would be a terrible loss for me. I feel stuck, sad and scared that that is the way it's going. 
Today, I am in pain.
I would so love to hear my Father's voice.  I wish I could call him and hear him as he was before he was ill. He was so lovely to talk to. Always encouraging, calm, strong, cheerful and positive.  Always caring and asking me if I was having a good time, if I had anything good planned for my evening and weekend. Always ready to dispense medical advice if I had a cold, or felt down. Always ready to listen if I'd had a fight with the Man.

Over the last year or two of his life, these conversations gradually tapered away. I was so reluctant to share anything that might worry him. I was also reluctant to share anything that betrayed the fact that sometimes I was actually happy and having a good time. I felt guilty, and restricted my communications to reports on how busy I was at work, how much I was working, how much I was reading, how much I was writing.  I felt like if I was going to be away from him, there had to be a good reason. Living a calm and normal life didn't feel good enough.  So I was always 'busy' or 'tired' or 'boring'. Many times I thought my way into such a place even if my life was going well.  When he was in hospital and I knew he would not wake up, I was told to 'tell him everything I needed to'.  Characteristically, I could not speak.  Except to say I love you, Thank you, I love you, Thank you, over and over again. Aloud, in my head, in whispers, through sobs, through smiles.

Like I said before, perhaps that is the only thing that needed to be said. But today,  I miss sharing the smallness of my life. I have period cramps. I am going to Birmingham on Tuesday. I am wondering when my hair is going to grow long enough to have a chignon. Are there any vitamins I should take to make my hair grow longer Papa?

I worship the God of Small Things often. That it is the wellspring of my life. And I feel like if I can't share that, something very fundamental has been lost.     

What do I need?

I've spent a lot of time bleating about being unable to communicate my needs. I wonder if I even know what they are.
So I ask myself: What would make me feel better? Here is a list that I typed without thinking too much about it. I'm sure I need to articulate it all better, but here's a first go:

  • Some kind of sign from my Father, meant for me and only me. A sign of love, a sign that all my doubts were stupid and false.  
  • The ability to tell my Mother how angry I am, with him, with her, with myself and with the situation we had.  
  • Finding a friend who has been through close to what I have. So that I know it's not such a cataclysm after all. Others go through it, others survive, and yes, it hurts like hell, all the time. And so that we cal tell each other the great secret: Sometimes I am not brave at all.   
Fear of loss, over years and years, has shaped me in so many ways.

Growing up, I had marked separation anxiety. When my parents dined out, or I was visiting family in other cities, I felt incredibly distressed. I'd cry, I'd imagine they'd never come back, I'd imagine my sister and me left adrift in a big bad world. I was unable to overcome my homesickness in boarding school when I went there at age 16, and had to come home after a year because I just could not handle it. There were many things about boarding school which were basically terrible, but I think my inability to be away from my parents contributed a lot to my misery.

Thereafter, I spent some really happy years going to school and college in my own city, living at home, making friends and learning new things. When it was time to decide whether I would go to University, I was ready, and could make a relatively easy transition from living at home to living in England.  At first we all thought it would  be  a just a year's sojourn. That turned into three more years (PhD), one more year (new job!), yet another year (Post-doc). So, here I am. Seemingly able to live my own life at a remove from that of my parent's.  But of course, part of that is an illusion.
I am home 3 times a year.
I am on the phone every day. Sometimes twice, three times. My Mum calls me, I call her.

Home was constantly on my mind when my Father was ill, because I beat myself up about my 'other' life. I tried to live it at a frantic pace, just in case it was snatched away. But I also said that I'd give it up and go home forever (which of course, hasn't happened yet).  I thought I could make a choice, but actually, came to realise that both parts of my life were important to me, and that it would do violence to some part of me to choose one. That kept me from making a stupid mistake, but it kept me split too.

I sense that now is the time to slowly move towards being whole again. It's going to be a long journey, but it's one that I sense I am about to take.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

I was told that when my Father's mother died, he was called in to do emergency surgery. A man came over to his house, crying, begging him to come over to the hospital and save his father, who for some reason, no other surgeon would touch.
My Father got up and went, and the man was saved.

Can you imagine doing surgery?
Can you imagine doing emergency surgery?
Right after the death of a much-loved parent?

How can I cry and wail for such a man?
When he died I came home and shut the door.
My study was very quiet. I locked the door and shut the blinds. I put on my computer - this computer that I'm typing on now. I checked my email. I had a few messages from work. One was from a company I wanted to apply for a job with. They wanted to know if I was still available. Of course I am, I replied. Please send me details of the opening as soon as you have them.

Then I went for a shower. I straightened my hair so it fell becomingly across my forehead. I did my eye-makeup. I put on lipgloss. I went over a list of things I needed to read for work. I went downstairs, and ate lunch. A friend's mother came over and started 'arranging' our living room. I coordinated efforts. Flowers, extra rugs on the floor, chairs this way or that, tray of glasses for drinking water.

I was not shaking, or in any pain whatsoever. A state I have not recaptured since.

Amazing, the power of a story. 
I detest it when people tell me that my Father is 'here', 'near me'.
This is not because I don't believe in a hereafter, or in signs. I always have.
I just hate the way they are trivialised and used as some kind of cheap anesthetic.

I think I got one sign from my Father. In a dream, just after he died, I was sitting with him in the hospital room where we died. He was awake, and looked well. He was still in that awful bed, but he seemed fine. I was chatting with him. I looked at his heart monitor, and said, It's off! and he said,  Thank God.

I told my Mother the next day, and she insisted it was a sign. Something about that insistence irked me, and I insisted it was not. I felt like I was betraying something deep within me, but I said it's just my mind. I didn't dream of him again.

Thereafter, I heard of other signs.  Gifted to my Mother, and my sister, but not to me.
What are the possibilities?
Maybe I cannot see the signs because I denied them. Maybe it's because he senses my anger and it is, in fact, wrong to feel the way I do. Maybe it hurts him. Maybe he didn't love me. Maybe it's because I left my Mother and sister at home and came back away to England to lead my life and that was wrong.
Maybe the whole thing is a pile of shit.
Maybe he didn't love me? 
Judgement, from the ones who love us, from those we trust most:

I was angry at my Father when he was ill, and supremely angry when he died.
Then, I was guilty about feeling so damn mad. So I thought I had no right to express the other things I was feeling: pain, sadness, confusion, despair. I thought the fact of my anger cancelled out my right to grieve.  He was a great man. I know many daughters think that about their fathers. I was lucky to have a father who really touched many lives. He saved hundreds of lives in his career as a general surgeon. He was generous and giving, to a fault. He was brave, determined and strong. He was a hero to many, and to me.
It's difficult to be angry at such a man.
Especially as he is dying.

I stepped out of his room because I heard that people near death can sense the emotions and thoughts of those around them.  I didn't want him to know of my rage. So many times when it welled up inside me, I walked out of the room, and stood by an open window in the hospital, looking out at the crows and kites circling in the sky, at the distant brick Synagogue on the horizon, at the tops of the rain trees in the hospital grounds. I felt the cooler outside air brushing my cheeks. I tried to breathe, I tried to cancel out what was burning through me.
Then when I felt the other more 'normal' feelings, I went back inside.

Then, when he died, at one point I felt relief. Relief! I thought: I do not have to be scared of 'it' any more.  Sweet.

I tried to voice this to my Mother. I know exactly how it must have sounded. I can't blame her for the reaction she had. Except, I kind of do.
Later that day, I heard her recounting our conversation to my Aunt.  "And then she said, 'I did not ask for this!"   
I felt cheated, and judged, and guilty and inadequate.
I was already guilty, but then I felt even guiltier. Angry at myself, furious at her.
I haven't been able to show her my pain since. Not one tear.
She is the person I love most in this world. More guilt, more anger.

I think I need to get completely drunk.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Grief is lonely, and that makes me angry.

One surprising thing about grief is how lonely it can be.
I might be being completely unfair, but from where I sit, it feels like unless you are making an event of your grief, or presenting an uncomplicated picture, pain can go un-noticed.
That makes me mad, and very resentful. Partly at myself, for being unable to break through and communicate my needs. But as I established before, my grief comes at the 'end' of a process in which silence became a habit. So, it's difficult for me to shout about my needs now, when they are most intense.

Maybe this is something that is particular to my experience, and by extension to the experience of others who have come through the long-term illness of a loved one? I don't know and I wish I did. I really wish I did.

Maybe it is also that some kinds of grief, or some characteristics of the griever, are considered more or less deserving of attention by others?
I've been told, or felt, implicitly, that:
I'm young (er - than my Mother) and therefore more resilient (I'd like to see irrefutable evidence that resilience is negatively correlated with age before I believe it);

I'm at a stage in my life where I have other things to worry about (jobs, contracts, rent, boyfriend) and that therefore I am lucky to be too busy to be grieving intensely.

I am 'strong'.

'Everyone' goes through the loss of a parent - it's a normal part of life.

My Dad was old, so it's 'better this way'.

And the worst of all: 'He is still around, so there's nothing to be sad about'.

All of these things, heard or imagined, have silenced my grief and given more fuel to my rage. Towards myself, and towards the people to whom I expected to be able to share myself unreservedly, but with whom I am being completely inauthentic. 

From Psychology Today - Private Pain: A Mourner's Bill of Rights

I loved this article from Psychology Today, which puts forward a mourner's Bill of Rights. I reproduce the actual list of 'rights' below.
Underlining mine.
1. You have the right to take whatever path you take through your grief without judgment.
2. You have the right to ignore or incorporate any or all of the MOUNTAINS of advice you will get.
3. You have the right to say: "No thank you."
4. You have the right to grieve for whatever you have lost, including things you never had but ache for, like phantom limb pain.
5. You have the right to ask people to bring you pizza, not platitudes.
6. You have the right to your own definition of grief. For someone else the loss may have some unknowable reason; it may be a journey, a blessing 'in disguise', bad karma, a teachable moment, part of a plan, a test, a process, a choice. It doesn't have to be any of those things for you. It can simply be where you are at the time. Or it can be senseless, stupid, meaningless and profoundly awful.
7. You have the right not to be grateful, reasonable, inspired or inspiring.
8. You have the right not to feel or believe of be comforted by any of the following: "he's in a better place; his work here was done; she's in your heart; it's a blessing; it's no one's fault; time heals all wounds; you'll find a new one; it could have been worse." 
9. You have the right to buzz around, filling your life with activities and people so you don't have to feel a thing.
10. You have the right to feel what you can feel when you can feel it. Be numb when you are numb. Seek comfort when you can stand to. Sometimes the deep fog of grief can make all intimacy too painful - any feelings unbearable. You have the right not to bear them even when everyone around you says you MUST FEEL YOUR FEELINGS OR YOU WILL NEVER MOVE ON.
11. You have the right not to "move on."
12. You have the right to ungodly, ugly, blind rage.
13. You have the right to feel complete, utter hopelessness and despair, and to say – out loud – over and over, that it will never get better, you will never feel better – without everyone shushing you.
14. You have the right to eat or sing or say whatever you want.  
15. You have the right to be inalterably changed. The person you were before the death of your loved one is gone. You are now someone else. You don't know who yet. It's your right to find out.
16. You have the right to experience the many tricky, shape-shifting forms grief takes in whatever order you experience them: Here it looks like rage. There it takes the shape of obsession. It has many forms. They are all true. They are all lies.
You have the right to stay where you are. Sometimes there are no signs at all. Sometimes you are moving through grief's darkest depths without knowing it. It's like starting on the bottom floor of an elevator in the deepest core of the earth. Each floor you go up, the doors open, only to reveal more darkness. It all looks and feels the same, but it is not. You are moving toward where you need to be.
17. You have the right to self-pity, selfishness, self-loathing, self-awareness. You the right to be YOURSELF. Deep grief is a profoundly lonely experience, and yet, it binds us all. We all walk beside you, which will give you comfort when you are ready.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Things that I feel 'because' of my Father's illness (i.e. because of my response to my Father's illness):

Fear is a big part of it.

I am scared of getting old.
I am very frightened of being ill. I am especially scared of getting cancer.  I've been scared of cancer since I was a child, somehow feeling that it is my fate to have it.
There were many times during my life, knowing and seeing what my Father went through in his old age and decline, that I openly voiced my intention to die early, to avoid such a prolonged period of suffering.  Voicing these intentions, I was simultaneously horrified, and terrified, but unable to 'unthink' or 'unvoice' them.  I have voiced them, variously, to friends, to my Mother and to my Father.

I am frightened of the implications of this, because I believe we create what we think about or give voice to. Have I created a cancer in either my present or my future? I don't know and I hope not. Have I created a shorter life than I otherwise would have because I repeatedly said that that is what I want?
I don't know, and I don't know who to ask.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

There are few things in my life that I have the ability to make such declarative, absolutist sentences about.
But this is one of them: I have some expertise with anticipating grieving - and then actually grieving - for someone who has been ill a long time.

One of the most difficult parts of this experience is how silencing it is. All through: from the time my Father first fell ill, all the way to now, some 20-odd years later, there have been various codes of silence I've had to abide by. Some of these codes I constructed myself. Others I intuited (or imagined?) and complied with.
Now I feel I cannot really contain all the silence inside me, and worse, I sometimes feel as though the silence I had to impose on that one most vital, painful and significant aspect of my life is spilling over into other parts of my life. Slowly, I am becoming quieter and quieter.  Some things I want to say, but physically cannot find the words to do so. Things unrelated to my Father and his illness and his feelings about all that.
I don't want to wake up one day with no words left inside me at all.

So I feel pushed to try and speak - say something - anything - to anyone who will listen (or not!)

Here are some of the codes of silence which I've imposed, intuited or imagined:

You (I) cannot talk about the person's decline to your contemporaries. People with whom I could talk about the crudest, funniest, scariest or saddest things - my college friends in my case - never heard about the signs, small or big, that signalled my Father's final 'decline'. The thousands of signs and signals that accompany old age and infirmity. How he needed support with all of his 'personal functions', what I had to do or couldn't do. My alarm, fear and sadness at seeing these things. My friends' parents are mosly (thank God) well and young(ish).  My Father was ill and old. I didn't want to see their shock when I recounted 'what happens', and I didn't wish to hurt my Father's dignity.  So I was silent.

You cannot say I'm scared! This one I imagined for myself very early on. I kind of broke it once or twice, but for the most part, I never communicated to my Father how frightened I felt (still feel) at his imminent absence or infirmity. After all, everywhere in the world is painted the injunction to BE BRAVE!
And of course, I thought it would be utterly ridiculous to tell someone who is ill (scary!) and dying (scarier?!) that you are scared. So I was silent.
A corollary to this: My Father told me only once that he was scared of dying. I wish we had been able to hug it out - both scared, both trembling, instead of fracturing slowly from within with the strain of being 'BRAVE!'

You cannot be angry, unreasonable, voluble or pissed off. When someone in the house has a heart condition, and has been told to manage his stress better, and your Mother is fragile from the stress of it all, you are expected to be a responsible, rational and above all - CALM - adult at age 10. I have never been able to align myself to this very well, feeling all of the strain involved, and learning none of the skills required. I did it anyway, and that fractured me some more inside. Of the thousand angry-making torments of childhood and adolescence, I gave uncontrolled vent to a few. The rest I swallowed, and they screamed away inside me. (People who know me might find this difficult to believe.)

Above all, you cannot be angry at the person who is ill. Oh my God. This one is the worst. I felt (feel) like hell itself about this one. This one I'm still scared to even touch, and it completely takes away all my words. Except once, when I said to my Mother: I did not ask for this.
Cue tremendous, defensive anger and astonishment.
I never said it aloud again.
I get that it's wrong to feel sorry for oneself. I get that my Father was a saint. I get everything.
But I wasn't even meaning it that way. Anyway.

The Hospital. There were hundreds of hospital visits. Ranging from 1 hour, to a month. Ranging from the routine to the catastrophic. Doctors are amongst the most silencing people I know. They want you to let them off the hook with a polite nod to signal understanding and acceptance.
They think they are doing you a favour by answering your questions.
The only response that felt genuine, when faced with their 'updates', was for me to scream, tear my hair, howl. Instead, I found myself nodding with a completely neutral face. I hated doing that, but could not stop myself.

The Spouse. You have to be brave for your Mother. Said people about a million times. So layer by layer, starting from the outside and now very far in, I have become rock-like.

I wish this is not how things were unfolding. I feel unable to say what hurts, or where, or why. I feel unable to say the ugly, scary or difficult things that need to be said so that they can be aired and forgotten.  I don't know whether this is what happens to everyone in my kind of situation or whether it is just something that happened with me. I don't know what to do about it except to keep trying to speak. Even if it's by writing all rambling posts on a blog on one reads, about being unable to speak.
You have been warned.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

The last conversation I had with my Father, I think I knew it was the last.
A voice at the back of my head said, oh, you should tell him what's going on with you. Tell him you're writing a book. Tell him you're happy, or sad, or scared, or whatever. Share yourself.
But what came out instead was I love you, Papa. And he said, I love you too, yes I do. 

I didn't believe what I knew, so I smiled and hung up and went about my normal day with a neutral mood and allowed myself to be frazzled by stupid stuff like the next day's deadlines and schedules and how Marks and Spencer was about to close and I should run there to get dinner.
And that was that. The end, for me, of my relationship with my Father in this physical life. And it came as I thought about my dinner and my hunger and my deadlines.

Days later, I stood by his hospital bed, and we knew that he would not wake up, no matter what, no matter how much music we played or how much we talked to him. I wanted to tell him so many things and people said that he'd be able to hear me, or sense what I was saying. I thought I'd tell him I was writing a book, or that I was sad, or scared, or happy, or fine, or not. I thought I would say that I had always loved and admired him, that he was (?is) my hero. I thought I'd ask if he hated me for being in England while he was ill, that I missed his last day of consciousness, that I was thinking about Marks and Spencer during our last conversation. I thought of saying sorry for so many things. Thank you for so many more. Small and big. Compelling, banal, life. I thought I'd recount every memory of the two of us, memories that were flooding my mind. But all that came out, again and again, loudly, softly, silently, in every possible way, was I love you, Papa.
I thought I'd say don't go, I'm scared, please stay, I need you. But all that came out was I love you.
Maybe that is all that matters. 

Sunday, 2 June 2013

I often dream that my Father is still alive.
I often dream that we still live in the old house with the garden at the back.  We moved out of there seven years ago.  The site of our home was demolished 4 years ago, and in it's place a brave new building grows taller every day.  But you wouldn't know it from my dreams.  
I wish my heart would catch up, but it seems to keep its own sweet time. 

Monday, 4 March 2013

I have lakes, and lakes, and lakes, of sadness inside me.
At the edge of each are golden sedges and meadow flowers, and the mist above each is rainbow hued because high up there, the sun is shining in a perfect bright sky. As I walk through this landscape, I pick wildflowers, I smile at the rainbows, I turn my face up to the sun.
My feet dry in the warmth, on solid ground.
And just ahead, there is the next lake.

The flowers float to the surface, but I do not follow, not for a long time. Deeper and deeper and deeper until I touch the soft dark sand at the bottom. And then it's a long, dark, cool swim back to the open sky, not knowing which is up and which is down, until the surface breaks and I'm back amongst my floating flowers.