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.