On Dying: Part Two

I’m not sure whether I believe that there really are ‘stages of grief’ and, if there are, I certainly don’t believe that they occur in any particular order. My experience of grief in my life so far has been that it never completely goes away and can come back anytime; you don’t ‘get over it’, so much as get used to it and accept it as a part of yourself.

Anyway, back to the stages, last week I suppose you could say I’d bypassed all the other ones and gone straight to acceptance, but this week I find myself having a bit of a dalliance with denial.  I’m not in denial about the fact that my Dad has advanced cancer and is going to die soon, but I did start thinking things like “He doesn’t look bad, he looks pretty good, better, actually, than he did before he went into hospital” (well, yes, that’s because he’s no longer living with untreated cancer!).  I found that I’d started expecting him to make Christmas and even having ideas that he’ll make the spring.  This was punctured a bit by my visit to him on Friday when I saw him with his feet swollen by the steroids, agitated by all the drugs and suddenly looking like an old man.

I’m also a lot more shut down emotionally this week.  Last week I was able to cry, but this week I’m not and my emotions are coming out more as feelings of tiredness and bad temper. I’ve also noticed that I’m getting anxious about other people.  Andy was 5 minutes late meeting me after work the other day and in that time I decided that she was probably dead in a ditch somewhere.  Yesterday, I didn’t hear from my Dad all afternoon and that really worried me, but he was just asleep.  And I’m worrying about my own health, even thinking about a voluntary visit to the doctor (which I usually avoid) just for a check up, but I’ve heard this is normal under the circumstances since the death of a parent is bound to put you in touch with your own mortality.

One of the worst things – which I couldn’t write about last week because I found it too upsetting to think about – is the effect on my Dad’s mum.  She’s 97 years old, distraught and obsessed with the idea that she should have gone first.  One of her relatives is driving her down every weekend to see him, but it’s just so sad.

The good news is that the hospital is aiming to discharge him this week.  We will all feel much better with him at home.  The radiotherapy has worked (as far as it can for the moment) and has slowed down the spinal tumours, so hopefully he won’t be paralysed.  The painkillers are working well and his weight loss has not only stabilised but begun to reverse itself — he hasn’t been able to eat properly for months, a problem we now know was caused by tumours pressing on his oesophagus – and he’s finally enjoying his food again.  He’s still in pretty good spirits overall, although he does need sedatives for his anxiety – my Dad has always been an anxious person, and is cycling through a lot of emotions.  Last week he was mainly just upset and feeling guilty about the smoking, but this week we’re seeing some denial and anger too.  Overall, I think he’s doing very well because he’s never had a peaceful relationship with death and has always had a morbid side to his character.

The bad news is that they think he might have three different kinds of cancer in at least three different places!  We know it’s in his spine, lungs, pelvis and liver. Over the last few years he’s been mainly worried about prostrate and bowel cancer and he doesn’t have either of those.  Now that they’ve got the spinal cancer under control for the time being, they are most worried about the two tumours in his liver.  He had some biopsies last week and we’ll find out the results soon.

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