The holidays were good, but also very hard. I think I did fairly well under the circumstances; I only snapped at my mother once when she was being supremely provocative. Andy did amazingly well holding it all together, and listening patiently to my bedtime rants. I was almost losing it on the last morning that we were at their house and it was very good thing that we were going because I desperately needed to decompress.
Dad’s physical health has deteriorated, but not as much as his mental health has deteriorated. That’s really the worst problem at the moment. Basically, he seems to be completely freaking out and panic stricken, which is very difficult to deal with for everyone, especially Mum. Both my parents are also showing a lot of denial about the whole situation, which may just be a stage they have to go through.
I’ve long been aware of my Dad’s discomfort around death and suspect that this anxiety probably has a lot to do with his upbringing in a pre-Vatican II Catholicism which presented death as, frankly, pretty terrifying – all about being judged by God. It was a world in which the family had to pay for constant masses to be said to try and get dead relatives out of purgatory. Plus, the people who brought my father up were probably more than usually morbid and superstitious about death. To give an example, whenever a picture fell off the wall in the house, they all used to throw themselves down on their knees and pray because this meant that “Granddad was angry”.
I also suspect that he actually has some religious doubts and may have returned to Catholicism more because it’s what he’s used to than because he has a deep rooted faith in the theology. The parish priest is visiting them, but my parents aren’t really discussing spiritual issues with him. They tend to spend the time talking to him about the Catholic Church’s failures with regard to domestic abuse, which is a valid topic, but not really what the priest is there for at this point in time.
Most people are afraid of death, of course, (I have my fair share of death anxiety) but I am finding his unhappiness at this time disturbing and can’t help but wish he was less afraid and felt more content with his life. I wish he could see all the ways that he will continue after his death, not only through his biological descendents (which I think is a limited way of looking at it), but through his actions, through all the people that he’s helped in his life, of whom there are many, through the personalities he’s had a role in shaping (me, my sister, his grandson), and through all the things that we will go on to do that are informed by the things he’s done and our memories of him. In this sense he will always be a part of things.
But, at the end of day I have to accept that my father’s feelings about death are not the same as my feelings. He’s had a very difficult life which has left him feeling angry and ambivalent about a lot of things, so it’s not at all surprising that he’s so conflicted now. The frustration for me is in not knowing how to help.
I’m not expecting anyone to help with all this, I’m just thinking through for myself.