A friend of mine that I hadn’t seen for a while told me why she had been so withdrawn, her father was dying. The way that she described it made me think that he had died already and when I offered my condolences, that was when she clarified, he had not died yet. But would do soon.
I could see the pain and grief that she was experiencing. It was as though she felt that her sadness only counted if he died! I hugged her and said that she is experiencing many emotions, grief will be one of them and that during this process she will have lost something and she will be mourning that loss.
Her father was stoic, but struggling with his end of life. Whilst he has dementia, it will not be the dementia that kills him, but the cancer that he has. In many parts of his body. He is forgetful and this could be brain tumours in any event that exacerbate his forgetfulness. It is his bone and lung cancer that are the bigger problems. He is in pain and at times has difficulty in breathing. He knows he will die soon, as does his family. So everyone is grieving.
Grieving for all the lost opportunities, for the weddings, birthdays and Christmases that they will no longer be able to attend together. And for those little things, like sitting and drinking a coffee on a Sunday morning with a fancy croissant and reading the paper with all its supplements. Or watching the grand prix on the TV or a football game and shouting at the ref together. They still have time, but not much. They can do some things, but opportunities are limited, because his health is so frail.
And in all of this sadness, there have been moments of sharing and joy that they would never have had if her dad were not dying. He has shared parts of his history that he never told before, so my friend now has a greater insight into her father than she had before. They have cried together and eaten food together in what seems like a more sacred way.
My friend is off work, she experiences too many sad moments in a day or even an hour that would make working impossible, she could not cope. She thought about going back to work after she had time off, when she was first told of his prognosis, but then she worries about when he dies and she will have to have time off again, she will be in mourning, so why go back, just to go off again?
She moves through life experiencing a hundred emotions in an hour and most of them heightened with impending loss of her beloved father, the man who cared for and protected her through all of her life. A man who is a hero to her. She will withdraw from all contact, then feels she should be in the world a bit more, so I get a text. Then she is sad, so I don’t hear from her for a few weeks. She feels many emotions, grief is an important part of what she is feeling.
I send her texts from time to time, just to let her know that I am thinking of her. Nothing that will make her feel that she needs to reply, just something to let her know that there is another human in the world who cares about her. Something she can receive, but nothing that makes her do anything, because I never know if today or in this moment she is capable or wants to respond.
Being with someone during their process of dying is both a burden and a privilege. It is hard to watch a loved one fade from the vibrant person that they were, so see them in pain and half the weight that they used to be. Yet there are some deeply personal moments that are share as well. I remember my mother’s smiles when I visited her, her face was always a welcome to me, far more so than it had been before and I am grateful for the memories of her smiling face.
Dying is both a physical and for some spiritual experience. It is the time that what is left is the human vessel that they existed in, but no longer do, there is a sense of the loss of something from the body that went elsewhere.
I wish my friend well in the journey she is taking to support her father through the process of dying.