The day we were told that dad had lymphoma was not a difficult experience. We, however, found it difficult not knowing what it meant for us all. The look in Dad’s eyes suggested something wasn’t good. As far as I could gather, it was cancer.
The fact he smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish was the connection that was made from this, as this was his life. A futile excuse could be ‘it was the way it was then’ or ‘we never knew any different’. Seemingly harsh, these statements were aligning in my mind. On reading the dictionary definition, it read this: ‘cancer of the lymph nodes’. The off-licence was calling for me to get drunk, so I did.
The visit to the hospital confirmed the news. Three of us were sat in a cubicle at the hospital, waiting for the consultant to come. With dead-pan perception, he confirmed the news and also the length of time he had left. After the response “six months” was delivered, there was a period of crying and then a typically British attitude followed…“OK, let’s get on with it”. The pub it was.
It was difficult to say how I was feeling after the news had come. However, one thing did stick out to me. A new dawn had arrived in which I hadn’t experienced anyone close to me with a serious diagnosis before. The reality of what the outcome was going to be was unknown.
As soon as the word ‘cancer’ was released from the consultant’s mouth, the word ‘terminal’ was the adjective, and there was no hope. Mum was astoundingly brilliant in the way she carried on with life as normal as it could be, and I think she was instrumental in the way it was orchestrated.
At that time, we meandered our way through life but with the darkness in the back of our minds as a rule. We watched the man who helped to give us life, change from healthy to unhealthy, over what seemed a short period of time.
Although the darkness remained in the back of our minds, we carried on as this is what we needed to do. It’s what dad wanted and who are we to disagree? He knew what the outcome was going to be but being a man, couldn’t or wouldn’t talk about it. Was this unkind on his part? Probably, I don’t know if I’m honest. But I’m sure inside his head, every conceivable negative thought was whizzing through at a great rate of knots. He chose not to speak out loud about it.
At one point, for whatever reason, he decided to get his haircut and I was in the pub with him when he suggested he wanted to get a crew-cut. His reasoning was that he was losing his hair anyway and just thought it would be better.
This is from the man who has always had a good head of hair and combed it so purposely, gently and lovingly to match the image that he had worn for all of his life. We went to the barber across the road and sat in the chair where the normal conversations took place until that is, he was asked what style he wanted.
He stated his choice and the barber replied “why?” to which dad replied “cancer!” – I know not of why he said it.
but a wave of embarrassment fell over me. The barber instantly became silent and the conversation was finished there and then. To this day, I really don’t know why he said that but he must have had his reasons, and maybe it was his way of dealing with it? Whether he was expecting empathy from strangers, hope or some kind of guidance from divine forces, it is not known.
The anguish of seeing him deteriorate to such a degree that he couldn’t be bothered with anything anymore was heartbreaking.
Life continued for us all and although we knew what was coming, it never really entered into our heads that it would come. One memory is prominent in so much that I remember being at work and receiving a phone call from mum, telling me to come to the hospital as soon as possible.
I left work in an unrealistic, jovial fashion and headed towards the oncology ward where he lay. He looked peaceful and content when I arrived as if he was expecting for it to end there and then, although he was sat up in bed talking in an incoherent manner due to the drugs that had been administered to ease his pain.
He stated that he wanted to lie down on the bed and in what seemed to be his final wish, he asked for mum to come closer where he kissed her gently – I guess we knew what was coming – in turn he reached out for us and on seeing me, he pulled me close and said to me in perfect English “Look after your Mother!”.
A few minutes later and he was gone. A final goodbye to us all and he was free of the hurt that cancer had brought to him.
Death is a strange experience. It seems that in our moment of passage to wherever we have the ability to be ‘compus-mentus’ for our final moments. I have heard this said many times since dad passed, and have witnessed it again when my brother died and whatever your take on it is, it will be valid.
Dad survived for about eighteen months after his initial diagnosis. After all my thoughts about him, I loved him as a son should. The only thing that I supposed disappointed me, was the fact that he was always wanting to be with his friends. A denial of wanting to be a family man as so many other dads were.
It boiled down to choice and he chose a life with his mates for the majority of his time here to which he confirmed to mum ‘I missed out didn’t I?’.
‘Yes dad, you did’. But I’ll see you on the other side’
The message for others
There is a process that I have found when I have faced difficult moments and that was to always deal with things on my own. I have never really opened up to anyone regarding my feelings as I have always thought that I was strong enough as a man to overcome anything. But, I wasn’t, and I’m not.
I need to grieve. I need to let out the pain inside and display the human element to my life. Conversely, not live in a bubble that only exists to give the impression of cold-heartedness. Further, an indifferent outlook on things that matter. People want to help and be there for each other. The last thing your friend wants to see is their bestie crumpling due to the pressures of their life.
My suggestion is to take time for you. Be away from others and search inside you for the answers you crave. You may not always find them, but you can figure out what is the best way to approach the situation. Listen to your inner voice and what it tells you. Listen in silence for it and you will see a different outlook.
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