The following links will take you to the first post in our stories regarding suicide and cancer. The posts are linked for easy reading.
Later, our stories regarding Alzheimer’s Disease and ruptured brain aneurysms may also be included.
The following links will take you to the first post in our stories regarding suicide and cancer. The posts are linked for easy reading.
Later, our stories regarding Alzheimer’s Disease and ruptured brain aneurysms may also be included.
It was 9pm, mum and I had eaten and settled in front of the TV for a short time. Mum had risen and announced she was going to put on her night attire. I decided to make another cup of tea.
It was at this time that the phone rang. When I answered and was told it was someone from the hospital, I knew it wasn’t good news. I knew…
“Can you please return to the hospital as soon as possible,” the woman said. “Your dad hasn’t got long.”
“Oh. Yes, we’ll be there soon.”
“I have to tell you that he may be gone before you get here.”
I told mum to get dressed. I quickly rang my brother and told him what was happening. And then we were in the car and driving silently to the hospital. It only took us ten minutes to get there, we parked the car, and then we had the most stressful experience. We couldn’t find a way into the hospital. All the entrances were locked. There was no response when we pressed the buzzers. We went from one entrance to another, and to another before someone finally spoke to us over the intercom.
By this time I was flustered, stressed, crying. “Please let us in. We’ve had a call about my dad. He’s…” I couldn’t say it.
The door opened. We scurried through the dim corridors. We finally got to the ward. We discovered his bed empty, but another patient pointed to another door. “They moved him in there.”
The door was closed. A sign was stuck to the door. “Keep out.” We went in.
Dad lay peacefully in the bed. He lay flat on his back, his arms placed on his chest. His eyes were closed. I knew straight away that we were too late. He was gone. “No, no, no. I’m so sorry, Dad.”
We sank on to chairs and sobbed.
My brother and his family arrived ten minutes later. The nurse told us dad had passed away at 9.30pm. Mum and I had gotten there at 9.38pm. Eight minutes too late. But if we hadn’t had trouble finding a way into the hospital, we would have been there with him. He wouldn’t have passed away alone. I will always feel guilt over that.
We stood around dad for two hours, without saying a word to each other. I remember hearing crying. I know mum found her voice and told dad everything she wanted to say to him. She didn’t care that we were there listening. Dad’s family grieved for him. We were all turned inward. We were all alone. We were fractured, in a sense.
Then a nurse appeared in the doorway. “Would you like a cup of tea or coffee? I can bring a tray in.”
And we started living again. We turned to each other. We held each other. We started talking together, crying together. We once again became a family.
Yes, we had tea and biscuits. Then we sat around dad and reminisced. Occasionally, one of us would say something to dad. Like mum, we wanted him to know how we felt. We encouraged each other, support each other. And we even managed to remember happy times, funny times and laughed. No, it wasn’t a belly laugh. It was nothing more than a smile and a noise that almost resembled a laugh. Sort of.
I think it was around 1.30am when I turned to mum and told her that it was time to go home. Dad’s body was no longer warm. I was concerned that reality would set in and mum would fall apart. My brother glanced at me, knowing that we may have trouble separating mum from her husband. But, again, mum surprised us and said that she knew it was time. She had been preparing herself for it. We said our final goodbyes and left.
Dad passed away on mum’s birthday, almost five years ago. She asked me once why he would do that. Did he hate her? We told her that he loved her with all his heart and that he did that so that she would always be able to remember the date. As I’ve mentioned before, she has Alzheimer’s disease, she cannot remember a lot of things. But she remembers the date dad passed away.
This is the end of Dad’s story. But it is not the end of our story, our grief. That will continue undocumented. We love and miss him every day.
I gave this a lot of thought. I swayed between “yes” and “no” so many times. But eventually I decided that this is my dad’s story and it is time to show you a photo of my dad. The photo to the right was taken during his stay in hospital. It shows how much weight he had lost. How much he had declined.
It shows me a man who needed me to care for him. Just like he did for me when I was a child, and an adult. My dad was always a proud man, independent, hard working. He had a difficult childhood, was brought up in an orphanage (although he wasn’t an orphan). Mum tells me he told her he loved her many time, and that makes me very happy. He never managed to find the courage to say it to me (not once). But I knew I was loved. I felt it all my life. And now, here we were sitting in a hospital on day four and when I asked him the questions that told me he was doing okay, for the first time he couldn’t tell me the answers. Suddenly, I knew that things had changed, dramatically.
On day four my son accompanied mum and I to the hospital. We sat with dad for a couple of hours. He couldn’t remember the past, but he remembered us. He did talk a little bit. Mum was the silent one. She barely said two words, but she sat beside him and held his hand.
At lunchtime, the nursing staff announced they were going to bathe dad, so we decided to head off and get some lunch. Mum and I kissed him. My son shook his hand and dad gave him the thumbs up and said, “you’re a good boy.”
We were gone for an hour and ten minutes. When we returned everything had changed yet again. He didn’t know us. He didn’t speak to us. He sat in that bed, listening to everything that went on around us, but oblivious to his own family.
The nursing staff asked us to go to a meeting. We all went, including my son. They told us that it was only a matter of time. It could be only days. They needed to know what type of care we wanted dad to have.
I thought I would have to make the decision, but mum spoke up. She was clear in what she wanted, and told us that they (she and dad) had discussed it. Mum told them that they were to give dad “comfort care”. She turned to me and asked if I objected. I didn’t. She then turned to my son and asked the same question. He didn’t object either. Another meeting was booked for three days time.
Within the hour, a machine was attached to dad to help with his pain. When I asked dad if he had any pain, he shook his head and said, “No pain. Finally, no pain.”
I was so pleased.
We stayed with him until around 7pm. Then we went home. I dropped my son off and mum and I went home to have something to eat and a cup of tea. We were so tired. So drained. It had been a long day.
But it wasn’t over yet.
Continue reading: Phone Call in the Night
Dad spent four days in hospital. My brother and his family visited him, or attempted to, but Dad told them to go home. I’ve never really understood why Dad did that. I know it hurt my brother immensely. His family were devastated and hurt also, but they did as he wished. They left. This action damaged the relationship between father and son.
I noticed that dad seemed to reject mum too. It worried me greatly because they had always meant the world to each other. It didn’t seem right that dad suddenly pushed mum away. I took to sitting further back, out of dad’s sight. I also started making excuses to leave them alone so that they could say the words life-long partners say to each other at these times. But mum became increasingly upset and told me that they didn’t say anything.
She cried and I told her to say the things she wanted to say to him. But she had Alzheimer’s disease (undiagnosed, at the time) and she had started to have trouble communicating. Her mind had huge blank spots and, later, I discovered that the part of her brain that controlled social skills had already been affected.
I tried to help them. But what was I meant to do? I had no idea.
At this time, I still asked dad questions about his childhood and family. I was pleased to hear the correct answers. It gave me hope as I tented to judge how bad he was by doing this. And, in my opinion, he was doing well.
Yet he still called for me.
When I got to the hospital on the second day, with mum (of course), the other patients in the room asked, “Are you Karen?”
When I confirmed I was, they’d say Dad called for me day and night.
I told them, and I also told the nursing staff, that when he called for me it meant he was in pain. He wasn’t actually calling for me, he was asking for pain relief. No one seemed to hear me though. On the third day, the other patients said how pleased they were to see me. It would mean dad would stop calling out and trying to leave his bed. I immediately went to the nursing staff and told them again, that when he called for me he needed medication.
By this stage, Dad was quite thin. He wouldn’t eat, but when I was there, I would take his cold custard and warm it up for him. He loved it that way and would eat then. By the third day, the dietician finally cottoned on that if they gave him custard with protein, he would eat it. And that’s what they started to do.
Continue reading: Day 4 in Hospital
About a week after my arrival, two mornings after the middle of the night incident, everything changed.
It was quite early, about 5am, when I was awoken yet again by my bedroom door opening. This time it was mum standing there, uncertain. “You are here,” she said, almost to herself.
“Your dad is calling for you,” she said. “He said you were here and I had to get you. He’s in so much pain, Karen. Please help him.”
I gave him the medicine. He stayed in bed. But mum and I decided to have a cup of tea. We sat quietly chatting. An hour later, I went to dad and gave him more medicine. He was grateful.
At 7am, after his third dose, dad got up and came to join us. I made breakfast, but neither of them ate much. Dad suddenly started asking for pain relief, telling me that it was time. But it was only 7.20am. Pain is a horrible thing. I felt terrible saying no to him, but I had been warned not to give in to him. I was strong, but I felt terrible all the same. Especially since I could see the pain had intensified yet again. I suspected another trip to the cancer clinic was necessary.
But the thought was cut short as dad suddenly left the table and stumbled across the room towards me. “I need the pain killer, Karen. Please.”
I will never, ever forget the look in his eyes and the way I felt when I had to say no. Never.
He said some things that I will not put here. Things I know in my heart he didn’t mean. Things I can easily forgive him for. Then, everything happened at lightning speed.
He cried out in pain. He collapsed. Mum screamed. We both rushed to him. He was white as a sheet. I thought he was dead. Then I heard him groaning and I realised he had passed out. I leaped for the phone and called an ambulance.
They arrived within 10 minutes. Dad had regained consciousness by then. But he still lay on the floor, white. When the paramedics (a man and a woman) came into the house, and stood over him, dad looked at the man and told him to get out!
I knew what was happening. I knew he thought the man was my brother. Dad didn’t want anyone’s help. Even my brother’s. Only mine. But this time, I couldn’t help him.
I rushed to dad’s side. “This man is not your son. This man is here to help you with the pain.”
Dad stared at the man for a few seconds. His face changed and suddenly he said, “I’m sorry. Please help me.”
And they did. I don’t know what they gave him, but dad relaxed and when I asked him how his pain was, he told me there was none. He gave me the thumbs up.
His pain was gone, but he had other problems. His sugar level was through the floor. The paramedics asked if he’d go to the hospital with them. To my relief, dad agreed.
When they left, I turned to mum expecting her to be falling apart, but she was surprisingly okay. For the first time, in a long time, my real mum was visible. She took charge, she told me that we would get ready and go to the hospital to visit dad.
I agreed wholeheartedly.
Continue reading: Hospital and Rejection
At 3am, it is dark outside, so dad had pulled the lawn mower underneath the awning where, by the dim light, he was trying to “fix” the lawn mower. I took one look at the pieces everywhere and knew the grass would not be cut this night.
However, my father stood in his underwear (undies and singlet). It was the middle of winter, so it was cold. Much too cold to be standing around like that.
“Hi dad, what ya doing?” I closed the backdoor behind me, just in case mum didn’t go back to bed as planned.
“Are you checking up on me?” Dad continued using tools to unscrew another part.
“No, I got up to go to the toilet and saw the light on.” Well, it could have been true if I hadn’t had an intruder in the night.
“I’ve got to fix this so I can cut the grass.”
Dad looked at me and pulled a Is It face. “Oh.”
“Are you in pain?” I asked.
“Yes, I gotta do something to escape the pain.”
“How about I give you some pain killer and you go back to bed, where it’s warm,” I suggested.
I expected trouble, but it was easy as that. Offer pain killer and a warm bed, and the long grass (which wasn’t even long) was forgotten.
He went back to bed. I left the lawn mower in bits. That could be a job for the morning. I went out the front and to my brother’s car. We spoke for a few minutes and then we all went back to our beds.
I found it difficult to get back to sleep. Never in my life had I seen dad so vulnerable. Or in his underwear. My dad. Strong. Independent. Protector. Mr Fix It. Suddenly replaced by a frail man, unable to start the lawn mower, unable to use the microwave, unable to find the switch on the lamp they’d owned for decades. It was totally unfair.
Made me cry then. And makes me cry now.
Continue reading: Emergency Call
It was very early in the morning, or very late at night when an intruder burst into my bedroom. It was a time, when just about everyone is asleep–cosy and warm in their bed, dreaming (hopefully) pleasant dreams. And I was asleep. I was exhausted.
The bedroom door flew open and a man stood in the doorway. My eyes opened, I shot up in bed. My heart hammered in my chest as I stared at the silhouette that was not my mum or my dad. I knew that with every fibre of my body. Awoken from a deep sleep, only wearing my night attire, I imagined the next moment to be brutal.
And then I heard a voice that I recognised, and the fear dissipated.
The voice belonged to my brother. He didn’t speak to me, he spoke to my mum, who I could not see. “Karen is here.”
The door closed, leaving me in darkness. Of course, I rose, put on my dressing gown and went into the lounge room, where my mum and brother stood.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
My brother looked from mum to me. “Mum rang me. I asked her where you were and she said that you weren’t here. I was worried about you.”
“I forgot you were staying here,” added mum.
I didn’t bother correcting her by saying that I live here now. I wanted to know why mum had phoned my brother.
“It’s your dad, he’s outside. He wants to cut the grass.”
“At 3am? The neighbours won’t appreciate that.”
I have mentioned before, several times, that dad refused help from everyone except me. That night, mum, my brother and I found ourselves in a pickle. If dad saw my brother, he would not be pleased. So we hatched a plan.
My brother would return to his car, which he had parked up the road (not in the driveway, like a normal family). He would wait for 30 minutes and if I did not call him, he would go home.
Mum would go back to bed.
I would go outside and confront dad.
Continue Reading: A Man in His Underwear
The new doctor did blood tests, confirmed what we already knew. Then he referred Dad to a cancer clinic for outpatients. Due to dad’s prognosis they got us in very quickly. We all sat in a confined space, while they did numerous tests on dad (on his memory, on his pain levels).
Dad wasn’t sure what was happening. At one stage, he looked at mum and then at me and asked if they were going to take mum away. Mum had sat quietly, observing, but not speaking. The people in the room (there were three of them, apart from us) had no idea mum had issues too. I assured dad they were not interested in mum, that they were determining his pain levels and trying to work out pain treatment.
He seemed relieved by that.
The doctor finally prescribed pain relief for dad. He told me that under no circumstances were I allowed to let dad medicate himself. He told me the pain would get so bad that dad would be tempted to take more than he should to stop the pain. He said that he could overdose and kill himself, accidentally.
That worried me. My notebook states “hide the medicine from mum and dad”. And I did. I was scared that dad would talk mum into giving him the pain relief between scheduled doses. And I was terrified he would talk her into doubling or tripling the dose. Or worse.
I hid the medicine. It was an unusual, large glass bottle. Dad was allowed to have a small dose once every hour, day and night. During the day was fine. I’d give him the dose and dad would settle down and relax. As the hour ticked by, dad would start saying “where’s Karen? I want Karen.”
On the hour, I would give him the next dose and, once again, he would settle and relax. Between doses, when he didn’t sleep, I used to ask him questions about his childhood, about his family, anything to help him remember who he was. He patiently answered every questions. And I would be satisfied that he was doing okay because he got the answers right.
At night, however, it was a different story. We would go to bed around 10.30pm. The house would become quiet and I could almost believe everything was like it once was. Almost.
Only at night, I couldn’t hear the words, “where’s Karen? I want Karen.”
And, unfortunately, Mum forgot I was in the house.
Continue reading: Intruder in the Night
The following week is very much a blur to me. I remember little of it. Yet I do have a notebook I purchased at the time, to write notes in. I read them now and find them disturbing.
Dad was nearing the end of his life. He was suffering from the effects of lung cancer. The cancer had spread into his bones, into his other organs, into his brain. The strong man I looked up to as a little girl, was withering away before my eyes. It broke my heart.
I could only imagine how my mum was feeling. They had been married for almost 55 years, at the time.
Dad’s pain was increasing. He had always been a strong man. But even he was not able to cope with the pain. He allowed me to make an appointment with a doctor. (His own doctor used to do home visits, until Dad threw him out of the house and ordered him never to return.)
Actually, I cannot allow myself to make that last comment without explaining why he did that. It had nothing to do with the doctor or his management of the situation. In fact, it was the doctor who contacted me (with Dad’s consent) and told me the facts. I’ll never forget that day. I was at work. My manager came up to me and told me to go into his office and close the door. I was in there for an hour. Listening mainly. Asking some questions. Mainly in shock. The doctor himself told me he had been thrown out and told never to return. He was worried about dad. He was concerned for mum. The doctor asked me why dad had done that, but I couldn’t tell him because I didn’t know.
But dad ended up telling me why he did it. He had a good reason. He was protecting his wife.
Dad was a private person, he didn’t want sympathy. He had accepted his fate. But he was worried about mum. They had a secret and dad knew he had to share it with me in order to keep mum safe. Mum had dementia, he told me. She’d had it for several years. And she was not capable of looking after herself. Yes, she could shower and dress herself. But she wasn’t able to deal with every day life issues, like cooking, cleaning, and her memory was really bad.
I’m her daughter, I knew there was an issue, but (again) I didn’t know how bad it was. She relied on dad for cues on doing just about everything. Without him, she couldn’t cope.
Dad threw the doctor out and told him never to return, because he was worried mum would be taken away and put in a home. He was trying to protect her. That’s why he refused help from everyone, except me.
So, I found another doctor and dad agreed to go see him.
Continue reading: Where’s Karen? I Want Karen
I started writing my dad’s story in 2014, but never finished it. Here it is almost five years later, and I can’t imagine writing down everything that has happened during that time. It feels like the tallest mountain, covered in snow peaks, and danger signs.
Why would anyone knowingly take that path? *shrugs*
Let me tackle this from a different angle. I will break it down into small hills. I will wade through each event and try to tell you only what you need to know, and what I am willing to share.
So, first off, let us return to Dad’s Story.
We left off in June 2014, I had spent my second night living with my parents in their house. There was no food, no electricity, no hope for my father. Little more for my mother. And the entire family was looking at me to make everything right. Or that’s how it felt to me.
I had my own health issues. A blood condition and I needed to administer a potent injection every Saturday and Tuesday. This medication needed to be refrigerated. Due to the issues with electricity at my parent’s house, my medication was at my brother’s place.
My second morning was a Tuesday, which meant I had to have an injection at 6pm. Yes, it was important to have it at the exact hour. And after the injection I knew I would be sick (not as in vomiting sick; just very, VERY unwell sick). This was one of the reasons I hadn’t moved in with my parents sooner.
But 6pm is a many hours when you wake up around 7am, and there’s no electricity … again. Naturally I rang the electrician. Yes, he was surprised to hear from me so soon. I explained what had happened and about Dad’s cancer, and he was more than happy to call around again. However, he couldn’t get there until the afternoon. *sigh*
My parents were up. My mother was suffering from the cold. My dad resumed his poking about in the bin. As I had returned the little gas stove to my brother, I walked around to the petrol station, close to home, and purchased three large English Breakfast teas. We had them with cereal. That warmed our bellies for a little while.
We couldn’t shower, so we dressed and later I walked to the petrol station again and bought three more teas.
Lunchtime came and went. We had sandwiches. Then there was a knock on the door and a neighbour presented me with a flask of hot water and a container with some homemade cupcakes. (They were aware of our issues and tried to help, but Dad would not allow them to help. He had his pride. *more sighs*)
The electrician finally turned up and my heart warmed to see the pleasure on my mother’s face as she sat cozy and warm in front of the heater. But at the back of my mind, I wondered how long the pleasure would last … along with the electricity.
The electrician suggested getting a council approved padlock for the box, so that dad couldn’t “fix” things, but that would take time we didn’t have.
Just before six o’clock I headed over to my brother’s place for my injection. His family gathered to hear what was happening. Again, we cried together, and they offered to help in any way possible (but, Dad continued to refuse their help, so it was left to me to sort things out).
I was nervous when I went “home”. Would I find darkness again? Would we spend another night in the cold? As I arrived home, I could feel the affects of the injection taking hold of me, and prayed that nothing went wrong, because I wouldn’t be well enough to do anything about it.
All was bright and warm when I walked through the door, and remained that way for the night.
Continue reading: The Doctor and The Secret