At the moment, I am existing in a kind of limbo; a word I take to mean a sort of ‘purgatory lite’, because I don’t imagine purgatory would allow for the fabulous or hilarious or enervating ups that keep bouncing exuberantly over the plummeting lows, without thought for their feelings. Last week, ‘Lovely Girls’ was published. It’s my first literary piece; it’s based on some truths that many of us who have worked in mental health or learning disability institutions recognise, and I’m inordinately pleased with it. Last week also, we were told, my sister and me, that Dad is terminally ill. He is 86, an RAF veteran of the Second World War, and a victim of prostate cancer. He is 300 miles away. Fortunately, he is not alone; he lives in a residential service with my mother, and the staff are exceptional.
So now we wait. But for how long? Somehow, the other part of the show has to go on. After all, it’s my job that gives me the resources to buy the special things that they both need; that has trained me to think strategically and concern myself objectively with what needs to be done. It’s my training and experience that makes it possible for me to anticipate his needs, and to start seeking solutions to problems before they arise. I have an obligation to give it my best. But dying is a once-and-for-all event, and it doesn’t make an appointment. There’s no negotiating a ‘right time’, or fitting it in between the meeting about research directions and the review of student dissertations. Consequently, my head space is in a kind of duality. The pragmatic overlain by the intensely emotional, and the immediate forcing itself into focus ahead of the planned. I have drafted research papers while trying to find a way to manage his bank account; discussed conference presentations around attempts to pay a phone bill without access to a cheque book; and talked with staff about final arrangements in the same breath as setting up broadband, so that we can ‘visit’ by Skype, if he feels up to it.
This is a strange world; rather like walking down a glass corridor, separate from everyone else, not inhabiting their space. Mutually aware, but far from sharing any assumptions about urgencies, or what meaning really means. There are things I want to say; some of them self congratulatory and trumpeting of successes, so I will probably say those things. Other things do not come so easily; such as how to manage the irreverence – I’ve never lost a parent before, at least not outside of a large department store – or the sudden wish that a friend would shut up about her blinking herbaceous border, because for once it’s about me. And then, please don’t look at me or mention anything because your every-day chatter is what’s keeping me together for now.
I am resilient, I see the funny side of most things, my glass is more than half full, and I don’t do maudlin. For a while, though, that constant is likely to be sharing air time with this other countenance that is a little more needy, and a little less accommodating. It’s the part that underpins empathy, humanises my relationships with troubled clients, and for now, is needing a little of its own time in the chair.