Walking down the glass corridor

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: Hawker Hurricane ...

Image by Chris Devers via Flickr

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.

14 thoughts on “Walking down the glass corridor

  1. Welcome to a new club. A club that you didn’t sign up for, but as a caring daughter, you will pay some hefty dues. You are not alone, but your time here will be unlike anyone else’s. I wish you well. I will tell you, as a past member, it will get better.

    Your post was marvelous, and touching, and oh, so true. Congratulations on “Lovely Girls” and don’t forget to celebrate its success. I think your Dad would insist on it, don’t you?

    • Some club! But it’s a very large one, albeit unique, as you say, to each member. The world will keep moving on, and I will just tag along as a passenger for a while. Thank you for popping in, it’s lovely to hear from you.

  2. Suzanne, Everything you just said, I get it completely. Not because I lost a parent to cancer, but because I have lost a parent. Grief, even when it strikes prematurely, does have a way of muting the world around us. My heart is with you. Hugs to you.

    • I always thought it was people who were more grown up and mature that had to deal with these things. Now I find it’s me, and at 60+, I’m still not old enough. ‘Muted’ is a good word; the glass is slightly frosted. Or maybe just misted over, amenable to being wiped down again in time. Thanks for being here; that was a very nice hug [ ]

  3. What can I say, it’s something looming in the horizon for all of us, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with or accept. I myself, cannot even contemplate a world without my Dad. That’s it, I cannot get past that, and it is making me re-access my life, and where I live, for I am way too far away from him, and it’s not like I have this great career or have made this great life here in the UK. I love being here, it’s my country, even if I wasn’t born here but the UK will always be here, but my Dad will not…and so, I may possibly return to America, at least for a while…

    Treasure every moment, every memory, but that is how we need to live anyway, as if every day was our last because there are no guarantees and I think we all take life for granted sometimes, which we shouldn’t.

    I’m glad your dad still has your mum, that’s a blessing in itself as well.

    • It’s that word ‘balance’ again, isn’t it? Not so much of one investment that you neglect another. We are where we are because none of us ever made the others responsible for our own decisions. Hence, we didn’t move to Yorkshire, and our parents chose not to move south. It’s tricky now, but it may have been dreadfully loaded if sticks had been upped long before anyone could really benefit. I guess you have to know yourself and your parents very well when you make decisions of such enormity. I hope you get to spend some time with your Dad, if that’s the right thing to do. x

  4. I lost my dad five years ago. I actually had to look that up because it both seems like yesterday and long, long ago. In some ways, I’m stuck back on that day. But his death was not expected, so even though your “wait” may be stressful, you have the opportunity to get your bearings as best you can.

    I hope your dad feels up to Skyping as much as you need to. I know you’ll find your balance between the pragmatic and emotional sides of you. I feel for you.

    Somehow, I totally overlooked your announcement about “Lovely Girls”, but I’ll catch up today. Congratulations on that.

    • Getting our bearings has to be the ‘up’ side to the uncertainty. At least we are able to make visits in reality, as well as more virtually, if he’s up to it. He’s a Luddite at the best of times though, so I don’t hold out too much hope. Mum will enjoy that option as she was the laptop Queen before dementia whittled away her abilities. She’s cheery enough though, and I think she will find some fun in an undemanding iPad.
      Your experience sounds shocking. Expected, and in some sense timely, at least offers an opportunity for adjustment. It sounds as though that was not the case for you. Very very sad. Thank you for dropping in.

  5. Beautifully written. It seems almost inevitable that the exciting and happy moments overlap with the not so pleasant ones. The cycle of life is rather messy. You may be walking down a glass corridor, but I see the vapor of your breath on the glass. All the best.

    • It’s certainly messy, but it’s good to be seen in here, through the mist. Thank you for popping over and leaving the window squeegee 🙂

  6. My wife passed away four and a half years ago.
    We battled the Cancer and the knowledge that
    it was not going to end happily. That battle lasted 10 yrs.
    The stress load that increases daily , weekly, annually
    is toptally unbelievable. It will diminish afterwards.
    I HEAR YOU……………………..

    • Thank you, John. I think we will be spared the endurance test you shared with your wife – that sounds desperate. But full of fight and giving THIS to acquiescence. We are fighters too, but I suspect the rules have changed now and we need to concede for there to be peace. It will be up to him, and he is withdrawing, so I think there is the lead we must take. I hear you back, John H Drake, and thank you for your kind thoughts.

  7. I’m very sorry to hear about your Dad. In spite of what your life is like right now, you managed to capture it to perfection. The glass corridor is a perfect illustration of those times in our lives.

    My thoughts are with you.

    • Thank you, Cathryn. We’re visiting soon and that at least will feel like a kind of action, albeit one that is mostly for us. Standing by was never my strong point, so here’s yet another new thing to learn.
      Thank you for your thoughts { }

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