For whatever reason, I’m taking time to share this while making lentil soup for my father who is dying. It’s going to be slow and painful and there’s nothing to be done except work within the parameters of managing his comfort.
Not your normal Christmas Newsletter full of good cheer. Although certainly that wish is sincerely in my heart for all of us.
I think, like a parent watching a sick child in helpless despair, this role reversal can also change you, rip your heart open while birthing a bleeding compassion that hurts like hell.
I’m writing this because my prayer throughout 2020 was, is, for consciousness to rise in all of us. In me and you. It can come in the honest sharing and quiet reflection that this abundance of time allows.
In some it will take a jolt unimagined. Like for those who say so fucking blithely and with obscene insensitivity, there is no pandemic, parroting some diabolical conspiracy that only serves to divide in misery.
Because of Covid-19 impact on hospitals, my father has been continuously bumped from the Long Term Care list he’s been on for a year and half, because LTC facilities are mandated to give bed priority to hospital overflow patients, and not to members of the community who can still be assessed as stable.
The time in the local hospital emergency unit this past week was a long and intense 30 hours. My father is 93 with dementia and he doesn’t understand why he’s not at home. We were allowed only one family member at a time. Many in emerg were on their own, braving the long uncertain wait and isolation. Very strict rules kept most staff outside his cubical.
While in hospital all the tests that could not be done this year because of Covid limitation on in person doctor visits were performed and finally clear answers offered.
I wasn’t allowed to escort him when he finally got a room on a floor. No visitors. They just wheeled him away from me, saying words through masks that he couldn’t understand. We would have to apply to negotiate a visit the following day. However, because my dad is still mobile but unsteady, he started to wander out of bed confused and in distress, and the unit had the grace to break the Covid rules, to call for family to stay overnight rather than tie him to his bed with a diaper on. This is not a judgement on what short staffed hospitals must do for those who are at imminent risk of falling, breaking a hip and losing precious mobility. It’s just the reality.
His diagnosis now warrants Palliative home care- different support will start to come into place and family will attend to the rest. We have to keep my father out of hospital so he won’t die alone as too many have had to this year.
My family spanning 3 generations is a microcosm of what’s going on in the world in 2020. My overseas family member had Covid back in March, undiagnosed then and very unpleasant, still early in the curve. The after effects of energy loss were unexpected and lingering. Health organizations are studying post infection symptoms.
Recently another overseas relative, young and healthy, and fortunately due to athletic training noted unusual heart rate while exercising which is symptomatic of infection, went to get tested and diagnosed with asymptomatic Covid-19.
It's very possible they will not be allowed to fly home to say goodbye. Nor attend whatever small service we are allowed to have. Unless, bitter sweetly, this lingers into summer...
Another family member works in hospital and has to wear so much protective gear, be hot and uncomfortable for the entire shift, (not a mask wearing inconvenient jaunt into a grocery store like the rest of us), and be regularly tested. My father's demanding medical responsibility is complicated by Covid protocols and restrictions.
This is not to say I encourage fear of the virus. Fear is not helpful at all. I don't even like the now default sign off "stay safe" which I believe promotes fear. I'd rather say," be well ". It is what it is, we don't need to be afraid. Just grounded and honest, kind and careful. Informed. The trick is, I'm learning over and over, is not to resist what is...
We know this is my Dad’s last Christmas. That is our good fortune. We can be conscious for the duration which may or may not take him to his 94th birthday next summer.
My dear neighbour, a well loved and lively member of our tight community, died suddenly just two weeks ago, and tragically only 2 weeks after getting his own prognosis unrelated to Covid. No time at all to come to terms with his illness, no time to get ready. Now and suddenly his beloved partner is facing an empty Christmas that they were supposed to have time to still share. No goodbye. The deep grief on our street was mostly private. We can’t have a funeral for him. It will have to wait.
Personally I’m fortunate to have had time before my dad took a turn, a couple of days to be undistracted to really grieve the terrible unexpected loss of my neighbour, who had only just retired 2 years ago, making plans for the next part of living fancy free. He was a couple of years older than me.
He’s the third man I know who passed very quickly in his 60’s in the last 18 months.
Why am I sharing all this? Because I didn’t read this in the news, or on Facebook, this isn’t “over there” nothing really to do with me - the default many of us use to cope and carry on.
I am fully aware my father has enjoyed a great long life and the good fortune of being able to live relatively independently until recently, afford the extra care that kept him independent as we waited for LTC openings. He has family willing to make great sacrifice to attend to the rest of his care.
He is not afraid of death, we speak of it openly in my family, he welcomes it as we do for him; Freedom from the physical burdens that often marks the end of life. I just didn’t anticipate that one of the necessary new skills I’d be forced to learn this year is bearing witness to his pain and difficulties.
When I wrote about my mother dying 13 years ago I shared my lesson about having to separate from her, to separate the quality of her day dictating the quality of my own day, so that I could stop the source of our conflict- which was my attempts to manipulate her into taking better care and not wearing herself out, which when she did over exert, was always followed by 2-3 very bad days. My agenda was if I could find a way for her to have more good days then I could have them too. That strategy didn't work, she would not pace herself, and my insistence only caused tension and resentment on both sides. That was a profound and arduous boundary to develop: Allow myself to enjoy my life when possible regardless if my mother was having a good or bad day. I highly recommend it for all you aging readers.
Today we observe the Winter Solstice and an astronomical event that’s been centuries in the making, Jupiter and Saturn are conjunct and will be seen brightly from earth as one light source. This is an important time. The longest night will be adorned with the brightest stars.
What does it all mean in the midst of lock down measures in Ontario and around the world as we try to manage the pandemic damage before the solutions are in place?
What does it mean for my tender heart?
It means there’s stuff so much bigger unfolding in a cosmic dance, happening at the same time as these details in handfuls of lives unfold. It means this too shall pass.
It means Light is born once again tonight.
There will be a new year with another Christmas at its end, and more centuries followed by another millennia and so on.
Our sun now in its prime midlife, will in another 3.5 billion years begin its’ own death process, and this beloved earth and neigbouring planets will be swallowed up whole in spectacular fiery consumption. The icy outer planets might become warm enough to possibly support life as a result, finally having their turn for a few hundred million years before all in this solar system goes dark.
In the more immediate future we will embrace each other again, and have a completely new appreciation for all those who kept our daily lives going- ALL the essential workers too often invisible until this year.
Appreciation for the small things that matter near hearth and home, for what we can and can’t live without.
For now, this holiday time and perhaps for the next months, I will make my father his favourite soup and dishes, and find a way to get through the new trials ahead. My parents presented a life-long model of admirable resilience.
There’s so much to learn about ourselves while wrestling with private hardships and celebrations. Parents, children, couples and solo flyers, friends that come and go, and those who stay longer, it’s all so mysterious to me right now.
The mystery of this thing called life, pulsing in billions of resolute souls and breath taking nature on this beautiful blue orb, thriving in a solar system that spins round and round our life-giving star.
With all my heart I wish you a happy Winter Solstice and blessed Holiday season that inspires you to wake as fully as possible, to dare to reach for and grasp all that’s worth loving and appreciating, however big or small.
Truly, it’s all relative.
Dec. 24 update. Much has settled down for all of us, my father is comfortable and enjoying Christmas in his own home with lots of support and yummy food. Thank you for your thoughtful notes.