Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dealing with grief

Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town
My mother died three and a half years ago when I was in the middle of chemo. My one sister always tells the story of how someone, a distant acquitance, in fact I do not know her, said when she heard the news of my mother's sudden death: "No, you got it all wrong! It's Gillian, not S... Gillian has been sick; S is fine......"
Yes.....so it goes.
Now my dad died two weeks ago. It wasn't unexpected but it was kinda sudden. He was 90, much older than my mom, in fact 90 and a half as kids would say of their age, but he hadn't been ill. Just frail. Had the beginnings of Parkinson's but that didn't begin to kill him. He just slept all of one day, the next day we were told he wasn't well, the doctor was called, and he was scheduled to arrive at 2pm. At 2.15pm my phone rang. It was my sister. "You've got to come to Cape Town now," she said. "This is the end".
And so I left work within 5 minutes and my other Joburg-based sister and I flew out that evening. I spoke to the doctor on the phone from the airport who said we had to decide whether or not my dad should go to hospital. He didn't advise it but said we had to decide.
Arriving in Cape Town that night my dad was kind of communicative, saying hello to my sister. He had spoken to my other sister that afternoon, even responding to what she had said, although for a time had thought she was my varsity-based nephew whom he saw often.
I wanted to sleep right there beside him on the floor. But my other sister said no. We have to look after ourselves.
At 8am the next morning we had a meeting at the flat with the doctor. "This is the end of his life," he said. He also said that if we sent him to hospital, maybe they could extend his life by a month or two but at a very diminished level.
There wasn't really any doubt in our minds. He would die at home but we didn't want him to suffer any pain. So it was decided then that we would hire day and night nurses - who were truly brilliant and the first arrived that evening - plus he would be given a mild morphine patch just to ease things. "How long?" I asked. "Four to five days," said the doctor.
That day he was still eating some soup, well being fed it, but by the next day he stopped taking even water. Or maybe that was from the Sunday. The doctor said we were not being cruel. His body was shutting down and didn't need anything. We sat there for three days. Holding his hand, laughing, crying, my one sister doing occasional sit-ups on the floor, telling him to "go in peace".
By Sunday (day three there) his face had changed and his hand didn't feel alive. The night nurse phoned to ask if she must still come. "Yes," we said. "He is still breathing" but it was an increasingly shallow breath.
The next morning at 3.20am he died. We got the call at 3.21am to say we should come then, got dressed, drove there in silence and sat there, not really knowing what to do. I peered into the room but did not touch him. He looked at peace, but now his entire face was a pale, yellow colour (the day before half of it had been reddish still.)
We called my uncle, my mom's brother, who arrived with his wife. They dealt with calling the undertakers etc but it was still a bit of a stuff-up cos later we heard there was a 24-hour number we could have called. When they came to fetch the body and wheel it out, I purposefully stood on the balcony. I didn't want to see.
Earlier, possibly sometime after 4am, my sister said: "90 years...!" and simultaneously she and my aunt started singing "90 years without slumbering, tick tock, tick tock", a nursery rhyme which ends with the words "and the old man died". How true. The old man died. And my sister who started singing that, well, she inherited my dad's watch. Tick tock, tick, tock. Kinda eerie. The song made us laugh. It bonded us.
But now I am very sad. Although my dad said he did not want us to mourn but to go to the mount nelson hotel  (a five star hotel in Cape Town which he loved and which we visited every year on his birthday) either then, or in a month's time, or at a later stage if it suited us better (he wasn't being prescriptive, which was so kind) and to drink a toast to his life, and to send the bill to Lesli (the family lawyer) so that his estate could pay for it. And, his will continued, he will be in heaven but if he is not, it's a mistake and to think of it as a computer error!
Always full of jokes, even after death.
We will go to the Mount Nelson for a drink, possibly a meal, but later, probably around the time of what would have been his birthday, in November. May he rest in peace, my darling dad.

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