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Impending loss of father


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My thoughts go out to all the members, you have gone through considerable sadness. 

Those comments and topics that I have read today have inspired me to also put my feelings down on paper and reach out to you. I will just get right to it. When I was born my mother and father were 38 and 40 years old, respectively. I have grown up constantly watching them for signs of aging - I almost felt I was in another category to my friends who had parents between 20 and 30 years older than them. In many ways, this lead me to almost have stronger friendships with my parents. The dynamic was definitely different.  

I am 26 at the moment, and my father is 64. About 9 years ago, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I was not told of this until about four years later. My brothers (9 and 12 years my senior), and my mother tried to persuade him to have his prostate removed but as I understand it he was convinced radiation would treat the cancer. Alas, it did not and might have caused the onset of Parkinson's Disease a few years later. He kept the latter diagnosis to himself for many years, my mother was even unaware. Eventually I was told of all of this in my early twenties. As I had almost prepared for this my entire life, I did not find myself crying or panicking severely. I was almost too emotionless about it - it almost felt as if there was a major amount of feelings there deep down in my psyche but I found that I could suppress them most of the time. I proceeded to ensure that I spend quality time with my father - he was unaware that I knew. 

Over the years, we could see a steady decline. He became weaker and would stumble sometimes. You could see the effects of the Parkinson's becoming more prominent, still I chose to bottle up my feelings and I chose only to ensure he was comfortable and not berated by my older brothers and mother, who could sometimes become quite cold and distant at the sign of weakness (their own coping mechanisms). In many ways, I feel I may also not be good with intense emotions, whether it be from myself or from another person. But I became more and more protective of him, and small battles would break out sporadically over the years. To this day I am quite defensive. 

At the end of 2019, I was due to give birth to my son. My father had deteriorated quite significantly during 2019 and was scheduled for a knee replacement the day before I would go in for my c-section due to the breach position of my son. The night before my admission, he finally broke the news to me while I was visiting him in hospital. I had known for so long, but it felt much more devastating and real hearing it directly from him.  The next day, we were in the hospital together, in different wards. My mother was in America at the time, attending a school trip. Although it should have been comforting to have my father so close by, it was disconcerting that he was by this stage going in and out of hospital (cancer center etc.). He was luckily the first person, other than myself and my husband to hold our son. Within a few days he was discharged, he was steadily trying to walk again with his crutches and we had high hopes that he would have a full recovery.

Unfortunately, 2020 ended up being quite tumultuous for us, as with so many others. Where the cancer was once in control and localized to the prostate, it had now metastasized into his lower back, shoulder and breast bone. I do not comprehend all of the medical terms, but as far as I understand (he provides only snippets of info), the cancer had surrounded a pinched nerve, leading him to be in a constant state of pain, a permanent sciatica of sorts. In order to diminish the cancer around this area to effectively operate on the source of the pain, the doctors proceeded with chemotherapy. He lost most of his hair. He became so frail and weak, almost resembling a man 20 years older than him. But it seemed to be worth it, as the cancer count had diminished significantly. Unfortunately, the cancer count swiftly increased again and the chemo was stopped. They tried an expensive tablet - four had to be drunk each day. Again the cancer count diminished over consecutive visits, and our hopes were stronger, but it inevitably increased again, and so that treatment was stopped as well.

Now in the last few months, despite a healthy tan and good head of hair that has successfully grown back, my father resembles a man in his 80's but with depression to boot. About 2 months ago, he was able to receive surgery to alleviate some of the pain in his back. On closer inspection, the doctors identified a tumour within his neck which has been pressing on his spine. He received radiation, but this did not have the desired effect. After many years of fighting he was told a month ago that he would be paralyzed by January 2021, and could pass on by March 2021. The doctors had now run out of options. It has been so devastating and we endeavoured to spend as much time together this Christmas and New Years - my son brings him so much happiness. We were able to lighten the situation, despite the fact that he was dragging his left foot while walking with crutches and had partially lost control of his tongue. He is an extremely strong man to have gone through such pain and still trying to make memories with us. He was so worried that he would burden us even though we reassured him that we were in this together through thick and thin.

About a week ago, he lost his younger brother to COVID. He had been a constant source of companionship and comfort to my father, and this recent news broke him. Phenomenally, he patched himself together and fully enveloped himself in the festivities of New Year. However, in this week we have seen an extreme decline in my father. He has become almost unresponsive, and we struggled twice the other morning to get him out of a deep sleep he had slumped in to. This may also be related to the morphine which he drinks three times a day, but it had never led to such a deep and unresponsive sleep. There is no other word for it but depression. He is overcome with pain and I have tried as hard as I could to pull him out from underneath this cloak of darkness which was now enfolding him entirely. Today, I made a follow up booking with his oncologist and I have asked that he refers him to a psychologist who has experience in counselling terminally ill patients. I do believe antidepressants are necessary at the moment. His faith is strong, and he has his family around him permanently, but still something is deeply lacking.

Again I am confronted with this host of feelings but I cannot bring myself to face them. I am trying to work and provide for my family while caring for my son, my father and our many pets during this terrible covid spike South Africa is now experiencing. I am also starting a new job next week, which I am quite excited for but also anxious that it will lead to less time with my father. All I can say, is that I am experiencing a host of emotions, the strongest of which is anger. Unfortunately, my poor mother and husband receive the brunt of this as I can become extremely defensive either about my own actions or my father's. My mother and I have actually not fought like this since I was a teenager, and this may be the worst it has ever been. To some degree, I understand her coldness as it is her inherent coping mechanism. But this has led to a bitterness within me. I also find myself being unable to hug my father for long periods of time as the frail, thin body I am holding is so unlike the one I could hold only a year ago. This makes me feel so terrible as he seems to comprehend this. My work has definitely suffered and I have not been fair to my own little family. I am aware of all of this but yet I cannot shake the anger that bubbles under the surface, rearing up several times a week. Although we have not yet lost him, fortunately, this anticipatory grieving phase is truly horrible and frightening, to him more than any of us. But like I have said in moments of comfort to my father, we can only take it one step and one day at a time. Each day is a blessing and should be treated as such. 

Sorry for the long post. If anyone has any advice regarding ways in comforting our loved ones during such an uncertain and terrifying time of their lives, I would appreciate your input. 

Thank you

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I am so sorry you and your family are going through all of this. You have been deeply devoted to your father and protective of him and it is understandable that you would be angry. Seeing someone as beloved as a parent aging and showing the signs of a serious illness is an emotional experience and the emotions can be intense. It is very insightful of you to realize that your mother's response is just how she is coping. During my mother's final illness, I found myself annoyed by the response of my brother and sister. They spent time with her, but I didn't feel that it was nearly enough time and there were times I felt angry towards them, but I came to realize that they were also losing a mother and their way of dealing with the situation was to avoid it, as much as possible. I knew I would need them for support, once mom was gone, so I tried to be understanding. Try to be open with your husband and mother and let them know that you are feeling strong emotions which stem from your father's illness, while continuing to keep in mind that they are also going through a stressful time.

I was caretaker for both my mother and grandmother, during their final weeks. I tried to comfort them by sitting by their beds, holding their hands, letting them know that they were loved, letting them know they could talk about whatever they wanted, and acting quickly, to make sure their wants and needs were met. What you wrote about your father worrying he is a burden was also my experience and, whenever mom and my grandma stated that they were burden, I let them know that they were not and that I wanted to help them, because I loved them dearly. Sometimes, as people near the end of life, they hallucinate and say strange things. It is helpful to them to not act surprised or worried by it. Both mom and my grandma asked for their fathers, both of whom had died decades before. I told them something along the lines of their dads would be by shortly. Mom had a great deal of anxiety about death and I would try to comfort her by saying that death is as much a part of life as birth, that it is frightening, but something everyone comes to know, and that the day will come when she will be reunited with her children, in whatever comes after this life.

My best wishes to you, your father, and your entire family, during this difficult time.

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