The last year or so............
Saturday, November 19, 2016
This is not one of my usual blogs, where I find amusing pictures to demonstrate the points I am trying to make. I will try very hard not to make it a pity party either, as things have been quite difficult over the last wee while and don’t seem to be letting up in the immediate future. I can’t even put things in complete chronological order, as you will see, I hope.
I’m going to start wide and general, and get more personal later on.
It’s just over a year since the Paris attacks. And then in France we have had several more atrocities since then. This is having an effect on many of us here, the sheer weight on our society which seems to be polarising. Whilst I did not know anyone personally, friends of friends died in Paris, and also in the Nice attack. Just last week we had to do a terror drill in my school, as the French government seems to be sure that a school will be attacked, sooner or later. I lay on the floor with my little kids, 6 years old, their heads in their hands, lying as quietly as possible. In other classes they were told that they were playing hide and seek, and were under their desks. I don’t have desks, so we played sleeping lions instead. I couldn’t even let my head go to a place where there really were men with guns trying to kill these innocents. And even less so that it is happening throughout the world, where such innocents are being killed every day.
Britain voted to leave the EU, and I was left bereft, truly bereaved, as part of my very identity, that of a European, was torn away from me. I really felt grief, and am still working my way through that one, but have had to put it in the queue, as you’ll see below. The recent US election has brought back many of those feelings.
And then the personal stuff. Well, here you have to be prepared for rather a long read. I’ll try to keep it as short and factual as possible.
My parents are elderly, but came to stay with me in France in June, despite my father having had stroke like symptoms linked to an infection just before. They made the journey safely. They had barely arrived when I got a message from my niece saying her nephew’s girlfriend was in hospital somewhere in France, her friends had left her, could I help out. It turned out that she was in Annecy, so my local hospital, and my mum and I rushed off to give what linguistic and moral help that we could. And also, she was of an age with my own kids. We left my dad at home with my partner. Over the next few days I dealt with the situation where different languages and different medical systems led to different expectations, and I did my best to reconcile them all. Meanwhile, dad felt a bit left out. My great niece by marriage (we just called her my niece, much simpler) had to be flown back to the UK, and as my dad’s health was deteriorating, he was a bit confused in the less than familiar surroundings, my mum was concerned that he would have to be medically repatriated too. In the end, he took the decision himself to cut short the trip, and I accompanied them both back, saw the doctor, etc.
Then back to France and to work.
In July my brother was taken into hospital in Brussels after a seizure. He was kept in for 10 days, thoroughly investigated and was told that whilst there was something on the brain, they didn’t think it was cancer. During his hospital stay my daughter had a life threatening medical emergency, and I rushed to support her in Strasbourg. She came through relatively unscathed, but I had to leave her with her godmother in France, before she was 100% as I had to get back to the UK to my parents. A hard decision, but one that I think was right.
The summer was not easy. J and I went to the little house in the north, where he dealt with burst water pipes, clogged septic tanks, the car being lifted round on the road, and the wiper broken, amongst other things. Back to Edinburgh, and another difficult decision as J had been asked to look after his 6 month old granddaughter for a week, and I had originally thought I would be there to help him. But my parents needed me, so I stayed for the medical appointments etc. and to give some r and r to my mother. So, I was there to see the medicine of the elderly specialist, and the care team when they put a trial in place to help dad dress in the morning. Like many of his age and generation, he made a huge effort to show he didn’t need that, and after the trial it was stopped. And it was clear he did in fact need the support.
I was barely back in France when the news came that my brother had had another seizure, and that this time they thought it was cancer. It seemed to take a long time to get the tests etc. done, but eventually we were told it was a very aggressive cluster of brain tumours, inoperable, and that he had weeks rather than months to live.
This news had a detrimental effect on my dad and he ended up back in hospital. We were told it was kidney stones and a UTI, but he still wasn’t really right when he got out. A couple of nights later mum called the ambulance, but it was so long coming that dad fell asleep, and she cancelled it. Two nights later another episode, when friends (including a newly qualified nurse) were at the house, and so back to hospital. One of my nephews is an orthopaedic surgeon at the same hospital, and has been an enormous help. He is also in the Navy, and we were told he was going to be deployed to the Mediterranean. Thankfully that didn’t happen, but it was one stress more. We were envisaging 100% care for my father, based on what my nephew saw and understood. Luckily that was not necessary.
I had planned to be back in Scotland at this time, and went back. Before I did Dad said he wanted to give up, but later realised that he didn’t really want to. As mum told him. “I will be burying my son soon, I don’t want to have to bury my husband too!”
It was all very emotional, a trip to say goodbye to my brother, and supporting my mum supporting my dad. Then another blow, dad was diagnosed with a rare type of bile duct cancer. He probably has months to live. He hasn’t taken that on board, and is willing to believe it was pancreatitis. He hasn’t asked the questions that would mean he is told. We asked the doctor, and we were told.
Almost the worst thing was when my daughter and I, talking to other doctors, were told, no, no growth, no thickening, no cancer. We were ecstatic. Then the next day, the discharge letter made it clear, yes, there was something, almost certainly a cancer. It was like a blow to the gut.
With emotions running so high there have been written exchanges between family members that have left me distressed, however doing my best not to let things go too far. It is not easy to accept, and not to react, but I know I simply want my brothers and fathers time left on earth to be as stress free as possible. Some of the written things were me, badly expressing myself, and leaving myself open to misinterpretation. And I was misinterpreted.
Yes, there are other family members, but they are not as helpful as they think they are, but they are closer geographically, and that is a help in itself.
My brother is approaching the end. He is in hospital, soon to be in a hospice, and probably won’t make it till Christmas, although you never know. I dread to think how my parents will react when he dies. My other brother committed suicide more than 9 years ago. I am pretty sure that this Christmas will be my dad’s last, although he is nearly 92, so it is not the same. But he is still my dad.
So all in all, there is quite a weight on my shoulders at the moment. I phone my mum every day, and she has had more problems, the house needs a new central heating boiler, the roof is being redone, amongst other things. I just have to listen, and try to understand. And mediate a bit too, as dad wants and needs out of the house more than mum is able to accompany him. His club is just around the corner, but as he has had a couple of dizzy spells in the street, mum is unwilling to let him go on his own. So I try to help to find a solution.
All the more reason to put my head over the parapet, and get back active here, amongst friends, who are so wonderfully supportive.
But if I go quiet, you might understand why.
Thanks for reading.