I don’t like birthdays. I especially don’t like my own. It has everything I don’t like: being social, having fun, being around people, receiving gifts, stressing about whether you have appropriately expressed your appreciation for every birthday wish/gift, receiving lots of phone calls, having to actually speak on the phone, eating, having visitors, not being able to be boring or do nothing. I don’t like festivities at the best of times, but when I am the star of the show, I like it even less.
Anyway, today is my birthday. Ho-hum. As I have gotten older, I’ve learnt to embrace my inner oddness and so on my birthday I reward myself for enduring the cheer by doing things I like. Spending some time with just myself and my kids/husband. Working on my computer. Being alone for a bit. Going for a drive on my own. Playing Pokemon. Not having to do ALL the chores.
This birthday was very different. I spent it doing things I usually avoid like the plague. This birthday I spent doing physical touch and quality time. My two least favourite “Love Languages”. (For those who haven’t yet read the 5 Love Languages, you should read it. It’s pretty spot on).
As some of you might know, my father is not well. He has stage 4 pancreatic cancer. We are in the end stage now. It is a horrendous journey this. Words cannot explain how harrowing it is to go through this process where someone you really, really, REALLY love has late stage terminal cancer. The best way to describe is a total mind-fuck. There is so much I could write about it, and still will, but suffice to say it is next level mindfuckery.
My father is at home with my mom. They have two nurses who assist my mom care for my dad. It is a very intimate process. The nurses are in my parents’ home all the time. My very proud mother and my very proud father (who have been together since they were 13 and 14 years old) have had to entrust my father’s care to two people who were strangers 5 weeks ago. And now they are intimately entwined in their lives.
My dad has lost a lot of weight. A huge amount. He hardly eats. He can’t wear his wedding ring anymore as it falls off his finger. He keeps it next to his bed. Yesterday morning my mom discovered that my dad’s wedding ring was missing. She searched high and low for it. She looked in her jewelry box to see whether she has perhaps put it there. She discovered her wedding ring was missing too. As was her necklace and her special broach that was several decades old. She then discovered her purse with several thousand Rand was missing too.
Can you imagine the betrayal my mother felt. One of these women (we don’t know who) had taken my parents wedding rings. My father is busy dying. He wanted to leave his wedding ring to his only son. It is now gone.
My poor mother is close to cracking. She has been caring for my dad at night for months and weeks. She is exhausted and close to cracking. She has just agreed to have a night nurse for my dad when this happened.
We don’t know who took the rings. It could be either of the nurses, but the dates and time point to one. The one my mom thought really cared about her and my dad. The sense of betrayal was enormous, especially in such a vulnerable time.
My mother was so upset she told the nursing agency she didn’t want any of the nurses to come back. Which left my mom close to breaking point with no help. So of course I said I would come over and spend the night. My mom desperately needed to have at least a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.
As I said above, my love language is not quality time or physical touch. I find it very very hard to be physically affectionate. Hugging and touching are hard for me. It’s been bugging me that I have not hugged and touched my dad as much as I should. (He is not a hugger either. We love each other very much, but we are not big huggers). But I keep thinking about the fact that one day in the not too distant future, I might not have the opportunity to hug him, to touch him, to feel his skin. And so I have so badly wanted to hold him, to hug him. And yet it is so hard for me.
Last night, I left everything at my house to my husband to sort out, packed my overnight bag, picked up pizza and wine and went to spend the night at my parent’s house. Something I haven’t done since I left home many, many years ago.
We spoke about how hard it is. How difficult it was for my father physically, never mind mentally or emotionally. And then my strong, super-hero, loving and much loved father cried. I don’t need to tell you how much it made my heart ache to see my father cry. Cancer is a cruel, cruel disease. It is a revolting, disgusting thief. I hate it. My hero strong father lying there, so thin and frail, crying. And so I leaned over, and I hugged him. I held him in my arms and I kissed his head, and rubbed his thin bony back. And I felt so intensely grateful for this moment, this opportunity to feel and touch him. To hold him.
Last night I slept next to my father. My mom took a sleeping tablet and slept in the spare room.
(My poor mom, she had JUST taken the sleeping tablet at 10pm when the cops eventually arrived 8 hours after she initially reported the theft to take a statement from her. I set the alarm off trying to let them in the house. Sigh. But at least after they left, my mom managed to sleep)
I was nervous about being responsible for my father the whole night. What happened if he wanted to get up, if he had pain, if he started gasping or moaning. The previous night my mother had gotten up 6 times in the night to help my dad.
But he slept peacefully throughout the night. I woke up once to turn him so that he wouldn’t get sore by lying on the one side the whole night. We woke up at 5:30 am when the darn dog barked at a cat outside.
This morning, on my 49th birthday, I woke up next to my father. I thought about my very young parents who, 49 years ago, were only 19 and 20 years old when I was born. Who were suddenly thrust into the role of parents when they just children themselves. And I felt incredibly honoured and grateful to have been given this gift to spend the night with my father. The man who raised me. The man who loved me as much as I loved him. The man who probably wont be here for my next birthday. I know you will understand how special this moment was.
And then I had to rush home because today, on my birthday, my daughter had a special mother-daughter appreciation tea which was the culmination of an excellent course she had been on. It just so happened to fall on my birthday. So this morning I spent four hours speaking about feelings, sharing the morning with people I didn’t know, doing crafts and flower garlands, and writing letters to our daughters. It was an awesome course and I know it meant a huge deal to my daughter that we did this appreciation celebration together, but I must say, talking about my feelings and doing crafts for 4 hours is not my thing, especially after such an emotional 24 hours. But I did it, and I was grateful to do it. I have a daughter who I get to spend time with, and for that I was intensely grateful.
So here I am. On the evening of my birthday, feeling emotionally exhausted. I have done no work today, I have not been able to take any calls, or write any thank you messages on text and Facebook. It has been a crazy, crazy 24 hours.
Life sucks and can be incredibly cruel, but I am so grateful for what I have, for my family, for their love and the love I have for them. I am grateful for the opportunity to do things that don’t come naturally to me. I am grateful to love and be loved. So happy birthday to me. It might not have been as I would have planned, but I feel honoured to have experienced what I did today.
I love you dad xxx
PS If I haven’t taken your call or responded to your message, I am sorry. It’s a been a crazy day. I appreciate every single one of you.