Some days, when I wake, I am paralysed by the pain of my loss. Today is one of those days. I experience a deep seated, aching pain, absolutely in the middle of my chest, and I wonder if I will be able to face the day ahead. I am, and will always be, a bereaved child.
Today would have been my Dad’s 72nd birthday and I am still so, so angry for all the birthdays, high days and holidays that we haven’t had.
My Dad died in October 1999 after two years of life-prolonging but devastating medical treatments for his leukaemia. They were the most brutal of years and yet the most heightened and precious too. Most of that time, especially in the aftermath of his death, is a haze for me. I was finshing my medical degree. I was getting married. I was renovating my first home. I had no idea what to do in this situation that was beyond human steer or emotional control.
And in many ways, I still have no idea what to do. What to do with this part of me that never wanes. But, most of the time at least, I have learned to live with my life as it is. Acceptance is all that I have to ease my way. And a knowledge that this happens, in one way or another, to us all.
I have ‘outed’ my grief this year. Taken to the brink by the emotional pain and agony of my patients. Becoming unable to sit firmly any longer on the lid of the box that I had closed tight shut nearly seventeen years ago. Needing to find some spiritual peace. Enabled by sabbatical and time for me, by a maturing in my own sense of self, empowered by Twitter as a forum where my colleagues are brave enough to be ‘human’, I have trusted myself to speak out and my world has not, as I once feared, disintegrated.
I was ashamed of my grief. I felt that I had to bury it deep inside. That I had no right to feel the depth of pain that I did when the world is such a treacherous place for so many. I am extremely privileged in so many ways. But now I see that I am my grief and my grief is me. That I am dishonest if I do not confess my ‘conflict of interest’ in matters pertaining to life and death. Because my most formative experiences of dying and death were lived alongside my Dad’s leukaemia. They have informed my professional aptitude and empathy. They have made me the doctor that I am.
My dad was angry when he was ill. He felt that he had only had the opportunity to live ‘half a life’. He still had so much to give and to gain from the world. There was no peaceful resolution, and, in the end, no hope.
This is not the place to expand upon the experiences of my other family members, suffice to say that, because of her loss, my Mum has only lived ‘half a life’ too.
When my Dad died, I did not foresee that the path of my life would be changed forever, but now I live with the understanding that to have loved and lost my best man ever, means that this is the only way that it could possibly be.
So, what do I do?
I live on in my Dad’s shadow, chanelling my time and energies and beliefs into work that I know he would value. Facing the world through his legacy. Trying to live a life that is full and vibrant. Giving daily respect to my own mortality. Prioritising only the things that are important and the people that matter.
And, on days like today, by taking one day at a time…and sitting quietly…and remembering…and being at one with my grief…