Eyes on the clocks

This last couple of weeks has been a very strange mixture of fact and fiction. Of TV dramatisations of real life tragedies (The C Word, on TV at last, Lisa Lynch!) Of work deadlines and home deadlines all seeming to coalesce into some kind of weird vortex of limitation and pressure. I have a big project at work that is nearly at its completion, something that I and the people I work with are pretty proud of and that matters to us. At the same time Mum has been really poorly and I’ve been trying to balance spending time with her as well, because of all the things that matter, family matters most.

On Tuesday the doctor and the palliative care nurse asked my Dad and I into a side room at the hospital for a chat. You know it’s never going to be good when there needs to be both a doctor and a kindly looking nurse on standby in a “quiet room”. I’ve been there before and I didn’t like that news, either.

The doctor basically told us that all the oncologists in the hospital got together and as a result wanted to let us know that there isn’t a great deal that we can do to treat or help my Mum any further. They have run out of ideas. I sat there with my Dad as we listened to the Doctor and we calmly went through all the things they had already considered and tried. They were very patient with us as we gradually exhausted the list of our own ideas and questions and then just kind of sat there in a stunned silence. We’re not stupid, we have been expecting it at some point but equally dreading and not believing it would ever be here.

What kind of reality is this that means the person who has always comforted me since I was little, who has always showed me she loved me in a million different ways, will no longer be available for me to hug and kiss, to bake mince pies and cakes, to buy me useless tat that she found in a shop the other day, and tell me about the stranger she got chatting to in the shop? No. Surely that’s just a mistake.

But when I see her, each time I see her, I see how frail she has become, and how she hates to see photographs of herself, her appearance is so changed from the person we saw only a couple of years ago. I wonder what she’s thinking and whether she would have chosen to have to go through this. Mum’s already fading away from us, a lot of the time is barely conscious. When she’s awake, she’s in pain and I feel useless and powerless.

I’ve been trying to explain to my friends how I feel. That it’s not particularly that I’ve left things unsaid (I tell her I love her every time I see her) or that anything specifically has been unsaid by Mum (likewise she is a loving person)… It’s just that it felt like Mum and Dad protected us too much by not sharing their concerns with us as we were growing up, and that’s meant that they’ve always been a tiny bit mysterious to me. With Mum, partly that’s because she tends to bottle things up (shush now, don’t start talking about me!). I just really don’t want to feel like she’s about to be a permanently unsolved mystery. But equally, I just haven’t had the right questions to ask to get to any level of insight that suggests I was right about this – It’s just a feeling.

Maybe that’s just the feeling that everyone gets when they know that time is running out for an opportunity; that they don’t know the right words to unlock life’s secrets and so they scramble around trying to find them out in increasingly ill-thought-out ways. I wish that I could offer my mum some comfort by talking to her about her faith and so on… but that’s not me. I find myself wishing I was better at small talk, wanting to have more boring inane rubbish to gibber at her if that will only mean that I somehow keep her awake, keep the connection going between us for longer. Is that selfish? Should we really want to prolong this painful awful experience? It seems pretty bloody awful and that’s just from the sidelines.

The trouble with the dying part of cancer, is that it’s a lonely business. For the person doing it, and for each person who is along for that ride. Nobody knows anything much. There can be no plans, everything is uncertain and unknown. Spare a thought for for the people who have to go through the pain and indignity of doing it as a kind of slow motion car crash with an audience of sad loved ones faces in front of them, the people who are trying their hardest to support them but are probably just being really bloody annoying as well.

There’s not much I can tell you about this mysterious process nor what happens next. I just know that this hurts my heart.

Maybe I’m also being too “me-me-me” and tragic and overdramatic. I don’t know.

But I’m asking you – begging you – no matter whether you have ever been seriously ill or not, whether you’re in a happy state of mind or not, please, please, please don’t leave things too late. Always make the most of your time on this earth. I know that your finances aren’t limitless, but your time isn’t limitless either. Please don’t leave this life with regrets, things left unsaid or places left unseen. Make up your arguments, say the unsaid, deal with your crap as best you can and then spend your time on the good stuff.

There is a lot of beauty in simple things, and you shouldn’t get caught up in the stress of a moment, when in the long run none of it actually matters. All that matters is that you tell the people you love, that they are the most beloved, special, amazing people in life, and that you make sure you cherish every moment with them.

Because the hardest part is knowing that the moments you have with them are finite.

My eyes are on the clocks, I know your brain is glittering
We fed it to the dogs, And this is such a bitter thing
I’ve got you all mapped out – Your face, your fever
You are without a doubt the worst believer

Turn it around, I’ve found that I’m lonely, kick it down a notch to only see that we
Ran out of everything we dreamed.
Take me out with all of your demons, on the ground floor without a reason
I’ve finally found a method to come clean,

The worst is yet to come, Erase it all and then display the sun –
Don’t you say you’re not the only one who’s from where you’re from.

Turn it around, I’ve found that I’m lonely, kick it down a notch to only see that we
Ran out of everything we dreamed
Take me out with all of your demons, on the ground floor without a reason
I’ve finally found a method to come clean,

Lyrics by Seafoal (Sienna Sweeney)