Tough challenge ahead this week.

Tuesday 17 May 2016. Almost very nearly precisely a year ago. Blog posts that I’ve not read back since I wrote them. Unable to look at what I tried to express on that Tuesday…..and then…then the Wednesday. I just tried again. I just failed again. 
My dad died on Wednesday 18 May. A form of lung cancer that spread to his kidneys and other parts of his prematurely-aged body. He fought and fought. By God, he fought. Just two weeks prior, we’d been watching the rugby live in Cardiff, drinking Brains in packed pubs, laughing with cousins and close friends… and then…then 10 days later he was rushed in to hospital again….and then he didn’t leave. We were all there, we all got to spend quality time with him, we laughed with him, and he never once mentally gave up. Sure, physically, you could see the collapse. His body fucked him about for days. Mentally,  he fought and fought, battled, scrapped with the terror taking him. I’ll never forget spending the night in his hospital room, darkness drawing life out of the room at 3am, despite the artificial, lifeless glare of the overhead lights. He couldn’t breathe,  his O2 was up at Max, and he stayed calm. He breathed shallow, controlled, hour after hour after hour…until daylight and the life of a new day returned. He slept then, recharged as best he could for what lay ahead.

I’ll never forget that. In the year since it has inspired me on more than one occasion. Of course, I’ve never been through a battle like that, what I do doesn’t compare even slightly. But his strength pushes me all the time.

So, this week is going to be tough. We put so much stock and attention in to anniversaries that it is impossible to treat this week…or that day…like any other. My mother, sisters and I will have dinner together on Thursday, 18 May 2017. I dont know how it’s going to be but I’m happy to be with them. Mrs Nomad and I have tried to anticipate this week, we’ve aimed off for the emotion with the children. I didn’t think it would actually be that bad. 

Feelings are already beginning to roll in, to hit, like the first, clean, building waves of a storm against a shore, before the chaotic riot of water, surf, weed, and hidden rocks tumbling me over and round, uncontrolled. 

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My Father’s Day. I miss you, Dad.

Dad,

It’s been just a day over a whole month since we parted. If I’m honest, I’ve not done too badly so far; a few wobbles here and there; I’ve been there for Mum. My sisters and I have talked a lot and of course we’ve kept the Welsh side very engaged. It really just feels like I’ve not spoken to you in a while and that at any point you’ll email me or send me a WhatsApp message about the rugby. Then you don’t and I feel confused. We always talk after the rugby. Always, Dad. To be fair, it’s been pretty torrid. New Zealand are predictably dancing a merry dance over us despite our best efforts; and they are good efforts but they’re just not good enough, as usual. Obviously, the thousand and one forward passes that NZ seem to get away with has helped and I’m sure you’d have something to say about some dubious high tackling and challenges in the air too. The thing is, Dad, I can hear you saying them and that’s …..kind of alright, apparently….except it isn’t. I want to challenge you, to pick your brains and to hear your thoughts. But all I have are reflections, ‘recordings’ of you in my head that I can’t interact with. I know what you would say about things we’ve shared together but what about all the stuff we won’t share, Dad? I think I know how you would react, feel, frown, smile…..but what would you say? You were a man of carefully chosen words and I appreciated that so much; I tried to learn the same skill from you but I don’t feel like I got it all; how can I know what you would say about Bethany’s first boyfriend or Freya and Chloe ganging up on the school bully to protect someone?. How are they going to know their Pops’ words?? There was more to come and I’m missing out now. How am I supposed to complete my learning as a man and a father without you here? I’m going to get lost, surely? Help me, Dad?!

Except that, Dad, you know what? As I’ve gone through Fathers’ Day today and gulped down the tears at every card, advert, restaurant menu special, I’ve realised that when once you were my teacher, then my coach, you since became my mentor. I’ve reflected on the last few years and seen that where once there might have been telling, direction, coercion, coaxing, now there was merely suggestion and a gentle word. Where we might still have disagreed, there has been acceptance that I’ve made my decisions based on the sound direction and guidance you’ve given me in the past. Where we’ve agreed, it’s been as 2 best friends; 2 friends who shared some hidden secret for 37 years, a bond that was utterly unique and golden. Even the silences we shared on long car journeys or in the house or pottering in the garden were the silence of comfortable companions, happy that the space didn’t have to simply be filled with anything. You’d have been pleased yesterday, Dad; I got my shed to the point where I was about to label everything and ban anyone from going in there. I think I just stepped back from the brink there though.

It is this understanding of where we were as friends that has given me comfort today, Dad. When I look up at the photos of you above my desk, I see the happiest, strongest, most caring father a man could wish for. In each of the photos, I can see what you are thinking in your eyes, I can see the joy in you and I immediately hear the words I need to hear. And because I can hear you, I don’t feel lost. I know you taught me all you needed to teach me and the words you wrote in my birthday card were true, “All that need be said between us has been said. So Proud Of You Son”. You had reached that point where you could just take a step back and smile. You looked on me with pride, I know, I feel it every day. That pride, from someone as loved and respected as you, gives me the confidence I need to be the father I know you saw in me.

It doesn’t make it easy though, Dad. This feeling of our communications just being ‘cut off’ still confuses me greatly. I want to phone EE and tell them to give me your new number. I can’t believe you’re not there. This is still so unfair. I miss you so much all the time. But you’re still there. You’re still there when I need to hear you laugh, I can picture your upset at another Welsh loss, I can imagine your pride at Bethany’s sports day, or the Twins’ gymnastics. I can imagine your love for them as they grow up and begin to lead lives of their own, even one day having their own families. And I know what you would say for each scenario that presents itself.

How can I picture all of this and know this with such confidence? Because you taught me well as a child, Dad. You coached me through some pretty mental times as a petulant and trying young adult, and you mentored me in to the husband of a wonderful, loving wife and father to 3 warrior princesses. I know that I see the world through the eyes that you and Mum gave me and that had you thought there was anything more for me to learn, you’d have let me know. As our girls grow up, they will hear your thoughts and words through me; you will live on in that way, Dad, and they will know you.

I miss you, Dad, that is true. I’ll miss you every day, forever.

“Thank you for Everything” seems too short; for that I am sorry, you would have thought of something better. But I mean it. I mean it with my whole heart.

UDRM, Dad.

I miss you, buddy. xx

Love always,

 

Son.

x

 

Tuesday 24 May 16 – Head not in the game

My Dad Died

I am lost. Wandering around a hollow void in my own head. Hearing noise, decrypting a little of the noise,  creating a noise. Sounds echo in the space. Time vanishes.

I attempt to focus. It takes a lot of effort and struggle. A quick – witted response, an intelligent nod, I’m in the game. Time vanishes again. I’m out. Restart. Reset. Restruggle.

With a need to meditate, to focus, to view normalcy, I head to the gym. I might not be that strong but I relish the attention the barbell demands.

Focus. Setup, knees back, rise, second pull, power! Shoulders high, catch, rise from the squat. Clear stars from vision. Dip, drive under the bar! Catch. Hold. Focus.

Drop bar.

Rest.

Setup.

Clean and Jerk 1RM

70, 70, 80, 80, 80, 90, 90, 90, 92.5, 90kg

10kg below my best. Anger and frustration got the better of me and I had to control myself and leave. I’ve lost a lot of strength over the last 3 months or so. My head is not in the game. To have continued would have been dangerous. At least I recognised that.

Wednesday 18 May 16 – The sun isn’t shining today.

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Leaving Dad at 0300, Mrs Nomad and I hand over the watch  to my elder cousin before curling up on waiting room chairs. He was in a good place. The dimorphine and midazolam were doing their job and he was sleeping soundly; the best sleep in weeks.

I awoke to the pizza boxes being cleared away by my sister.

“Why haven’t you cleared the last one?”, I muttered.

“Thought you might like cold pizza for breakfast”, she honestly retorted.

No, I didn’t start the day by wolfing down congealed pepperoni and bouncy, drying pineapple. Immediately recalling Dad’s good form during the night, I felt buoyed with hope. Yes, his comfort was drug induced but even so, his body was physically coping with the oxygen being delivered to him. He can stay like that for what… days? A week? More?
Scratching my unwashed head and feeling the product of 8 slices of Domino’s on my teeth, the world looked a little bit rosier.

Walking in to Dad’s room, the sound struck me first. The bubbling, gravel- crunching breathing sound is back. The bottom of his lungs is filling up again, limiting further his capacity to process oxygen. He wasn’t awake either. Still dozing, the shallow, strained, forced chest movements bellowed limited puffs in to his lungs. The monitor showed diminishing saturation levels.
Not over yet, the pain-relief of the dimorphine and anti-anxiety effects of the midazolam mean that Dad is not physically fighting to compete with the monitor’s score-keeping and is able to relax as much as possible, efficiently processing the O2 on offer.

But he is filling up with fluid. And the clots in his lungs are restricting blood flow. And his diaphragm is damaged from repeated chemo. And there’re those rapidly growing tumours.

The medication can be upped. And it can be upped again. Soon though, it can’t be upped any further.

That is the exact moment I am dreading and want to run from. The moment hope dies.

Our Team retreated to the home of close friends to shower, eat breakfast and, perhaps more importantly, play with the kids. Their laughter brought a little of the sunshine out and Summer almost seemed on its way again. I went to work for a few hours, Mrs Nomad took the Team to the hospital. The “Wales lot” were decamping, packing away, brushing hair, chatting, wandering, making excuses not to enter that room and say goodbye. Dad’s mum, “Granan”, with stoicism of an almost forgotten generation, made her farewell. She’s 84. He’s 58. Trembling tears and kisses from his sister, tight hugs and kisses and tears from his nieces, a stuttering, gentlemanly handshake and hug from his brother-in-law. This was their last goodbye.

I received a text from Mrs Nomad telling me his sats were dropping again; I logged off the utterly meaningless and irrelevant systems, unable to comprehend their screens anyway. The car journey to the hospital apparently took place. There was lunch in there somewhere, and conversations with the focused corum of Mum, sisters and partners happened. Oh, and the oncologist. Dad wants more air, doc will see what he can do. (Nothing). I hug my elder sister, she’s the medical one. She knows too much. She has the burden of knowledge, knowing not to hope, knowing the reality. No tears from us…..yet. …..just the long, tight, understanding embrace.

The numbers on the monitor fluctuated. Dad took a sip of diet coke, his sats collapsed to rock bottom. Mask on, sats slowly rise….but not as high.

It’s just him and me now. Complaining overtly for the last few months about womens’ intrinsic need to fill silence with noise, we sit quietly. I have nothing left I need to say and it would be selfish to make him talk just to satisfy my own cravings to hear him. Besides, the medazolam inhibits new memory formation, what would he take with him anyway? It’s enough that I am here next to him, right now. Father and son time. He can have his quiet.

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The younger sister, the practical one, is chasing tasks for Mum. Arranging accommodation shutdowns, darting around town, keeping busy for other people, relieving the burden of us and herself in the process.

He awoke to take the monitor off of his finger before then drifting off once more. No longer competing with the mechanical scorer, perhaps there’s less pressure on him.

Sats at 72. He wanted the monitor connected again but the alarm sounds immediately. We silence it and he sleeps, roughly, coughing occasionally, with some irritability and agitation.

We take the 3 Action Princesses to see him and he clocks them immediately, removing his mask and beaming at them through struggled gasps and gulps. We take them back out again, blowing kisses at him, just in time for him to replace his mask and suck down his O2. A lot of pride and dignity in my old man. I love him. I miss him already as he stumbles out of the door to this life. Dad, I’m so proud of you.

I want him back!!!! Fuck you, Cancer!! Give me back my Dad!!

Where is my equipment to deal with this? Why is there nothing to hit, blow up, run at, overcome? ???

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We’d hoped today would be like yesterday and tonight would be like last night. Dad wanted a Gin and Tonic last night but was asleep when it came. We’ve hoped a lot of things but my dreaded moment is almost. ….finally……maybe….maybe not…here.

Stop struggling, Dad. We got this.

I got this, Dad. Stop suffering. I got this.

Tues 17 May 16 – Watching my dad slowly go (Fuck you, Cancer, give me my dad back!!)

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This was the screen that welcomed me in to my dad’s room at 0230. Having sped down here yesterday after he was rushed back in to hospital,  I made my way 2hrs back to London to change clothes, have a bath and get some sleep. An hour in to blissful solitude, my younger sister phoned with an update that brought me right back down again.

Yesterday was looking positive, truth be told. All the family from wildest Wales had been through the room with smiles, jokes,  balloon flowers, hugs and kisses. Even the sun made a wonderful pre – summer showing. Dad was chatting between sucking down on his O2 mask. I thought we might even have weeks left with him.

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I mean, if you’re gonna have a view from your hospital room then this isn’t a bad one, right?

But now, the night has taken hold.

The darkness fills the windowscape.

It might be hours, not even days.

My dad is struggling to breathe, his oxygen bag failing to fill as he gulps it all in immediately, despite the 15 litres being pumped through to him. I will it to fill each time, begging the pipes to give him just a little more. His shallow, swift breathing scrapes his desert – dry throat. He’s fighting. He’s somehow keeping control of his intake despite hypoxia, mild delerium and aching pains throughout his body. He is still so strong, he won’t give in despite the odds. He humbles me as I sit next to him and stifle back my tears, welling sadness and budding grief. Mum grips his other hand, my younger sister retreats under a blanket in exhaustion while the elder one takes her shift on guard. Holding his hand, the damage of 3 courses of increasingly destructive chemotherapy are evident. Patches of missing hair along his arms, muscular weakness where even last year there was natural strength; him wrestling my three young daughters before Christmas is still clear and fresh in my mind, in fact. The speed of this degradation borders on insanely criminal. How dare he not be given a chance to fight back and win? Fuck you, Cancer, give me back my Dad!!!!

He’s not slept properly in days but can’t for fear of losing the forced control of his breathing. He presses on.

He’s just told my mum, “don’t be afraid, I’m ok”.

It’s 0400 now, his SpO2 drops to 59% before crawling back up the charts to rest in the mid 60s……come on, Dad.

His breathing rasps on, a gravel-like hoarseness, in and out.