Better out than in

When you are with a parent who is prematurely close to the end of their life, many things might happen for the first time. And all over the world, people are experiencing these things. I had never – as an adult – spent the night in my dad’s room. Never fed my dad before, or wiped his face, or collected his vomit in a bowl. Never checked for excrement. Never put my finger in his mouth to try to clean it. Never touched a stiff dehydrated tongue before. Never scrutinised anybody’s body language for signs of pain before. Never held my parents’ friends while they sobbed before. Never seen my grown-up brother cry. Never seen a person die before, or realised that there could be so many last breaths followed by a hanging silence before the next one, or that even a death immobilised by morphine would be a sudden and noisy spasm. Never heard my own keening as if it were somebody else’s voice before. Hadn’t realised that missing dad would grow rather than fade the longer I don’t see him, or that the memories of his illness would crowd out the other memories until it became hard to think of him at all. I often feel the urge to tweet my dad, which is ridiculous. The last thing he said to me was “Thank you love” and when he tried to touch my cheek I had to lift his hand. But the last thing I heard him say, days later, was a shout of pain. I hadn’t realised that he could still say anything, or that for him dying might not only have been an ordeal but also horribly boring. He was very particular – he like to have things just so. He was also a tremendous stoic all his life, not least at the end. I hadn’t realised that when people – especially older people who know about this – seem cavalier about life’s frustrations it may be because they understand that time will eventually catch up with them too, and that moment gets nearer with every heartbeat. To think that these things have been for all of us, all through time, and I’d never given them a moment’s thought, even though I’ve always known that all flesh is grass.

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