I’ve never been a fan of February. In the Northern Hemisphere it’s cold and dark and gloomy and you wonder if spring will ever come. In the Southern Hemisphere it’s so hot and dry, day and night, that everything wilts, including the people. It’s a month to be endured rather than enjoyed.
This year, February has been particularly unkind. It’s been one of the busiest times at work. I’ve had a lurgy that just wouldn’t leave and insomnia that seems to have dug its heels in. But those things are nothing, really, because my Dad has cancer again, this time with complications, and has spent most of the month in hospital.
I could write about pain (his) and grief (ours). I could write about shouting in my car while driving home from work, pleading with God/the universe to give him more time and a quiet, peaceful death years from now. Perhaps I’ll get my wish. As things stand, it seems unlikely. A year ago we were talking about him beating cancer. Now we’re talking about him buying time. They were the specialist’s words: “Basically, we’re just buying time.”
If you’re seriously ill, it helps to have a specialist with gallows humour. A recent conversation went like this:
Dad: I think I was in the same bed last time I was here.
Specialist: Yes, we kept it for you. Your name’s up there in permanent marker.
One conversation he had last year with Mum still makes me smile:
Mum: Will he be well enough to go on our overseas holiday?
Specialist: Is he going over in a box?
Mum: No, and I don’t want to bring him back in one either.
How do you keep doing the everyday things when uncertainty, pain and death are looming? For a couple of weeks, I didn’t know if I could stand the futility of so many aspects of my day. I wanted to spin myself a cocoon and hide inside it for as long as possible. I wanted to make caustic remarks in reply to the endless discussions about inconsequential things. I wanted everything and everyone to go away.
But everything doesn’t go away. Whatever personal hell you’re going through, you have to go through it while still doing the everyday things. The garbage still has to go out. The house still has to be cleaned. You have to keep feeding yourself nutritious food. You can’t walk out of work because, actually, it’s a good job and it pays for your lifestyle.
Watching someone confront their mortality makes you face up to your own. And it turns out that there’s an up side to insomnia: it gives you extra time to think. It gives you time to question whether you’re where you want to be, doing what you really want to do. It gives you time to plan how to get from here to there. It gives you time to ask questions like: what do I need to do right now to start going down that path?
Today, finally, the hot weather broke. I went to the garden centre and stood in the teeming rain choosing white flowers to plant in the back garden. By the time I got back to the car I was soaked through, but it felt exhilarating to be out in the rain. Back at home I tucked the plants into the wet soil and their bright little faces cheered me up.
The only way to keep going is to keep going. The Nike slogan works: just do it. I’ve fitted more into this weekend than I normally would. There’s no time for apathy and lethargy. There’s now, today, and maybe there’s tomorrow, but we really have no control over that. I don’t have any answers. I wish I did. I just wanted to tell you about my February.