So, it all comes back now…awakening at 6.30am in January darkness with a red wine hangover, your mother entering your room. ‘He seems to be in a lot of pain. He’s shouting a lot’. I, of course, irritably dismiss these concerns. I roll over and address the pillow directly. ‘Just give him another dose of fentanyl’. That’ll shut him up. Because, quite honestly, I’ve lived with this long enough this morning already. The last 9 years of M.R.I’s, bone scans, surgical options, evaporating platelet’s, staying positive, talking it through, giving false hope, lying. I’ve forgotten entirely who the person in the converted dining room/hospice really was. He’s like a weakened blood vessel in my head waiting to burst and I can’t wait for the relief, I cannot wait for the silence it will bring me. I don’t care if I spend the rest of my life alone. I’m not wishing for anything after this. If he will not go then I will.

I walk downstairs, I just follow the sounds. Slowly. I no longer hurry. I hear an animal wailing. I enter the room. The air-bed wheezes, exhales and falls. I dismiss the incompetent night carer with a glare and a noise that sounds like ‘thanks’ but is nothing of the kind. She leaves. Meanwhile he’s grabbing at his leg and tearing at his pjs. I try to talk, I say vaguely soothing things but he looks at me panicked and says something in a language that didn’t exist 10 minutes ago. I don’t know what it means but I do know that this is finally it. ‘We should call the doctor’. I try to make it calm, matter of fact but I worry that it just sounds resigned, as if I know it won’t make a difference. I still want to lie to them, my father, my mother and myself sitting in our dining room on the darkest of all January mornings at the end of all things.

The rest flashes through like still frames. I call work; I make sure they can hear the screams so I don’t have to do my shift. The doctor arrives and administers what looks like way too much morphine. I’m grateful but can’t really say anything. He imparts some sympathetic platitudes that confirm what I’m thinking and then leaves. Through the day people arrive, Sister, Brother-in-law, nurses, Aunts, Uncles, a girl that makes me laugh no matter what.

He’s in a coma now attached to a syringe driver and we talk to him in shifts throughout the day. His breathing slows over a period of 7 hours, becoming shallower and increasingly ragged. The death rattle is a real thing after all and this small note to myself makes me smile. Someone is talking about suction when the breathing really slows, almost stops, then resumes at a fraction of what it was. He calls out from wherever he is and I think I say out loud ‘he’s going now’.
4.10pm, the breathing stops completely and I kiss my father goodbye for the last time. I tell him that I love him and although I probably imagine it, he seems to try to respond. His eye closes, and as all life flees, it re-opens and the difference between us and them becomes completely obvious. There is a momentary silence interrupted only by the bed, which hasn’t caught on yet and is still breathing and hissing uselessly to itself in the middle of the room.

I can only remember fragments of the hysterical outpouring of grief that followed, another doctor, or maybe the same one, arrives and we sign something and are charged £80 ‘ash cash’ for the privilege. A funeral car arrives and two suited men carry the body out in a bag. I don’t remember who called them, or when, but I do remember standing in the drizzling rain with my family on the driveway as the hearse crawls away. I have no memory of the next two hours but at some point someone cooks me dinner and I find, to my surprise, that I’m alive and actually hungry. I’m embarrassed about this and strangely guilty for having an appetite. Should I not fast now, make a show of grief and fade away out of obligation? I allude to this with a stupid little laugh but my uncle says it’s ok so I just go with it.

If it was a film then the credits would roll here, but they don’t. We all have the rest of our lives to get through now. Life isn’t a story and if it makes?sense as a narrative then you’re probably editing quite a lot of it. Events reach a crescendo then fade into silence. In the silence you can maybe come to terms with all that you’ve lost.

Night terrors and premonitions of death

I’ve had one night terror and it’s forever burnt into the fabric of my memory.

The dream started (or at least this is where my memory kicks in) with me, my father, my step mum and my fathers neighbours walking across what I guess you’d describe as an ice plate in what looks like the arctic circle.  It’s freezing and none of us are prepared for what’s about to happen.

The ice begins to splinter and crack. As we start to run my step mum stumbles and falls through the splitting ice. I immediately jump in after her as she sinks struggling to catch a breath in the freezing dark, bottomless water. I pull her upwards and as we break the surface my dad is in a small cage (I can only describe as a small cage you’d dive with sharks in). His cage is too heavy and the thin ice shatters under the weight bursting water and chunks of ice into the air. The cage along with my father plummets towards the ocean floor.

I dive down watching as my father and the cage sink until they hit the bottom. The cage stays upright and my fathers eyes are fixed on me as I swim down to him. He shakes the cage violently trying to free himself, but the door stays fixed shut. Bubbles start coming out of his mouth. He’s running out of air quickly. With my arms wrapped around the front of the cage and my feet pressed against the sides I manage to pull a gap big enough for my father to fit through. He scrambles free and races for the surface. I try to follow but I’m stuck watching no longer part of this but just a voyeur. He gets about half way to the surface and his swimming is becoming erratic and he stops, convulsing and doubling over. Unable to swim, his eyes are closed tight and a pained grimace is on his face as his neck stretches out and the last bubbles of air escape his mouth. He gasps for air that will never come. My father stops moving, and I can’t reach him. I wake up cold, sweating and screaming into my dark empty room.

2 weeks after this night terror my father died of cancer. The cage that had dragged him to the bottom of life for 5 years.