01 February 2011

The worst day of my life

Angel of Grief (courtesy of Valerio Sibio on flickr.com)



The day my father died - ten years ago to this very day - was arguably the worst day of my life. I remember it well and it certainly does not seem as long ago as ten years.

His death was a wrench in more ways than one. He and I were always very close. He was proud of me and I of him. As the only child, I always wanted to protect him, as he had suffered so much as a child and young man, as I wrote about here. We never argued about things and he meant the world to me.


While I was on my honeymoon with Greg in 1976, my father had a heart attack and I only found out when I got back home again. Greg and I were leaving England to start our married life in Germany and I had to leave my father in hospital, not knowing whether he would live or die. He survived but I spent many a restless night in Germany wondering whether I would get a phone call with bad news. Amazingly, he went on to live another twenty-five years and it was not his heart that eventually let him down in the end. He developed leukaemia about three years or so before he died and although that type (chronic lymphatic leukaemia) was not a killer, he went on a few years down the line to develop a second type which was aggressive (acute myeloid leukaemia). Up to that point I had no idea that there were so many types of leukaemia and that some were more dangerous than others. I remember well when the AML was first diagnosed. It was mid January 2001. My father had been feeling seriously unwell for a few weeks and the consultant haematologist was puzzled and decided to run some more tests. The news was not good. Not only had he now got a second type of leukaemia (it was rare to get two kinds) but it was fatal and he only had weeks or at most a few months to live.


As if this was not bad enough, I was faced with a major dilemma. Not only was I about to lose my beloved father but I had to have a hysterectomy and I was unhappy about the timing. I had a huge mass growing inside of me making me look slightly pregnant. My gynaecologist was pressing me to have an urgent operation as he was fairly confident the tumour was benign, but could not rule out the small chance it might not be, until he had cut me open. Also, because of its rapidly growing size, he did not want to delay. I was booked in to have the operation on 2 February 2001. A few days before, I visited my father sixty miles away, who had meanwhile been admitted to his local hospital for blood transfusions and general care as he was very weak. The prognosis was now that he was fading fast and would probably not live beyond a few weeks. Still my gynaecologist was pressing me to get my operation done as soon as possible, as time was of the essence for me too. Friends and relatives were urging me to see sense and not to delay my operation in favour of my father. Reluctantly I agreed to go ahead with my operation and then, with that at least behind me, concentrate on helping my dad through his last weeks.

On 1 February 2001, the day before my operation, I was at home packing my case and counting down to 6pm, the time when I was supposed to report to the gynaecological ward. At lunchtime, I was just about to run a bath when I received a very tearful call from my mother telling me that my father had just passed away. I was absolutely devastated: the most wonderful man in my life had gone. The last thing I wanted to do was proceed with my operation and I rang my gynaecologist to tell him I was cancelling. He said he could not force me to go ahead but he urged me to think about myself as there was nothing more I could do to save my father and there was still that slight doubt that I could have a cancerous tumour. I asked him to let me have more time to consider. By now friends and relatives were ringing me, as they too had heard the news about my father. When they heard that I might be cancelling my operation, they were horrified and begged me to reconsider. Greg pleaded with me to put myself first now. The rest of that day passed in a blur. All I remember is later that evening lying in an old Victorian-built ward of about 20 beds at about 8pm, as Greg kissed me goodnight and left for home again. I recall being in the midst of a busy, noisy ward full of people, yet I felt so alone and wretched. I was about to have my insides ripped out, but my heart was already crushed to a pulp.

Thankfully the operation on the next morning revealed that my tumour was indeed benign (a fibroid) although an extremely large one the size of a rugby ball. I lost half a stone in weight overnight! Two weeks later, clutching my stitches, I was able to cope with the sixty mile journey to my father's funeral. It was arguably the worst month of my life, even compared to the hand life was to deal me later.

15 comments:

Kelloggsville said...

What a lot of things to take in in one go. I don't know where to begin with all the things I would like to say except maybe HUGS. My father was my best friend and my life too has a huge dad shaped hole. Grief never seems to lessen just the distance or time between pangs of pain get longer and the warmth of good memories and remembered close moments seems to blanket it all to feel a little easier xxxx

Saz said...

we have such stories and journeys within us, when we look back l am often amazed of what we've lived through and HOW we got through it...the human spirit is amazing...
and so are you!

cheshire wife said...

You did the right thing having the op. When my father was dying I was unwell but put off doing anything about it and have lived with the consequences ever since.

verification word is SOSAD

Nora said...

I hope it was at least cathartic for you to write this down. It was quite an emotional upheaval in your life that you had to deal with and it takes a long time t get over something like that. The wounds heal slowly. I hope it helped you to share this so honestly.

XOX

nappy valley girl said...

How horrible that must have been and how brave of you to write about it. My mother in law died of AML - later on my husband became a specialist in CLL. A very pernicious disease, leukaemia. (My own mum died 13 years ago - I still find it hard to think about that day.)

Flowerpot said...

That must have been really terrible Addy. Still I am glad you had the operation. It is incredible sometimes what life throws at us. But you are a very courageous lady.

Furtheron said...

My father died in October 1984. I was just 22, just left college and started full time employment, was planning for my wedding the next summer and beginning to look at buying a house. I felt so robbed - he never saw (or took over) my cack handed attempts at DIY, he never was at my wedding, he never saw my kids, he never saw me recover for alcoholism. In 2004 when I was sober for the first time on his anniversary - so 20 years late... I sat in a church and wept.

Your blog is a great inspiration - all my best wishes to you for the future

Spencer Park said...

I didn't really know what to say, so I stole this from Furtheron who captured my thoughts completely,

"Your blog is a great inspiration - all my best wishes to you for the future"

Achelois said...

Whilst my grandmother passed many years ago she is still constant in my thoughts. I am blessed that my parents are here with me still. I understand such grief. Although it remains inside me, so to speak of it is a release. Because you spoke. As others have said your blog is inspirirational.

Your father was a lucky man to have you for a daughter.

Nechtan said...

Hi Addy,

Your dad, from the linked post, did sound like quite a remarkable man and had come through so much. He must have been a real presence of strength. It must have been a really hard time for you and even now in this post I get the feeling the emotions are still raw like it was yesterday.

All the best

Nechtan

Crystal Jigsaw said...

I can imagine it was the worst month your life. As you know, my dad passed away in 2001. It was July and I have the 10 year anniversary to come.

You got through it and probably came away a stronger person.
Take care, CJ xx

reluctantmemsahib said...

Dearest Addy, that's alot of loss distilled painfully in so brief a time. When my father died I sought to try to understand why the pain persisted for so long. I learned that Ted Bowman, an American grief counsellor and trainer with the National Association for Poetry Therapy, believes that though we are able to come to terms with the vacuum that the loss of a loved one creates in our lives, it takes a lifetime to come to terms with the loss of a dream.
My lost dream means my dad will never know his son-in-law; my children will never know a grandfather; my mother will grow old alone. Losing my dream means Dad will never know that I named my son after him, that I write, that I enjoy red wine. It means Dad will never know me as a grown-up; it means I will never enjoy him as one. I was not grieving for what was; I was grieving for what was meant to be. Understanding that seemed to offer more, much more, solace than the text book bandaid of 'closure' that I was supposed to aspire to. with love x

dulwich divorcee said...

What a terrible time. I do hope that, whatever the current difficulties and readjustments, that the worst bits are over for you and that nothing can be as bad again. My MiL had AML and was dead within a few weeks so I know how devastating it is x

Strawberry Jam Anne said...

A terrible time indeed for you Addy. It is strange how fate seems to deal more than one such challenge at a time and one is left reeling and wondering how to get through it. No comfort at all to reflect on these challenges making you stronger and you were definitely put to the test in later years. The worst day of your life though when your beloved father died and I can empathise with that. I think that of all that I have experienced (and nothing compared with yours) the very worst time was when my own father died 29 years ago. It put everything else into perspective. Hugs A x

Eliza said...

That must have been terrible, just shows how strong people can be when needs must. You were right to think of yourself first.