3-6 months is my father’s prognosis. He has an advanced inoperable pancreatic cancer. We got the news recently and we are still trying to accept it and cope. “Let’s see how we manage this closing act”, my father said to me while in hospital.
Managing the closing act is not turning out to be easy. My dad jokingly remarks that one should die two or three times in order to learn and master how to die well. It weighs on him when he is unable to live up to his own high expectations. He has always sought to excel at what he does. When you are a man of order, you have a hard time accepting that you are no longer in control of the situation.
But what does dying well mean anyway? The measure of dying or living well is individual. For me it’s about authenticity and being coherent with your personal values. But I guess it can be about many things depending on who you are, being true to oneself, dignity, character, independence, relationships…
The process of dying sends you into a cocoon, where the only thing you can consider are your own most immediate needs. You become irritable, you lash out at people and loose your grip, especially with your closest and dearest. You also start detaching yourself from life. You stop doing the activities you once loved, like reading or writing.
Though we have seen each other every year, my father and I have lived apart in different countries for 20 years. Thinking back on 2015, it’s been incredibly fortunate that we got to see each other more than usual due to a combination of family occasions, vacations and business trips to Spain.
We enjoyed the opportunity to be together, chat, go to the market, cook some of our favorite meals and watch Classic movies.
One of the highlights of last autumn’s visits was going to the theater together to see Euripides’ Greek tragedy “Elektra”. When the play finished, we agreed that the Greeks had human nature all figured out several thousand years ago 😊
During the October vacation, we went for some scenic drives together, among others to Torre Loizaga to see a great collection of veteran luxury cars.
Dad was already then not feeling very well. He had trouble sleeping and an uneasy stomach, the sensation of being bloated and full. He was tired. The doctor said it was probably flatulence and prescribed something against the symptoms. Without further investigation of the root causes, dad was put on the waiting list to see a specialist.
Eventually the specialist did see him in the middle of december, diagnosed him with a bacteria and prescribed an antibiotic treatment.
Next time we saw each other again was at Christmas. I was shocked. My father had lost about 12-15 kgs, was extremely thin, weakened and exhausted. Friends and family had prompted him to see the doctor or go to ER but he wouldn’t hear of it. He had just taken the antibiotic treatment, he said. It was a 10 day treatment and now things would turn around. On December 27th, I was done waiting for an improvement and took him to hospital to ER together with my little sister and her husband.
Dad had severe pains and could not stand up. We sat him on a wheel chair and waited for our turn. We waited what was an eternity for someone in his condition, from 5 p.m to 2 a.m. After the first few exams, my dad got finally admitted into hospital in the middle of the night.
Several days of tests followed, including a scanner. The scanner showed a tumor in his pancreas. A sample biopsy was still pending, but we were sent home without knowing when it would be scheduled. A miserable New Year’s Eve followed where dad was still in pain and depressed.
On January the 4th, we decided to go back to ER. If nothing else, dad’s pains needed to be put under control. This time the hospitalization lasted a couple of weeks. The first biopsy sample was not valid, so a new sample had to be extracted on the second week. Complications to his health emerged that also needed medical attention.
Finally the results came back and the doctor was direct when breaking the news. The hours and days that followed were very intense for my father, as well as for the family and close friends.
I know that my father wishes to die with dignity, at home and surrounded by his daughters. He wishes to die sooner than later a death without pain and being as little a burden as possible.
I am a 42 year old woman. I understand that death is a natural part of life. I understand that this will come to all of us, and now has arrived for my dad with a warning, giving us all the opportunity to say goodbye.
Although I do not wish his suffering, I do not feel ready to part. My dad is dependent now, so I moved in with him to support him through this process. I feel that it is a necessity for me too, as I intuitively know that being with him now will help me when he passes. I am extremely thankful that my employer has allowed me this time off, and that I have my partner and childrens full support.
I understand my father’s remark about dying three times. We are constantly learning how to deal with and adapt to new situations in life. We have never tried this before. And all we can attempt is to learn fast and try to do our best. In that sense we are all novices. At least I know I am.