Bottling It – Asking the Doctors to Tell the Kids. Part 1: Before

A retrospective look-back at events in November 2019.

It was Friday.  My wife wasn’t waking up.  At this point, we didn’t know exactly when the end would be but the doctors said it would be soon, maybe less than 24 hours.  All of my children were at school but they now had to be told what was going on. This news was going to be devastating as, only the day before, I received medical equipment such as a bed and hoist into my then cleared out dining room so that my wife could come and spend some time at home whilst starting a new treatment regime which was being discussed.  Now, everything was changing.

I’m just going to step back a couple of days.

Wednesday – All Together

Just two evenings before, on Wednesday, my wife was sitting up, eating pizza and birthday cake, and joining in my eldest son’s birthday celebration.  I was, and still am, so proud of my son’s suggestion that we had pizza and cake in the hospice as opposed to going out to a restaurant as he had wanted some time before. 

The fact we were all there, together, for what turned out to be the last time is so special. We took now precious photos of everyone together. She seemed in good form and we thought she was coming home for a bit in 2 days time.

I wasn’t to know this at the time but this was the last night I heard my wife speak properly and saw her with her eyes open.

Thursday – A Day Away

The Thursday was my 45th birthday. I had to wait in all day to receive the medical equipment to allow my wife to come home and deal with the calls from the carers who would be coming in.  It was my band night and they were all set to give me a meal to celebrate my birthday. My father-in-law said that his daughter was sleeping solidly, tired from the previous night’s activities we then assumed, and that there was little point in me going in and that I should enjoy my night out.  This I did.  

Band night was a welcome break from the recent amount of days and weeks spent in the hospital or hospice.  A change of company, different topics of conversation and music. Thank heavens my life has music in it. Playing music allows the mind to be taken to a different place and emotions to be released or processed in a way that nothing else can. I am so grateful to have music in my life.

My present from the band was a large stack of boxes of different ciders – some 80 or 90 bottles and cans.  I would take great pleasure, and some form of comfort or numbing effect, in drinking these over the next few weeks.  As I was on call to dash to the hospital at any time, I had not really been able to have a “decent” drink over recent weeks even though I really, really, wanted to get drunk on numerous occasions after getting in from a tough day at the hospital.  

To this end, I never saw my wife on Thursday.  At the time this seemed ok as she was to come home in the next day or so and, as my father-in-law had said, she was very tired.  She mumbled something to me on the phone but I have no idea what it was… probably “happy birthday” but she barely woke up that day. 

Friday – The Time Had Come

Back to Friday.  The doctors had been waiting for me to get in. They may even have called me early.  I had taken the boys to school and then headed in. They told me how my wife had deteriorated the previous night and rapidly again that morning.  The news was devastating, especially considering the conversations we were expecting to happen about care at home and transportation to the Royal Marsden the next week for new treatment.   But now we faced something I had dreaded for a long time. Telling my children.  

I had already mentioned, at least twice in recent weeks,  to my boys that mum was seriously ill and that there was a chance that she might die.  This would understandably create looks of shock and panic on their faces but, on those occasions, I could offer hope and comfort and deflect away from words like “die” or “death” by saying things like “but the doctors are doing such-and-such and we hope she will be fine…”

I could no longer deflect from the realities which were going to hit us all hard in the face. 

I notified the schools and called a friend who kindly went to collect my children. This would be a drive I would not like to have made knowing what was going on, with mine or anyone else’s children. It was a remarkably decent thing for her to have done.  

Bottling It

I spent the next hour with my stomach in knots.  I chain-drank strong coffee to give me some form of comfort but it didn’t really help. It was also something to do, physically.  Holding the cup, drinking from it, refilling it over and over. Along with my pacing, it was better than sitting still doing nothing. I was going to have to tell my children the most devastating news.  I felt physically sick. I was worried they would hate me or blame me, the bearer of the dreadful news. As each minute passed the feeling of dread built up to the point where I just wanted to run away.  Why hadn’t we prepared them for this more in advance? This had been a conscious decision between my wife and I but who the hell knew if it was the right one. How are you supposed to know these things?

With about 10 minutes to spare, I bottled it and I asked the doctor to tell the children.  Part of me felt that the news should come from me but the relief of pushing that responsibility away onto someone else was immense. I felt like an utter coward but the hospice staff reassured me.  They do that all the time, and they didn’t mind being the bad guys in this. The kids wouldn’t have to see them again.  

I battled the different thoughts and emotions. I felt I was being a coward. Surely a better dad would have the strength to tell his own children this news?

I had a message from my friend to say that they were in the car park.  I went to meet them outside of the Hospice entrance. My children jumped out of the car happy and playful.  They had no idea what was coming next. I greeted them with a heavy heart, tears welling in my eyes. There was no way around it – the situation and what was about to happen next was utter shit.

Continue reading part 2

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