A retrospective look-back at events in November 2019.
We gathered in the family room. Myself, my three boys, my father-in-law, a friend who had been visiting (who, on receiving a message from me, abandoned the fitness class she was in the middle of teaching), and the friend who had brought the boys. The doctor and one of the nursing staff (I think), came in and told us all that mummy was really poorly and was going to die. Soon. Any-time-now soon.
(If you missed it, read part 1 here).
There must have been a few seconds of silence before TA wailed. It was loud. Very loud. It was a truly horrible sound to hear. The wailing would continue, pretty much non-stop, for the next hour or two cutting through the air causing tears in everyone around and breaking the hearts of all the nurses and others in the hospice. My father-in-law, “Grandpa”, mostly stayed with my boy at his mummy’s side whilst I tried to deal with my other two children. However, the sound of my boy’s distress carried a long way, through closed doors and down corridors. I went in often to try and offer some comfort and show that I was still there but I had my other two children to deal with too.
Side note: In talking to TA about death amidst the ongoing wailing, Grandpa said that, “everyone dies and that he might die soon anytime too“! It was a strangely and amusingly dim thing to say right then, all things considered, and I just had to tell him off. Grandpa had been at the hospital and hospice pretty much every day for weeks. A truly wonderful and helpful thing to have done.
Split Three Ways
All three of my boys handled the news differently. Being pulled three different ways at such a time was an early test for being a solo-dad of three.
My eldest son (ES), who had spent many of the last few days at the hospice, was quiet at first but then became very angry. He refused to believe there was nothing we could do and was demanding, begging, pleading with me to take his mum to a different hospital where they could give her more medicine. As I was unable to comply, for I knew it was ultimately futile and could actually harm her more, he became angrier and angrier. For some time he tried to steal my car keys so he could try and take her…somewhere…anywhere. It was heartbreaking and I could completely understand the anger.
The feelings of anger, upset and helplessness are a cruel cocktail and I really felt for him. I had been coming to terms with this likely outcome for years – he was dealing with it suddenly.
ES required a lot of attention as tensions escalated to the point where things could potentially get violent. The continued wailing from my wife’s room acted as though someone was continually poking a sore wound, keeping tension levels high and meaning no one could start to relax. ES tried to storm out of the building on more than one occasion and the staff and I had to put the place on lockdown, sealing the doors for his safety. At some point, and this may have been when Grandpa and I exchanged positions for a moment (I cannot fully recall), ES managed to get into an office or meeting room and lock himself in. Whilst this was awkward, at least he was safe and took the pressure off the staff members in the hospice. (They were all great by the way.)
Meanwhile, the response of my other twin (TF) was the complete opposite – tears and near silence. He broke his silence, following immediately after the doctor’s shock news, by saying something amazing and that so typifies his character. He was to say something similar at another crucial moment some weeks later and the thought of it still touches me. He looked at me and asked “Dad, are you ok? Are you going to be alright?” My nine-year-old son had just learnt that his mum was going to die and he was making sure that I was ok. I am proud of his capacity to think about and care for others and was a reminder to myself about how we should behave. I hope this character trait will remain with him for the rest of his life.
Surprisingly, or perhaps not with hindsight, with all the ruckus going on TF asked if he could go back to school. I wasn’t sure that this was the best thing but he was adamant that he wanted to go. I called the school, and I agreed to let him go (my friend took him back). I can see why getting away from the Hospice, where anger and upset was everywhere, and being in a safe, known place amongst friends would be far more preferable. From my point of view, it was a damn sight easier to be pulled in just (!) two directions than three right then.
Various members of the hospice staff, including the chaplain, tried to talk to ES and comfort or console him. After many such attempts, he eventually accepted some crisps or a biscuit but refused to talk to anyone but at least the door was unlocked.
Calm After The Storm
After what seemed like an eternity, in reality perhaps two or three hours, everything started to calm down. TA was a little quieter and, when he finally emerged, ES was calm and was acting in a quiet and calm way. We hugged. I took ES to the hospital canteen for a one-to-one chat. He was impressively mature. Whilst we ate no-idea-what, we discussed that we would now have to find our new normal, that things would be different from now on and that we would have to work together. After all the anger from earlier that morning, it was a lovely, softly spoken conversation and I was proud of his attitude now that the passing of time had allowed the shock to mellow somewhat.
When we returned, TA was in the hospice activities room drawing or playing a game with some of the hospice staff. It was a real relief that everything, and everyone, was now calm. The initial storm had passed. It had been an undeniably horrid morning. TA was soon to go and be reunited with his twin and stay the night with friends. ES and I, apart from a fleeting visit to the house for clothes, were about to spend a trying next couple of days and nights at the hospice – waiting.