I’m Drowning

I have this vivid memory of a boy who was bullied at the swimming club where my family and I swam every summer. Every time he tried to swim, these boys would duck him repeatedly and stand on his shoulders as they pushed him under. He would come up to the surface gasping for air, only to be ducked again. This childhood memory appears in my thoughts every now and then, which is very upsetting. Please do not ask more details as to where the parents of all those children were or how long this lasted, as I do not remember. These unsettling incidents remain imprinted in a child’s mind, and you can only bury them but never forget them.

Very often, I type my questions on the computer to see what the internet says about them. Do we not all rely so much on this other ‘brain’? All too often, we ‘memorise’ what it says and believe it all, actually affecting the way we think for ourselves. This happens most especially when I have some ailment or other and want to know more. However, in this case, I will not be tempted. If bad thoughts come to mind, then I will just push them away and not dwell on them.

Yet bad thoughts do come to mind, especially when you look dementia in the face. You jump straight to tomorrow before facing today. We advise that you must be prepared and know what is coming, but you do have to live today and not tomorrow. Bottom line is we drown ourselves in thought.

In Maltese we have an expression that tells you to open your door wide when bad things happen concurrently. We tend to face several unfortunate experiences all at once…why?

Two years after my mother succumbed to her dementia, my father was really struggling with heart disease. He had several heart attacks before and after mum’s death yet the medication he was on really worked and was keeping him alive. In January 2015, I had a planned ankle operation that required a 3-month recovery at home. I went ahead with the operation, despite the circumstances as it was now or never for me. Dad was living with us by then, so I had company at home.  Unfortunately, a couple of weeks later, Dad was hospitalised, and the consultant told us that he didn’t have long to live. He kept him in hospital for a couple of weeks and Francis, my husband, used to visit him every morning, after he would have helped me get ready for the day. It was a very tough time for Francis as he had to work as well. One early morning, at 5.30am to be exact, Dad called us to say that he almost died. As he told me this, I was devastated. Stuck at home with this horrible plaster on my foot, unable to walk, unable to visit him, was very unpleasant. Dad was really upset and agitated so Francis got out of bed and went straight to the hospital. I rang the consultant later that day and he acknowledged what happened. Dad really was on the verge of death that morning. The Consultant asked if I would take him back home at the same time as I asked him to discharge him. I wanted Dad home to spend his last days with us, not stuck in a hospital bed all alone. Dad came home that afternoon.

During this whole time, my brothers were coming and going to Malta on a very regular basis. Martin from Australia and Anton from UK. When I say this whole time, I mean from before mum’s passing in 2012. A case of ‘so far yet so close’ to reverse the expression.

On hearing that Dad was really at the end, Anton booked a flight for him, his wife and daughter (Katie is a nurse) and came over. Katie and Anton spent the last few nights with him, taking it in turns to keep watch. I was just a couple of rooms away.

On the night of the 24th of January, Francis got a telephone call from his mother that his father was rushed to hospital. He went straight to hospital while I settled to sleep. At 2am, the front door opened, and Anton walked into my room (he was staying at a hotel nearby while Katie was with Dad this particular night). He told me that it was all over, and Dad had gone. I was in shock but stumbled out of bed to be by his side. We turned on the lights and all just looked at him. As we were calling Martin in Australia to let him know, the front door opened again and Francis walked in from the hospital, only to find all the lights on and us around Dad. It was 2.15am on Saturday 25th January 2014.

Although in these moments you want life to just stop, life is just relentless. As we arranged for the funeral, Francis visited his father, and the situation was under control. Dad was not buried straight away because we waited for Martin to come over. On Sunday, Francis was happy as his father seemed to be on the mend. As Dad was taken away from the flat, Francis’ mum moved in with us until his dad returned home. Fast forward to Monday 27th January. Francis’ mum and I were sitting on the sofa watching TV when Francis called me from the hospital with shocking news. His Dad had died. What??? I looked at his mum and just could not believe what had just hit us, and what was coming to this most wonderful mother-in-law of mine. I said nothing to her and waited for the family to arrive. Francis, his brother and sister, stood in front of her and gave her the news. It was a very sad moment and a great shock to her.

So just two days after Dad died, Francis’ dad died too. Have you ever felt you were drowning? Well, we did that day.

Burying both our dads in the same week was not what we ever hoped for. Yes, life is relentless. Life makes you feel like you are drowning. Life throws everything at you at the same time. Why? I will not ask the internet why. I will just accept that this is life and yes, sometimes you feel like you are drowning. But …you know…somehow you climb back up…you come up to the surface..until the next ducking…is that fair? Is it fair that there is no cure for dementia? Is it fair that mum had to suffer? Is it fair? Never ask that question. Life is what it is. You must accept it.

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