Mounting Pressure

May 18, 2006

Talking to my dad last night made me more aware than ever of the mounting pressure on him, the rest of my family, and myself. Knowing what is coming and being helpless to change it is difficult. Doubly so for my father as he is on the front line of this battle, and, even though the outcome is already known, he continues to stay and fight. I cannot find words to express how impressed I am with his strength and courage.

One aspect of my mother's dying that is proving to be extremely difficult to deal with are the personality changes she is going through. It seems that terminally ill people progress through a variety of states, some easier to face than others. Based on information from my dad I know that much of the time now my mom is uncommunicative; even direct questions don't elicit a response. I saw some of this two weeks ago when I was there last. I don't think it is deliberate or meant to be harmful in any way. Rather I think it is the result of the utter hopelessness she must be feeling. As someone struggling with grief myself I know I often feel cut off and isolated from the people around me because they aren't in my shoes. The isolation and utter loneliness my mom must be feeling as she is dying must be truly profound.

The other personality alteration my dad is seeing and struggling with is paranoia. The hospice nurse assures him that this is common in terminally ill patients, but that doesn't lessen the impact of its effect when she accuses my father of wanting to kill her in emails to her sister. The woman he knows and loves is buried inside a swirling mass of conflicting statements, emotions, and moods. He doesn't know from one minute to the next which person he'll be greeted with, or have to face down.

I offer him a place to talk, a place to spend a few minutes that isn't embroiled in the horror of a terminal illness. He talks to me some, but being of the depression generation he prefers to stoically soldier on, carry a huge burden all by himself. In his quiet desperation I see the seeds of what must contribute to one partner dying soon after the first dies. The amount of energy, physical, mental, and emotional, that must be expended just to face a new day is enormous. Prolonged exposure to what has become a toxic situation will damage and wear down even the staunchest person.

Unspoken in my mind is the hope that my mother dies sooner rather than later, especially if later comes with prolonged pain and suffering. To that I am now adding the thought that my father's life will be better in some small way for no longer having to endure the increasing daily burden of being exposed to her suffering, anguish, and increasing madness as the cancer destroys her.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.