Today I return to work and it signals my first attempt at “normalcy” after a month off spent caring for my dad. Returning to my old routine brings feelings of comfort because of the structure it provides as well as fear, both in equal measure. Since the funeral on Friday, without any task to fully commit myself to, or distract myself with, my mood has been fluctuating wildly. I’m hoping that work will refocus my energies and while I realize it’s all part of the grieving process, I wish I could figure out how to deal with this quicker.
But that’s not the point of this post. Instead, what I want to address is the fact that I’m speaking from a privileged position. With cooperation from my employer, and the support of my family including a wonderful fiance, I was able to take time off and concentrate on my dad, and I recognize that this option isn’t available to everyone. The days where I arrived at the hospital at 7 a.m., leaving at closing around 8 p.m., my family and I were able to spend time together without too much additional worry. While we were there with dad, we saw other patients spend the majority of their time alone because their family and friends needed to work. We saw loved ones reluctantly tear themselves away because they had to return to their responsibilities. There were people who wished they could have stayed longer but couldn’t. When my dad was discharged, I went over to my parents’ place to help with housework, spend time with my parents, and let my dogs run around in their yard. I enjoyed the time that I could, and I am grateful. I come from a tight-knit family and understand that not everyone needs the same level of attention as my family does but it doesn’t change the fact that I was lucky enough to make this decision to take time off, unencumbered by external conditions.
Another factor to consider is that my dad’s illness was brief. I stepped away from my routine for one month whereas others need to step away for months and years. Don’t get me wrong, if I could have done something/anything to change the outcome, even if it meant prolonged uncertainty, I would have but it’s a decision I didn’t have to make.
Throughout this period, we were provided with an enormous amount of love and support from our family, friends, and the wonderful staff at Trillium Health Partners. It was through the latter that we were introduced to hospice care, which provides support services to patients with terminal illness as well as their families in less institutionalized settings. The organization servicing our area is Heart House Hospice, and the palliative care doctors and nurses were exceptionally gracious, offering us help in ways we didn’t know we needed. They made house calls to check in on my family, they offered counselling services and a host of other options. Most of all, they reminded us that we didn’t have to do any of this alone; that their network of professionals and volunteers were here to help shoulder our burden and that we were a team. Even though my family was fortunate enough to have each other and our loved ones, it was important to know that we had an expansive group behind us.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned through my father’s illness, it’s that whoever you are (patient, caregiver, family, or friend) and wherever you are, there are people who can, and more importantly, want to help.