...It's the Thought that Counts
It's often something little that makes you realize you're not alone.
We’d been at the hospital all day. Dad’s dizzy spells had been diagnosed as 4 or 5 brain tumours (the doctors weren’t sure if one of the shadows on the scans was one large tumour or 2 smaller ones), inoperable. The “experimental” laser treatment had proven its exact predicted worth: “It won’t cure your father, but it may give him an extra couple of months”. That was 6 months prior, and those extra couple of months were well & truly up. We’d been told not to upset him at any cost as that could cause haemorrhaging on the brain and at worst/best instant death. And so began our journey of walking on eggshells, navigating his constant mood swings and his demanding of our time, patience and unconditional love. We’d tell ourselves that despite how unfair he may have been in any moment there’s always someone else worse off and we weren’t the ones having to face that “terminal” diagnosis.
One thing the doctors didn’t foresee on that list of side-effects was the slow yet sure change in his personality. It wasn’t a mood thing, he wasn’t subjecting us to his obvious high’s & low’s, it was like he was being taken over by someone else. Sure, he still loved mussels and going to pick them off the rocks with his old fishing knife was still a favourite treat, but the books he read weren’t the same genre, he suddenly preferred brown over blue and sometimes he would look at us like we were strangers. So much so, that by the time he passed we felt we’d buried his little-known twin.
Mum had come straight to the hospital after work that day to find my sister & I at Dad’s bed. We’d just found out that he would need to stay-in this time for an adjustment round of treatments. He was tired. His hair was long gone and unless he knew someone was coming to visit he didn’t bother with the wig anymore. It’s hard to see someone you love go through that, the wasting away, their self-esteem being chipped at with every new phase of the illness. You go very quickly from trying to see any changes in them to trying to remember how they once were. And even though you may have each other to lean on and to laugh & cry with, you really only have each other to vent at, too…
The house felt quiet when we got home. There was an invisible cloud hanging over us through the whole house, like a heaviness waiting to envelope us with Dad’s permanent absence. It was tangible, annoying, unfair and really, really unwanted. We weren’t hungry but we knew we should eat something so my sister suggested fish & chips and asked what Mum & I wanted. Grateful for not having to even think about cooking, Mum asked for a piece of fish, I asked for a hamburger and we’d all share some chips. So off goes my sister to the local takeaway bar about 5 or so minutes down the road. Mum made us a cup of coffee (we drank copious amounts of tea & coffee in those days) and I laid down on the floor in front of the TV to let someone else entertain my tired brain whilst waiting for the food to arrive.
A micro-second later I’m woken up by Mum telling me to come to the table as my sister unwrapped the food (back then takeaways were still wrapped in old newspapers). I hauled myself up off the floor, suddenly famished at the wonderful odours coming from the kitchen and gratefully went to the table for my now precious hamburger! But it wasn’t there. And there were only enough chips for two people. My eyes scanned the table, to the kitchen bench, back to the table, nothing. I looked up to find my sister, her gaze furiously bearing down upon me,
“I asked if you wanted fish & chips! Nothing from some menu in your head!”
I don’t remember breathing. In fact, I don’t remember anything sane coming from either of our mouths. I do remember seeing lightning bolts flash across the table at her. And back at me. I remember our voices boomed like thunder! A wind seemed to flutter around us, blowing her hair in all directions, not unlike a scene from the latest superhero series. And then the storm was brought to a sudden halt by Mum,
“SSSTTTOOOOOPPP!!!!”, before she burst into tears and slumped at the table in resignation. My sister and I stood there looking at her, and each other, in shock. We didn’t know what to say. We’d never yelled at each other like that in our lives. We were, and are to this day, the best of friends.
A quiet knock at the door brought us to our senses. I opened the door to find Mary, our neighbour, looking like a rabbit caught in headlights carrying a cool-box.
“I didn’t think you guys would have much time for cooking at the moment…” She’d prepared dinner for us. And she even included a couple of chocolate bars for dessert. We were speechless, humbled (embarrassed!) and so, so grateful. We weren’t alone. That gesture set the bar for us that we still use: (that even though she’d resolved our immediate food issue) it really isn’t about the gift, it’s the thought that counts…