“There is a season for everything under the sun—even when we can’t see the sun.”- Jared Brock.
Some seasons can be so long; maybe they are not just seasons. Seasons come and go. Life, life just is.
I am surprised to note that the last time I blogged was over one and a half years ago. While the season, or maybe just life, that I have experienced in the past one and half years ago usually would benefit from writing which I find therapeutic, I have not had the energy to try to express my thought on ‘paper. It has been an extended period. An extended season. If I were to describe this period, I would call it a season of losses and lessons. At the beginning of 2021, the world was still actively battling the impact of COVID-19, wondering when this nightmare would end and looking for vaccines. I do not recall much about that period, but I know life started changing for my family.
But the most unforgettable will be that Sunday morning on November 7th, last year. Was it warm or cold? Did the sun even rise? I have no recollection of anything else on that morning. I vividly remember my older brother Martin knocking on our door and calling me. My mother taught us when she called; you made your way to where she was to find out what she wanted. We were not to ask, “what are you saying.” My brother calling me was strange. But not too weird. But why was he waking me up? Did he need us to do something for our mum? I asked myself as I, in turn, woke up my younger sister. My parents’ house is separate, so my sister and I prepared to get out to find out why my brother was calling me. My sister was faster in getting out. We had traveled to the village the day before.
I found my brother seated in the sitting room. He looked at me, but I could not figure out his expression. My younger sister was already sitting next to him, and they both looked somber. He did not say good morning.
“He is gone”
“What do you mean?”
“Dad is gone,” he repeated.
“What do you mean he is gone? Are you sure”
“Do you want to confirm”
“No, I can’t. But are you sure? We need to get someone to confirm. Are you sure?”
My younger sister pulled me to sit down. But no, it could not be.
I did not scream or cry, and I was on autopilot. That was an unexpected end to an intense six months of holding my breath and hoping for the best.
Just like that, he was gone. Another tough season was starting.
Last year my dad, who had been the epitome of good health, started ailing. I do not know when he got sick, and I do not think we will ever point to when he got ill. As a family, we had different experiences with my dad in good and bad health. He did not do sick, and he was not good at allowing people to take care of him. It was quite a ride for us when it was evident he required constant medical attention. Usually, he would agree to one medical check-up in a long time and not consent to further follow-up that he deemed unnecessary.
I recall a few years ago when I took him to a doctor. I do not remember what prompted that, but he agreed to see a doctor, which was a win. He underwent various tests and had a good discussion with the Doctor about his health and some behavior changes, including eating habits, as he was a poor feeder. I felt we had made headway and had an appointment after a month. But when I called him to book the monthly review, he was categorical that he was not going for another appointment.
“That Doctor is taking so much money for nothing, and the tests were costly. I will be monitoring vitals at the local clinic.” He said.
That chapter was closed. It did not matter that dad was not paying the bills, and we were not complaining.
Therefore, when he started ailing last year, looking and feeling weak, we had many incidences of him not returning to the hospital for appointments. He was assertive, so when he refused, we were at a loss and waited for another opportunity to convince him to go to the hospital. That would be when he had deteriorated and possibly in a lot of pain. He never mentioned even if one could see. When he agreed, we would ensure that one of us, siblings, could take him to the hospital. The worst case was when he woke up and asked someone to take him to the hospital. Then we knew he was in severe pain. The first time he was admitted last year, the first in many years, was because my brother, who had taken him, was adamant that he was not taking him back home. Dad had been reluctant of similar recommendations on previous hospital visits. He reluctantly agreed or somewhat bowed to the ultimatum.
The second time he was admitted, only a month later, he did not wait for Doctor’s discharge. He indicated he was leaving the hospital. I remember going to Thika early in the morning because one thing about him was that he was not patient with lateness. I was discharging him because he had insisted, and my sister had convinced him to spend the night for an early morning discharge. He did not understand why the hospital was keeping him waiting for tests. The Doctor reluctantly signed his release. In between, there were other outpatient visits and tests. The third and last time he was admitted to the hospital, in September, we had started getting some indication that he may have cancer, so we looked for an oncologist. By this time had lost a lot of weight, he could barely feed, and constant blood transfusions pointed to a deeper issue. The oncologist recommended immediate admission, and I remember feeling very relieved. My brother and I quickly agreed and started the process for referral to Coptic Hospital, which is not far from the Doctor’s clinic.
Then my dad asked, “do I have to be admitted today?”
It was about 7.00 PM. He could still not imagine being admitted, and we could not imagine him not being admitted. He was in the hospital for two weeks; this time, he was calmer about the experience.
It was a long journey. Or maybe a short journey. I was holding my breath on and on, calling home daily to find out how he was fairing. As siblings, we operated on autopilot, more focused on what needed to be done and constantly crossing our fingers that one or two people were available to do the logistics. We did not ask each other how one was doing, and I don’t think anyone had the mental bandwidth to hold the other. We did what needed to be done.
Sometimes we needed to take both parents to the hospital, but it seemed apparent that dad was deteriorating faster. My mum had experiences of ill health on and off, and we somehow know how to handle her
My dad took it in stride when the oncologist finally confirmed the diagnosis at the beginning of October 2021. We learned some terms used in tests and consulted Dr. Google during this period. I recall the oncologist telling me, “Sophie, just stop asking Dr. Google; ask me.” But we could not help it, sharing our ‘Dr. Google’s knowledge and seek more answers. We needed answers and hope. Accompanying an ailing person is arduous, and looking for information was not avoidable. The diagnosis – a gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST)- was strange to my ears. I continued Dr. Google despite a real doctor’s advice, and when I read some of the “possible” causes, I concluded nobody knows about cancer. The risk factors did not quite align with my dad’s habits. What I could not, and I cannot reconcile, is that my dad, the most disciplined person as far as diet is concerned, got digestive system cancer. We will never understand, and maybe there is nothing to understand, just accepting that that was his portion in this life. It was an arduous journey for the whole family, and I cannot imagine the kind of journey it was for him. He never complained.
Going home had become a more urgent and regular affair. I would go home almost every week, sometimes in between the week. That Saturday, November 6th, when I traveled home, I knew he had been having a bad week. We debated as siblings if to take him back to the hospital. I was convinced he should go back, but I had no convincing reason. He had started on the Targeted Therapy. The Doctor was due to see him on Monday, November 8th. Nothing else could be done but to keep hoping the therapy tablets he was taking would be effective. But sitting back when a loved one is ailing is not an option. That Saturday morning, when I arrived home, he was sleeping. My brothers, who had traveled earlier, had called to inform us that he looked better and that there was no need to take him to the hospital. In the afternoon, I checked again, and dad was finally awake. I held his hand. He sat on his bed and started talking with my sister and me. I felt reassured. He was looking much better than he had in a long time. He had managed to take some food and do some things that he had not managed to do in the past few days. Some of the symptoms had eased a bit. We were pleased. Finally, the therapy was working.
“He is gone”
That did not make sense. He had been okay the previous day.
I can see the history of my chats with the Doctor on November 5th when I was updating him on progress, and he requested to see him on November 8th. He did not make it for that appointment, but he made it for another appointment that none of us knew.
It was hard to come to terms with the loss, and I don’t think one ever does. I struggled through the December period.
We were starting the many firsts. The first Christmas without a dad and recalling the previous Christmas. By the end of the year, I was determined to find the energy to restart the year. I did not have much optimism, but I was still hopeful enough that the season of holding my breath was behind me. While grief outlasts the immediate period of loss, I was determined to be off to another season.
Even if I could not see the sun, that season was over. Or was it?