My father was born on a farm in Leitrim in 1935. He died in Cork City in 2011. The world he was born in was very different to the one he died in.
He was very much a man of his time. He liked going for walks, pottering about, and being busy fixing things. He enjoyed chats and meeting new people. He didn’t like fuss. He didn’t talk about his feelings.
He was like this before he got cancer and like this when he got cancer, and like this while he was dying.
He hated being in hospital, always felt cooped up if he was inside anywhere for any length of time. He hated being so sick. Not just for the obvious reasons. He didn’t like all the attention that came with having cancer. The constant questions about how he was feeling.
Anyone who cared from him in a way that got to know what he was like knew this. I could see that once they realised this is what he was like, they could provide better care for him.
The cancer spread to his bone and caused excruciating pain. It was difficult for him to be in so much pain. It was difficult for us (my Mum, sister and me) to see him in pain, and be able to do nothing about it. It was difficult because we knew this pain was not going to go away.
He dealt with the pain in his own way. It came on at different times during the day. Sometimes I would only know his pain was bad was by the tone of his voice and level of urgency that he would ask for the pain relief. He wouldn’t even call it that. He would ask for ‘one of those things’, meaning the booster pain relief. Other times you would notice a change in his breathing.
As the cancer progressed, the pain relief options became less effective. It’s hard to describe the sense of powerlessness that comes with this.
One of the most useful pieces of advice was from one of the home visit nurses who we got to know over the last few months of his illness. She had a very good way with him. She told us that it was important to go at his pace and take our lead from him on what he wanted to talk about. She could see that how stressed we were and our worry of not being able to know what was happening next.
He didn’t want to talk about being sick or dying and that was his choice. He was dealing with the pain and dying in the best way he could.
When he died in the hospice this same nurse, came up to us and we had a lovely chat about him. It meant a lot. We even laughed about the time we rang them because the pain was getting bad and the pain relief wasn’t taking effect. By the time they called it had passed and he just wanted to have a chat about the weather.
An hour before he was in agony. They took this in their stride and this helped us take it in our stride. It was extraordinary that he could go through that agony and an hour later not even mention it to a home care nurse. But now I see that this is how he dealt with it. He knew the pain would come back and he wanted to enjoy the reprieve.