What life was like when my father passed away

by Heena Modi on May 15, 2010

I wasn’t sure if I’d write a post about my father but something lined up for me today and I felt ready to pull my thoughts together and articulate them.

It’s very strange. My father passed away 10 years ago, tomorrow. I can’t believe time has gone so fast.

I’d like to share the journey from when my father was unwell to this point in time. So here goes…

The white parts of dad’s eyes began to appear yellow. I can’t remember what happened initially. I don’t know if he felt pain, when he went to the GP or why etc. etc. Of course my parents may have kept all that from me at the time, which may be why I don’t remember. Anyway I do recall going to the hospital with him. We saw a young consultant who said the results from various tests showed that the symptoms dad was experiencing didn’t fit in with anything in his field/specialism but he didn’t want us to go away, be asked to return in a month or so and then be told the same thing. Thus if we didn’t mind, he’d ask his colleague to come and speak with dad. Perhaps he had some answers.  I think I felt relieved in some way, we’d be moving forward, yet a little worried. Who was this colleague of his? What was his field? Is he being calm but hiding a deep concern?

If I recall  correctly, the consultant came, talked to dad and asked if he could keep dad in to do further tests.

I seem to have blocked out much of the rest. I don’t recall how unwell dad felt in between this and having the operation. I don’t recall much really.

I do remember going to school, where I worked as a Learning Assistant, not being able to think of much apart from, they’ve done so many tests, they can’t find anything; I think dad’s got Cancer. I don’t know why but I was sure about it. The thing is, before this, I’d not had much experience of people who had Cancer, how it develops, how it’s recognised or treated so I don’t why I was so sure that it was Cancer but that’s what I thought.

After that I remember dad was diagnosed with Cancer of the bile duct. We were told that it wasn’t a big thing, it could be removed, they’d do a ‘bit of plumbing’ and everything would be fine. I don’t remember how much time passed between this diagnosis and dad having the operation. What I recall vividly is dad having the operation and us being by his side. Nobody had come to tell us how it went. The nurses said they couldn’t tell us anything and the Dr’s would be around shortly. It felt like forever! Finally, the consultant who did the operation was on the ward and he had more than 5 others with him. I remember that he was the only one in a white coat.

I approached him and said that my dad had been operated on, we’d been waiting a long time but the nurses wont tell us anything. Can you give us some information? He then told me that when they operated, the mass had grown and merged with the portal vessel that takes blood to the liver. They couldn’t cut the mass away from that as it would cause internal bleeding.  They had put a stint in dad’s bile duct to remove the jaundice look he had, they’d done a triple bypass so that when the mass grew it wouldn’t obstruct his stomach. They also removed what they could from the duodenum as it had spread there.

It was only afterwards that I became so upset at the fact that he hadn’t pulled me to one side or had any sort of compassion when breaking this news to me! He told me whilst I was standing, alone, whilst some 5 – 10 junior Dr’s watched and listened! In a rush! No time given to process the information or ask questions. Not on is it?

After that dad had treatment. It’s strange but I don’t recall whether it was radiotherapy or chemotherapy. I could easily find out for the sake of this post but I want to be ‘real’ and write how it is in my mind. I recall dad lost lots of weight and he was vomiting after having his treatment.

I recall going to the specialist department in Hammersmith Hospital to accompany him and visit him. I recall seeing one of the specialists about dad on my own. I assume that dad must have been in the ward at the time. It was in an office. It wasn’t open plan. It was very quiet and private. I asked her how it was going and how well dad was doing. She told me that she felt dad had less than 6 months to live. I listened, took it in, was calm and then my thinking went crazy. I had no idea what to do with that information so I rang my uncle. No answer. I rang another. Finally I got hold of one of my uncles. He said that I shouldn’t tell dad as it wouldn’t help him. We discussed telling mum but it wasn’t a long discussion. We knew that telling mum would result in dad knowing. She wouldn’t be able to keep that from him. How would she hide her emotions etc. Thus we kept it between us.

Beyond this, whilst dad was unable to manage the shop, mum and I went to the shop each morning, leaving at about 5 a.m. We’d open the shop & sort out the newspapers, then I’d go to school, finish working there, go to the shop, stay there until we closed the shop and then go home to eat if I could stomach it. Weekends were spent at the shop too. I remember being so tired that I’d sit on the sofas in the staffroom and fall asleep. It wouldn’t be a deep sleep. A power nap to get me through the day. Now that I think of it, nobody asked me what was going on but they all knew it wasn’t like me and something major had to be going on. Perhaps the few people who knew had explained my situation to the other staff.

Whilst all this was going on, my gran and aunt (Jyotsna) came to stay and support us with cooking, cleaning and just be there. This emotional and physical support was what we needed! My cousin Viren came to stay too. He helped us at the shop and wherever else he could support. At one point my aunt (Neela), uncle (Rajesh) and cousins (Arpan and Puja) came to help. I remember feeling so much gratitude, amazement and love towards them. My cousins were very young at the time. However, they were so grown up and helpful.

We then proceeded to sell the shop. Mum and I couldn’t keep it going much longer. Of course, the buyer knew our situation and he milked it, making sure he paid less than what it was worth.

Dad was coming home and I’d been told that he’d be susceptible to infections and his immune system would be low. Thus I arranged for a professional spring clean and had the flat re-carpetted. We hadn’t really done much with the flat before and carpets are a breeding ground for all sorts of living beings. Mum was at the shop whilst I managed this at home.

Dad came home and he wanted to see mum set up around her friends and community. Thus we looked at moving to Harrow. My uncle (Ramesh) came back and forth a few times to help us sort the house out. It had been rented out for about 18 years and the tenants clearly hadn’t treated it like their own home. The doors had been used as dart boards. It was in a state. Then began the process of putting together some ideas, finding builders, showing them the house and our plan for it, getting quotes, comparing and then managing the work. My uncle and I went to check out the work on a regular basis, mostly in the evenings, after work.

We were still living in Chiswick and de-cluttering and between, competing the sale of the shop, working, looking after dad and more; packing was taking a long time. So we did it slowly and my aunt (Jyotsna) and I did a few trips to take a car load of stuff to our new home.

Somehow we moved. I stayed on in Chiswick for a few weeks as I was working in a school in Southall and also doing a course during some evenings. It was the end of the course so I needed a few weeks to focus on that and finish it.

I joined mum and dad and we had the ceremony to ‘bless the house.’ Dad had lost so much weight and was generally, quite weak. However, on that day, he found the motivation and energy to take part in the ceremony. He even stood for some of it. It was great to see!

After that dad’s health deteriorated. We got one of those special beds put in the living room as dad couldn’t go up and down the stairs. One night I remember mum calling me in a panic saying dad wasn’t eating. I didn’t really understand why she was calling me but I went downstairs. She was in a panic because he wasn’t moving at all. His eyes move. He was staring into space. His breathing had changed. Something was very wrong.

We called 999. They asked us to do a few things and then he seemed to regain consciousness, if that’s the right term. However, they said they were on there way. A man and a lady came. I remember the lady saying we wont hang about, we’ll put the sirens on. I didn’t really get it at the time but I soon realised it meant they were very worried. I remember getting out of the ambulance and calling my aunt (Darshna) and my uncle (Rajni) and telling them what was going on. they would then let others know.

The family came and the one thing that sticks out is my cousin Alpesh telling dad to stay with us as he needed to see him get married. It was so emotional. The Dr. asked to speak to us. He told us that only a small number of healthy people survive being resuscitated and that dad’s body was shutting down. His organs weren’t working so well. He wasn’t good. Mum and I decided not to put him through that pain. When he was ready to go, we’d let him go.

If I recall correctly, after a couple of days we had a private room. My mum and dad’s family were around. They must have talked to make sure that they weren’t all there at the same time. Then one day, soon after some of them went to get some food, we were singing some religious songs to dad and he seemed to like it. I tried to talk to him a little and although the room wasn’t silent; when dad stopped breathing it seemed so loud. This doesn’t make sense because he wasn’t breathing loudly and to stop breathing wouldn’t be loud but I realised so quickly. There was no doubt. Everyone started crying.

I remember leaving the hospital with my uncle (Ramesh) and I remember saying we’d need to move the bed dad was using or ask them to take it away as we’d need room for the guests. My uncle said OK. He knew I was in shock.

After that we had 11 days when we sang and people came to our home to give their condolences. We had the prayers at the Navnat Bhavan on Masons Avenue. I remember utilising all the phones we had between us to let people know about it. There were so many people that they had to stand at the back of the hall. I had no experience of this so I didn’t know what to expect.

Then came the funeral. Dad’s body was cremated at Golders Green. When they carried his body in, my mum’s best mate (Nimu) said I was dad’s son and daughter so I should go and help carry him alongside my uncles and cousins. I did that. Then I remember saying a few words after which I was told to press this button. I had no idea what that button was for. When I pressed it the coffin started moving. All I wanted to do was go and stop it but I didn’t want to make it more emotional than it was already. I watched it go and I was torn about what I should do.

After that I was told that it was OK for to follow the men. I had no idea where they were going. When I got there I felt some relief because dad’s body was there. Nothing had happened. The button made it move to another room. Then it went into the fire and I guess I had some closure. Who knows.

After that I realised that we weren’t really coping before. That began now that our house was empty. No more visitors. It was just me and mum! We did our best to sort out the finances, policies, our home, bank accounts, furniture and other aids which we had got to help dad etc.

Then I went to The University of East London. I talked about doing a PGCE with dad but it didn’t happen before he passed away so I started the course that year, stayed away from family, studied, distracted myself, mourned when I couldn’t ignore it any more & then went home again.

I got married within a year of dad passing away. We tried to make it work, but decided to call it a day after 5 years. Although I went into marriage with the mindset that it was forever, I know that I tried my best to make it work. We just weren’t what we needed and we couldn’t change, to make the fit better. Hopefully we’re both in a better place now.

I honestly thought that I wouldn’t get married again but that changed when I met Suraj. We have been married for nearly one and a half years now. Although pretty much all relationships endure ups and downs and require effort, I love the fact that we’re aligned about so many things. Things are looking up!

Mum has done so well. She’s learned how to do all the things dad took care of. With the help of her brothers she’s managed finances, assets, her home, me, carrying out dad’s wishes and more.

So I get it just leaves us with trying to get on with life, rather than, spend it mourning after those who have gone. In my case, my dad. He wouldn’t have wanted that but it’s so hard some times.

I think I’ve written enough.

Thanks for reading : )

Other posts I’ve written about my relationship with my dad include: –

The reception for my wedding

Beyond what we can see…

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