they say you don't know what you got 'til it's gone / / they say that your darkest hour comes before your dawn

Friday, December 9, 2011


On a daily basis, I deal with caring for people who have reached the final stages of their life. I say "stages" because entering an aged care facility does not mean the end of your life, nor does it mean you're dying. It just means that you need someone there to look after you 24/7 for whatever reason that may be, and you can't get that at home with your family. Sometimes the needs of a person exceed the capabilities of the carer. It's an emotionally draining job and I can only imagine it would be multiplied when looking after a loved one. And let me clear up a common misconception - not all elderly people require care, not all of them get Dementia, not all of them lose the ability to control their bodily functions. Just some of them.

The final stage of life is called Palliative Care. Basically, it's when your body shuts down on you and starts to slowly die. You don't eat or drink, you don't speak or move, you lay in a bed, crawled up in foetal position, your body becomes stiff, you lose weight faster than ever imaginable, and your mind leaves you. The last two senses to fade out in the human body are touch/pain and hearing. Sight, taste and smell are lost early. To compensate for the incredible pain you're in, you're usually put on strong as fuck pain killers. Watching a person I care for at work slowly slip away is difficult at the best of times.

Today was an experience I'm not likely to forget. My grandma has been battling cancer for the last couple of years. She had breast cancer and survived, but it spread to her liver and this time she's not so lucky. It's taken over 70% of her liver and she's undergoing chemotherapy and other experimental drugs in hopes to erase it. I've been well aware that she's dying at a rate much quicker than she should be, but today was the first time I really took it in. It's one thing to hear my mother tell me about it; it's another thing to witness my grandma hold back her tears while she has a blood test via a port in her chest. For the first time she's been battling cancer, I saw her real pain.

And it fucking killed me.

I had to walk away and cry to myself out of her sight. My mother acted as a shield between us, but my grandma obviously knew. When I'm at work, I shut it out. I remember that it's not my personal business and I'm there to do my job. I still care, but it's well within my means and under control. I'm yet to form a real bond with a resident to the point I'd cry if they were to pass away. But when it's your own family, it really fucks you up. I felt sick in the core of my stomach, and as much as I wanted to control my tears, I couldn't. Suddenly the reasons why I've been so angry came to me.

I'm angry because of her cancer. I'm angry because she talks as if she's not going to make it. I'm angry because she's afraid. I'm angry because, well, I don't want to lose her. But mostly, I'm angry at myself for not taking this whole fucked up situation as seriously as I should have. I'm angry at myself for not ever making the time to call her or see her. I'm angry at myself for brushing off her attempts to spend time with me while she's still got it. I'm angry at myself for treating this as if it were work. I'm angry at myself for not caring enough, not being there often enough, not loving her as much as she deserves. I'm so fucking angry at myself for not being a good enough person for her. She needs all the support she can get, and I was too busy with my own life to see how painful hers truly is.

As of today, I'm going to be the best goddamn granddaughter she's ever going to need. I'm going to see her more, and when I can't, I'm going to call her more. I'm going to ask how she's feeling and how her treatments are going. I'm going to take her to the hospital and help out so my mother, who's caring for her full time, can have a break. She goes to hospital every Monday, which is lucky for me since that's the only constant day off I have over my roster at work. Mondays are now days I will call/see her.

This coming Monday she's having a blood transfusion because her haemoglobin is too low. It'll take 6 hours. I bought myself a car today. I have no excuses left to run. Monday afternoon, when she gets out, I want to be there to take her home. It's the least I can do to begin making up for all the times I haven't been there.

They say you never really know what you've got until you lose it. That's not true. I know exactly how fucking lucky I am to have such a strong, brave and beautiful woman in my life. I'm not going to take that for granted. She means more to me than her weight in gold. The day she passes away... I don't know what I'll do.

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