Hump Day: Stress of family member’s illness takes its toll

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

I’ve been under so much stress lately due to my father’s terminal illness that I’m starting to wonder when I’m going to snap.

No, don’t worry – I don’t mean ‘snap’ as in end up as the top news story on CNN, but perhaps just lose my temper and explode at someone verbally, leaving them in a puddle of tears with their eyes wide open after the string of profanity I’ve unleashed on them. I’ve had to catch myself a few times lately.

My father’s roommate in the hospital recently amassed all the visitors’ chairs in the room. No, it’s not a huge problem. I simply reclaimed one when I needed it.

The other day, though, he got upset with me for borrowing one of the chairs and started swearing and muttering under his breath for the next 20 minutes as I spoon-fed my father his supper. Apparently, he was oblivious to the fact that I could hear everything.

I was very nice about it and understood completely that he was sick, too. By all accounts, he’s a very nice man. I imagine he’d also rather just be home and healthy. I’m not sure what his prognosis is or even what’s wrong with him, but it took all my strength not to unleash a torrent of verbal diarrhea on him when I sensed the frustration from him over temporarily losing one of his chairs.

Thankfully, I took a deep breath and common sense prevailed.

I’m very aware of the stress I’ve been under as I watch Dad fall deeper and deeper into dementia and terminal illness from cancer. The speed at which this is all progressing has increased dramatically in the past weeks.

There’s no denying it, now. It’s not going to end well.

Visiting him is emotionally draining. I suppose this is absolutely normal. After all, who in their right mind wouldn’t feel a bit sad and anxious after visiting a dying parent? It’s just a bit surreal. I’ve never had to do this before.

I’ve never had to feed someone. I’ve never had to watch someone close to me decline day by day.

Many of you reading this will sympathize. You’ve been there. You’ve done that. You bought the postcard.

Until you go through it, it’s difficult to explain. You have to keep your wits about you because losing your mind isn’t really an option. You have to remain as alert as a hawk to anything different happening with your loved one. You have to chat with the nurses to see how things are going. You have to talk to the dying loved one even though, quite frankly, sometimes there isn’t much to talk about.

There are only so many times he can ask me if I’m busy in my business or about the weather. The lack of conversation topics is not easy. At this point, his days are all blurring together. He’s not sure what day it is or what month it is.

If I ask him if someone visited him today (knowing that they did), he’ll say he doesn’t remember. As you can imagine, this isn’t a good sign.

In situations like this, reality also must play a part of your daily life. You still have to work and function to put food on the table and pay the mortgage. You also have to ensure that there will be somewhere around $11,000 available to pay for a gravesite, funeral and headstone when the time comes. There’s the money he has in the bank. There are the monthly pension cheques to be deposited depending on how long he lives. Thankfully, there’s the small life insurance policy he wisely got several years ago, and there’s the federal Canada Pension Plan death benefit. All that comes into the mix.

I felt the need to look into funeral arrangements just so I’d know what to expect. There are a lot of things I can’t control in my father’s illness, but this is one thing I can. So, I looked into it before it was absolutely necessary.

You also need to remember to have a bit of fun. I was invited to my cousin’s cabin last weekend to spend time with family and had to force myself to go. I didn’t feel like it, but I knew I had to change my mindset and relax a bit. I listened to a great audio book by motivational guru and author Jack Canfield on the way to her cabin and back. The outing was refreshing and badly needed!

This weekend, my 30th high school reunion is coming up and I’ ll definitely be there with bells on. My camera is staying home. I’m not taking photos. I’m just going to enjoy myself. I might even get a little bit tipsy. Quite frankly, I think I need it. I just dread Sunday morning. I’ve been blessed with the ‘bad hangover’ gene, God’s way of ensuring I never become an alcoholic.

I’m beginning to realize that self-awareness is very important in this experience. I know I’m likely much more stressed than I think I am. I also know that I could just snap any minute and break down if I take something the wrong way or if someone starts an argument.

Take a few big breaths and count to 10. That’s my new motto during this ordeal – for my sanity.

At some point, though, someone’s probably going to say the wrong thing at the wrong time – something that I wouldn’t even normally blink at – and I’m going to tear a strip off them so badly that they’ll end up in the hospital emergency room requiring a skin graft operation. It’s important during times like these to remain self-aware and alert.

Remind yourself to breathe and remind yourself that, in the end, everything will be OK.

3 Responses to Hump Day: Stress of family member’s illness takes its toll

  1. Hi Brian
    Such difficult days for you. I hope you have some family support. Yes, it is important for your own sanity to take a bit of time to “recharge your batteries”. You will need this to get through the difficult time ahead.

    Having lost my husband a few years ago and not knowing anything about how to settle an estate I wish someone had given me this advice – if possible find important papers such as his will, safety deposit box keys, his birth certificate, insurance papers, SIN card now. He still maybe able to tell you where they are. This will also make it easier on you afterwards when you will be in full grieving mode and difficult to make clear decisions.

    When my husband was sick and I did not know what to do /I would ask my self what is best so that in the end I have no regrets.

    You are a good son. Cherish this time and all the great memories with your Dad.

    Thinking of you,
    Janine Underhill

  2. Hi Janine,

    Thanks very much for the kind words. Yes, there is a lot of family support for my brother, sister and me. Although my parents have been divorced for many years, my mother is also very supportive and concerned. It’s a very stressful time for everyone, but it’s part of life. He’s in palliative care now. It’s a wonderful place and he’s being treated like a king!

    Thanks again for the kind words.

  3. A friend shared this on Facebook. I applaud you for being a human being and not losing your mind over the roommate/chair. My father died from cancer a few years ago and I witnessed different reactions from different people. I understand the struggle to contain your emotions & respond rationally. I would have done what you did… consider the roommate’s circumstances before reacting.

    I don’t know you, but I’ve prayed for you and your situation.