I wake up quite suddenly, not knowing why I was jolted awake. I grab my mobile phone from its usual spot near my pillow. Past 3 AM. I trudge out of bed, eyes still bleary from sleep and my mind not quite awake yet. I walk over to my father and the following takes place, in chronological order:
- Check his colostomy bag.
- Clean said bag; gather round the irrigation solution, a pair of gloves, a bucket, a pack of wet tissues, the roll of kitchen towel, my mask, that medical tape, etc.
- Clean up (i.e. soiled wet tissues and kitchen towels).
- Check if Papa needs anything more.
- Go back to sleep.
- Wake up after 30 – 45 minutes.
- Get ready for work.
That’s pretty much my routine at home during the wee hours of the morning. Recently, I no longer need to wake up at past 3 AM. Instead, I wake up and get ready for work earlier than usual. Then before leaving the house, I clean his colostomy bag. This way, I somehow get uninterrupted sleep and manage to catch some quality zzz time before heading for work. (My routine once I get back home after office hours is another post for another time.)
Here at home, we had some adjusting to do ever since the doctors gave us the news that had me sniffling and crying like a baby: My father has colon cancer, stage 4. I remember how my head was swimming with thoughts that chased each other at varying intervals of speed and sluggishness. I remember how it felt like someone had stuffed cotton inside the space where my brain should be, making me feel light-headed and woozy. Time was disjointed. Everything else was deemed small and irrelevant. All that I could see and feel and think of was that news. I went for a week-long leave that time, dividing my time between staying at the hospital with my parents (my mother was constantly tending to my father during those days) and running errands for my dad. I went back to work the following week, going through the motions as I tried to latch on to sanity and focus. I refused to tell my co-workers what happened. Saying it out loud would have started waterworks, would have me reduced to a blubbering baby. So I kept silent about it. I kept working.
It has been nearly three weeks since that fateful day we have learned of my father’s condition. It feels so long ago and so recent at the same time. I keep telling myself to get my shit together. Some days I get by; some days I feel like I’m getting there, to that state where I could honestly say I’m okay when I am asked, “How are you?”
It has been a real eye-opener, an in-your-face reality check. It has been a test of faith and hope and patience, of kindness and tolerance and strength. I do not know what will happen next. I have been floundering about, searching for something to anchor myself to so I can stay sane and strong at this time of my life. Given that I love reading and writing, it only makes sense that I would find comfort in the form of words. Words that one of my dearest friends from way back in high school have told me when I told her about my father’s condition. Her own dad died from lung cancer a couple of years ago. Here is what she told me a when I confided in her about my father (rephrased):
I know it’s easier said than done but be brave. Be strong for your dad as well… I know cancer sounds ugly but it’s not, really. It’s a process, a phase, a journey that helps the patient and their family embrace life fully and enjoy one another more and more every day… Use this precious gift of time positively. You will pull through and get through this. I know you are a tough woman. *hugs*
That’s when it hit me: It’s true. Life is fragile and sometimes fleeting. While we are here, why not make the most of it? I have yet to remind myself time and again to take things more positively, especially about my father. I cannot go on worrying about every little thing about him. It is not only emotionally exhausting; it is affecting him and those around me as well. I need to be positive and hopeful and find the good in everything, especially for my dad. I need to radiate happiness, need to find more reasons to laugh, especially for my dad. I need him to see and feel that life is still worth living, that life is still good in spite of the occasional bad things. I need to see him find something to smile and laugh about, too, whether it’s how stinky his colostomy bag is (Yeah, we break into grins and giggles sometimes. What can I say? We get high from all that gas. Haha.) or his memories from younger years. We all need to be brave and strong and cheerful and hopeful for each other.
While I am still struggling with that part of myself (the part who worries and worries about my dad), I am really trying to approach and look at things differently, more consciously. The change I want for myself will not happen overnight. Nor will it happen next week or next month. It’s something that needs to be practiced as a habit, like any other thing we are determined to acquire. What matters is that I am trying — really trying — and that I am determined to keep on doing so.