Living with a cancer afflicted parent — A Series — Part 35

Accepting the difficult winter nights

Image credit — Google Images

The deadpan winter nights shiver at the sight of our life. The heaters around cannot warm the relationships they surround. As a minute stretches into an hour, so does the willingness to talk, once more. The corridor is silent, but the kitchen buzzes with activity. The cooker whistles, the pan sizzles, water filter draining slowly. All those sounds are for humans alive in this house. But none spoken by the members tonight. A sudden tv. Breaking the monotony. Chasing away the silence. Yet it returns. Slowly. As the dinner plates clatter into the sink. Tonight, this house and its members have chosen to wallow into the silence of the worries.

The winter’s been catching up on Dad. North India experiences harsh days in this season, which have restricted Dad mostly to his room and the heater as the temperatures fall. The wind gets sharper in the evenings and Dad mostly keeps himself under the blankets. His tea, smoothie, soup, water, medicine, and dinner are all served in bed, as he lets out sighs of helplessness. Often, he’ll make an effort to take a walk, turn on the television and watch cricket, yet he’ll come back to thoughts of fatigue and uncertainty.

“This won’t improve. I don’t think I’ll get better,” he says. Mum sitting beside him, turns and says, “No, you will. God will turn these times around.” Sometimes, Mum doesn’t chase away those thoughts but resides in the gloom, saying, “Yes, this is a bad time. Have patience. What else can one do.” As the tv will continue playing NatGeo Wild or Star Sports, she will peek through her reading glasses, look up from her accounts book, and start a small talk. “Who is this new Indian cricketer? I think, we’ve seen that animal dance video earlier.” But those discussions will fizzle as quickly as they started.

As the night passes, Dad’s body crumbles under the body ache, as he turns on his other side. Lying in bed for too long hurts his shoulders and he stretches his face in agony. The recurrent cough adds to his pain, as he indicates it by pointing towards his abdomen or ribs. We begin asking him questions. “How bad does it hurt? Should I apply a pain relief cream? You’d like some warm soup? How about some steam? Take a painkiller, maybe?” As much as we want to help, these incessant questions often drive Dad further into misery, as he shuts us out.

This is a tough phase for our family.

Our desperate attempts to normalise the situation by cracking jokes or signifying mindless activities of the day, evaporate quickly. One laugh ends with a bad episode of coughing. Dad lets out a sigh, and a silence descends.

What helps however, are certain small things. Dad’s brother comes to check on him every evening and engages him in discussions. His knock on the bedroom door is a welcome change to our evenings. He seats himself on the sofa adjacent to parents’ bed, and talks away, indulging Dad to contribute. Often, a game of Ludo ensues. Sometimes, a call from a well-wisher guarantees minutes of ease.

But far more importantly, I am learning to accept these harsh nights.

Dad will be in pain. He will be restless. He will be worried. And these issues will not be going away quickly. Our evenings will be accompanies by hollowed quietness, punctuated by Dad’s groans or muffled sighs. Dinner will be a compulsory activity, devoid of talks and laughter. The tv will continue airing new shows.

Accepting these moments will be the first step towards calming one down. Realising their occurrence rather than dreading them, will make them less difficult. Feeling the anguish and helplessness at his condition, will be less deterring if I don’t fight the feeling in the first place. I have to face the truth of my Dad’s illness and that involves facing its effects on me. Beginning to face this reality will help me cut through the clutter of worry. It will calm my nerves. It will enable me to help Dad as much as possible, rather than lose focus due to agony.

As I see Dad get up slowly, and drink a glass of water, I wait for him to sit upright. Handing me the glass, he looks at the floor. I wrap my arms around him, resting my head on his shoulder. He doesn’t move. We both live together in those seconds.

We both accept the moment as it is.


Hi, I’m Mariyam, thank you for reading my post. This is part of my series on finding positivity and decoding the ‘be positive’ attitude as my father fights through aggressive oral cancer.

If you liked it, you can read other posts on http://mariyamrazahaider.com.

You can also follow me on twitter @MariyamRaza for more. Much love 🙂

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