Aside from the pandemic, it’s been a particularly rough year for me so I decided to take advantage of the Shakti Women Let’s Talk service and I’m so glad that I did. My counsellor has been helping me to work through a depression and a difficult relationship with my mother. We’ve been speaking for an hour most Sunday nights for the last couple of months.
Just to give you a bit of context (not because I want your pity but because I’m hopeful that sharing will encourage others to talk through their difficulties with someone and not bottle them all up), my mother and I have always found it hard to communicate with one another and the stresses of the last year have brought these difficulties to the foreground.
My dad has terminal lung cancer. We found out in January last year while I was working for a school in Ecuador. I’d flown home to attend an interview for another school in Thailand and had a few days to go and see him in hospital. That’s when they told us his diagnosis. It was a shock. We knew he was in a lot of pain. The year before, he’d broken his back and never been the same since, but we didn’t quite expect to hear that they thought he only had a few weeks to live.
I spent a few days in and out of the hospital, by his side, as he had his first and only round of radiotherapy. It was horrific for him and seeing him so broken was devastating. Sadly, I had to return to Ecuador while he was still in hospital. My headteacher had been great, but I had a contract to fulfill, students to teach.
In the meantime, I got the job in Thailand and accepted it, not knowing what was just around the corner.
As soon as I got back, I booked another flight to the UK to be with dad for the February half term. By that time, he was back home, recovering from the radiotherapy and the trauma of being quite seriously ill in hospital. Life as his full-time carer had just begun for my mother. While she wasn’t at work one or two days a week in the local cinema, she was doing an amazing job of looking after dad, as she still is. Even so, his pain was out of control.
It was hard to leave the both of them again to fly back to Ecuador, but I had to.
Then came the pandemic. The city of Quito went into full lockdown two weeks before the UK and I started to worry that I wouldn’t be there for my dad if the worst happened. I booked a flight home but it was cancelled. I booked another one, but that was cancelled too. As my teaching went online and the Ecuadorian government imposed a strict curfew, I was increasingly afraid I wasn’t going to make it back to the UK at all and my dad was going to die while I was held hostage by the pandemic in my apartment.
In the end, I asked the British Embassy to help get me home. Within a week of my desperate Tweet to them, I was on a packed KLM flight, wearing a mask and trying not to touch anyone or anything the entire way as I watched WHO videos about the rapid spread of the virus throughout the world. It felt like I was playing the part of an extra in a dystopian film.
One year on and defying all the odds, my dad is still here, still fighting. His pain is controlled by high doses of morphine and my mom’s daily care and compassion for him is nothing short of heroic. The other day she told me she feels selfish because she’ll do anything to keep him here. She’s not selfish. Far from it. They’ve been married for 39 years. What will she do and who will she be without him? They are a solid unit. An enduring love. She must be terrified.
Perhaps the unspoken fears we both have are one reason that mom and I have been arguing. I’m finding it so hard to communicate with her. I also feel redundant. Even though I decided not to go to Thailand so that I could be here, I don’t know how to help her. When I try to be a better daughter, a better person, something inside me gets in the way of giving her the love and support she deserves right now. Something buried deep. I know I sound hard on her, hard on myself too perhaps. Trust me. I know I have work to do.
This isn’t the half of it. Honestly. So much has changed and so many other things have happened this last year that have completely derailed my world. I was living with my cousin, an alcoholic in recovery, who relapsed. Our relationship broke down as a result and I’ve moved back into my parents’ house. My brother was also recently given a cancer diagnosis. Thankfully, he’s young, healthy and has a really good chance of living a long life, but it’s incurable. His chemo treatment began in December.
In the meantime, I’ve completely changed my career and started writing a book.
Counselling has genuinely helped me to articulate the emotional impact of all this and start to get to the root of my feelings about mom so that I can begin to relate to her with more ease. It’s been so hard and I get it wrong every day still, but having someone listen to and help me understand myself better has been a great help.
I want to thank Shakti Women for starting this project, and my counsellor for signing up to be part of it. I also want to encourage all of you to get talking. You don’t have to suffer in silence. This last year has been tough on everyone and only by talking about how it has affected us are we going to have any hope of getting through the next.
If you need to talk, please get in touch. Send your name and number to email@example.com one of our team will give you a call.