Where To From Here? Forwards.... Step By Step.Please bear with me for this story. It is a long one and initially doesn't seem to be about cancer, but I sincerely hope you feel it's worth a read. The bottom line is, my 9 yo son has lost his Mum to bowel cancer, and I lost a great friend when she passed away at almost 41 years of age. Here's our story.
Ten years ago, when my ex wife was pregnant with my son our relationship came to a messy end. She was an alcoholic and was a mess. To make matters worse I was an emotional wreck too. We tried again around the time of our son's birth but by the time he was 2 and a half months old it was clear we couldn't live like this - I couldn't live like this. my son deserved at least one "normal, well balanced" parent. Consequently, I left and tried to get custody of my son.
I am beginning this story with this background information so you all understand how difficult it was to build another friendship years later with my son's mum.
I was unable to get custody of my son and the next few years, especially the first 2-3 were very difficult and it was a constant battle to see my son. A very traumatic time for me, but all our worlds were about to be turned upside down.
I received a phone call from Jenni telling me she had bowel cancer. Jack was about 2 years old. Life stops for everyone involved but life goes on all around you. Very hard to deal with. Initially Jenni was all over the place, even more than usual. She was angry, sorry, defiant, scared, determined and more. It made our relationship as parents even harder initially. Her bitterness about the hand that life had dealt her made her almost impossible to deal with and it was often even more difficult to see my son.
Over time, Jenni came to realise that I needed to spend more time with Jack and develop a stronger bond with him in case of her death. As she went through various treatments and remissions we were slowly building a new friendship. A very fragile and tentative one and we had many setbacks, but Jenni was unable to drink anymore due to her treatment (it made her very sick if she drank alcohol)
Still it wasn't until about 15 months before Jenni passed away that we started to work together fairly well. Jenni was to go into hospital for one last major operation which the surgeon had hopes might cure her. I took long service leave to live at her place and look after Jack and also her once she came home from hospital. This was about 7 years after we split up. When they opened her up they realised there was nothing they could do and just closed her up again. I stayed at her place for three or four months to continue looking after thm both but then had to go home and continue my teaching position as I had no more time available to me.
The friendship we were tentatively growing was one of friends and co parents, not as husband and wife, but was being tempered and tested through incredibly difficult times. About six months later we were having some tough discussions about when Jack would come to live with me (an hour away). Jenni was spending a few days here and there in palliative care and every weekend I would go and look after them both. Jack finally came to me in August 2009 and Jenni went into palliative care full time. For about 18 months she had been experiencing severe nerve pain periodically and unfortunately Jack had witnessed some of this.
Jack and I would head down every friday after school and come home sunday evening. Initially we would take Jen home for the weekend or at least during the days, but as she deteriorated it became for only a few hours and then it was Jack and I spnding the days at palliative care and staying the friday and saturday nights at Jenni's place.
This was when Jen made peace with many people in her life and with herself. I had long ago forgiven her for the way she treated me all those years ago, but one day, sitting in her wheelchair outside at palliative care, Jack playing in the garden, Jenni told me she was sorry. Sorry for her drinking and sorry for her behaviour. I didn't realise til that moment what it meant to me to hear those words from her.
During those final few months, Jenni and I became very close friends again, closer than ever before. Never before, and I hope never again, have I held heat packs on someone for hours to help ease the pain, held someones hand through excruciating pain for hours, injected pain killers, emptied wee bags or just sat with someone through their terror of what they know is coming. I danced in the rain of a storm for her one night outside her palliative care room to make her laugh.
It was a privilage to be her carer and friend those last months. But I never want to have to do it again, knowing full well now that I could if I had to. I have never witnessed such bravery and courage. Every sunday night when Jack and I left until the following friday evening, she was strong and cheerful for Jack until we were out of sight around the corner. Then she would cry for hours (she never told me, but the nurses (angels they are, people who work in palliative care) told me).
Then came the time. We knew it was only days away at most and I was at work, Jack at school. I spoke to her one last time on the phone and then the next morning we decided that I would take Jack down to see if she was well enough to say goodbye. Just as we were leaving, Jenni's brother rang to say she had passed away. Jenni and I had talked about how she wanted Jack to be told so I didn't tell him (such a difficult drive) and when we arrived, Jenni's sister, best friend and a nurse were waiting in the foyer. We sat down with Jack and I faced the most difficult moment of my life. I Jack him and told my 8 year old son that his Mum had passed away.
I pray that you will never have to go through the heart wrench of this. I will end this now as this has been a long story, but the next hour was a story in itself. My son gave me a lesson in faith, grace and humility. But that's for another post.
If you have waded through this, I thank you. Jenni and I had our differences but we came to love and respect each other again and it is so hard to watch those you love in pain and slowly fading away. But it must have bben so much harder for Jen to leave behind her little boy. Take care, Jen, it's been 15 months now and Jack is doing really well. Dx