Oh fuck someone’s crying again. Where’s the door?

One of the many problems of having a relative with terminal cancer is that suddenly you’re expected to be emotionally aware and a person who can deal with the outpourings of others. I am not this person. I am not someone who does ‘touchy feely emotions’, I am not Oprah and I suspect I never will be. If a person in the room is crying I’ll be easy to spot, I’m the one sidling towards the door while avoiding eye contact with anyone or sudden movements in case drawing attention to myself will result in me having to be the one who deals with this. My solution to virtually every emotional crisis involves the pub. I can just about manage ‘giving upset person a hug’ but I can guarantee you that I will have absolutely nothing useful to say while I do it. According to some this inability to be useful when someone is having an emotional meltdown makes me ‘emotionally inept’ and perhaps I am but then if my car breaks down I can’t fix it so I am also ‘mechanically inept’. I’m a scruffy mare who hates cleaning so I’m ‘domestically inept’. I can’t even draw a stick man in proportion so I’m ‘artistically inept’. I never claimed to be superwoman. I’m much better on the practical front.

This is difficult when the problem you’re facing is cancer. You can’t be that useful on a practical front because you can’t mend it, not even with cable ties, superglue or duct tape which have never before failed me in a fix up job. Well except for the broken knee anyway. What people want is emotional support and I’m some way beyond shite in this capacity. In this respect I’m my father’s daughter because he’s shite at it too. His solution is to make a joke and go to the pub, which is quite possibly where I get it from. Knowing where it comes from however goes no way at all towards fixing the problem. We’re only a couple of months in to ‘cancer journey’ and I’m already starting to avoid situations where I think people are going to cry at me, making non-committal ‘mmmmm’ noises when people cry at me on the phone and heading off tears from others by changing the subject wherever possible. This may seem heartless but it’s actually going to seem worse when someone expects comforting and all I do is stare at my own feet while fiddling with my fingernails.

Really I should be doing something about this personality flaw but I’ll be perfectly honest – I can’t be arsed. I’m tired, I’m stressed and I’m rapidly reaching the point where my own survival without cracking is overtaking my feeling of obligation towards others. I think I need a holiday, which is a problem because a) I need to save my holiday time and b) I’m skint. Oh and c) Mr V is going to Scotland for a week in June so he can’t take any extra time off for a bit. I might go up to the Lakes while he’s in Scotland for a bit of a breather for a few days with the dog, recharge the batteries a bit. Perhaps a break will render me slightly more useful on the emotional front. Or perhaps not. I suspect the latter. God almighty, can you imagine the funeral when we eventually reach that point, it’s going to be a complete fucking nightmare. Crying people everywhere, requiring words of comfort from the grieving family who are always expected to be dignified. I wonder if you can buy tranquilisers on the internet, I could just spend the whole thing as caned as a weasel so it slides straight over my head.

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22 Responses

  1. Snap. I too am useless in those situations. Had some bad news this week when the partner of a pal of mine had a massive stroke. Fortunately (!) he was in the pub so they got him to hospital toot sweet(sic). It looked bad.
    And THEN I heard from my mate that after he’d spent a couple of days sleeping, she went in to see him again to find him awake, sitting up and smiling. She was chatting to the nurse who was asking how she was getting to Tommy’s. On the bus- usually takes about 40 mins – but a bit more today as a bus ahead nearly knocked a cyclist over so there was a bit of a kerfuffle. Mate’s partner comments (a bit slurrily but quite legibly), “Round here, that’s what they call a donor …” And cackled. His sense of humour is intact – as I’m sure is your Dad’s. Chin up V.

    • Strokes are nasty little bastards, they sneak up unannounced and pounce without warning. I hope your friend’s partner is making good progress and hasn’t suffered any lasting damage!

  2. An iPod, with headphones cunningly disguised behind a veil, will serve you well. And I’m with you. Although I do crack, emotionally, now and then, most of the time I have a comfortable wall between me and the emotions of others.

  3. Crikey yeh, I am with you. Blarting people are really hard to handle unless they are close friends or family. I would continue doing what you are doing – keeping your head down and going to the pub!

  4. I’m not good at comforting people either, but then I’m a man and can get away with it.

    Really, though, considering it’s YOUR father with the cancer, anyone expecting YOU to comfort THEM is an (as you would say) arse!

    And if people are trying to comfort you and you don’t feel the need, tell them. Then slap the shit out of them when they insist.

    • So far I’ve been avoiding the people who might try and comfort me. Not many people have tried yet, possibly because I have a proper frosty stare that discourages it. I suspect that when he does actually die it’ll get a lot worse, with do-gooders appearing from every corner. It’s nice that people want to help, don’t get me wrong, it really is but there’s a set group of people who I turn to if I need emotional assistance and it’s very very small.

  5. Social + Me = Fail. I can sit and hold a hand, listen, even just stand by, but I never know what to do in social, let alone socially emotional situations. It’s my kryptonite.

  6. Eh, you’re under no obligation to change who you are and how you deal with things. And I’m with GOM – why the hell are you being expected to comfort other people over this, he’s YOUR dad!

    The battery recharge sounds like a brilliant idea – for your own sake though, not for the sake of becoming a better shoulder-patter.

    • You’d be amazed the number of people who get in contact and want comforting and to be told that everything is going to be alright. Well guess what people, it isn’t. He’s dying and that’s not going to stop just because you don’t like the uncomfortable fact. Neither do I as it happens but we’re stuck with it. Apparently I was a little blunt when doing the ring-round to tell people that the diagnosis was that the cancer is terminal. Ah well. I passed on the information, I think expecting me to provide spiritual comfort and words of wisdom as well was a little much.

      • Admittedly all I have to go on is your blogosphere persona, but from that I’d say ‘blunt’ is what you are. That won’t change because of this awful situation you’ve been put in. Don’t feel the tiniest bit of guilt, sounds like you have a large slice of your old man in you and you deserve to relish that. Thoughts are with you.

  7. Agreed. I’ve gone through this and I feel like I should be better qualified to offer support or advice when it happens to my friends. But I can’t – I just stand there paralysed, feeling helpless and wishing I knew the right things to say. It’s also the wierdness of people crying who shouldn’t be but yeah, generally I just try to apply gin to the situation.

    • That’s the thing, I never know what to say. It’s awful, I just go ‘hmmmm’ and stare at my feet. I’ve been told that I’m cold and unemotional but it’s not actually true, just because I’m not a cross between Oprah and a bereavement counsellor doesn’t mean I don’t feel bad for people, I just don’t know what to say. And just because I prefer not to inflict my emotions on all and sundry doesn’t mean I don’t have them. I find that there are few situation that can’t be improved with a liberal application of gin.

  8. Exactly. It’s your dad, your way of dealing with it and no one has any say in it.
    If I ever have to go to a funeral of a loved one (have avoided doing so up to now!) I plan to go shit-faced and dressed in a costume. And I plan to talk about aliens and spaceships.
    As for my own funeral, assuming it will be a long, long way away still, I plan to leave a video-tape (or dvd, or whatever they will have when I am 110) and I plan to TELL people that they are expected to be drunk, laughing, crying, having sex, doing cartwheels or whatever else takes their fancy at my funeral, and talking about aliens. And spaceships.

    • I remember years ago having a conversation about funerals with my dad and him saying that he didn’t want some dreary, miserable, religious service with tea and sandwiches afterwards. He wanted loud, with inappropriate music, curry, drink and laughter. Which is what I’ll be making sure he gets. The idea of him going off from Bury Football Club, his favourite place in all the world has been raised, with a wake at the social club afterwards. I think it would be perfect. Yours sounds like just the sort of send off I’d want too. When my time comes I’ll be making it clear that I will be coming back to haunt anyone who leaves my wake sober and crying.

  9. When my Dad was in his final days before cancer got him, he was quite relaxed and accepting which was more than could be said for one of his girlfriends who came in a few times bawling her eyes out.

    My sister, who reminds me of you with low tolerance levels for fools ;-), took her outside and gave her a real dressing down and told her to “piss off if she couldn’t control herself”.

    It was an interesting study of two different approaches to stress.

    For myself, I don’t remember his final days as a depressing time. It was more a celebration of a life well lived and plenty of his friends caught up with him while he was still able to communicate. Every day we were able to visit while he was still able to be his good natured self was an absolute bonus.

    Hope things start travelling a little better for you as this test continues. Being yourself is fine and close family would expect nothing less.

    • I’m hoping that’s the way this is going to go too. Cheerful. The liklihood is that he’ll be dead within less than 12 months, that we have to accept, but how we spend those 12 months is up to us and I’m not convinced that spending them crying, mourning and berating the fact that we are where we are is the way forwards. Let’s face it, there’ll be time enough for that when all he’s gone. It’s funny but at my age, 31, you still think your parents are invincible, even though I already have two friends who’ve lost one. Turns out I got that wrong. And that the no smoking lobby might have had a point about the dangers…

  10. I’m with the others above who said – since when has it been your job to comfort others instead of the other way around!! Hope you get some time out to recharge a bit Mrs V.

    • Cheers! Sadly my cousin is at the caravan when I wanted to go so it looks like it’s going to be at least mid June before I get my mini escape. But since my dad is back in hospital yet again it’s probably for the best that I don’t go now. It’s bloody knackering all this!

  11. I’m the same way, Vicola. Steven often tells me I have no heart. But, some of us are just far less smooshy and demonstrative then the rest – different, but it doesn’t mean we don’t feel. (Being in the two-three-cheek-kisses for hello and goodbye countries is so terrible for me. Steven says it’s the funniest thing to see me go in for them and look like it’s the last thing. I have literally resorted to a wave, I just couldn’t take it anymore.)

    For comforting other people, I’m a champion back-patter. I can never really think of the right things to say. Also, I’m always heading straight for the first awkward black-as-night joke I can think of, and then I generally have to prevent it from actually coming out of my mouth.

    You do need a vacation – especially one where you don’t have to be constantly avoiding comforting other people.

    And, I have a thought, do you have a record button on your mp3 player? You might want to think about carrying that around. That way, every time you feel like you’re going to blow, slip to a quiet corner and let the machine have it. At least you get to express yourself, and not worry about the look on other people’s faces:)

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