When I was 18 years old, I watched my mum drive her mother in-law every week to the cancer clinic. My grandmother, who lived with us and helped raise my brother, sister and I, suffered with skin cancer that metastasised and spread all over her body. She had some pretty harsh radiation treatment that caused open wounds to weep from the left side of her shoulder, down her chest to her torso. She was in so much agony and it hurt so much to watch her go through that. A week before she passed, she was barely able to get out of bed. Whilst my mum attended to her needs during the day, I was on night duty. I woke up to her turning her lamp on in the bedroom next to mine. I knew she needed the toilet. So I would race over to her side, help her on her feet and assist with her toileting needs. The night before she died, the light came on but I slept through it. I woke quickly to a loud “bang” that sounded like something had fallen and hit the wardrobe in her room. I ran in there to find my grandmother, trying to stand up but crashed, head first, into the wardrobe. The bleeding gash on her forehead would be etched in my brain for eternity. It was a reminder of the time I didn’t get up for her. When she finally passed away, it brought so much relief to everyone she had ever touched. She was no longer in pain, her suffering on earth was now done.
I know my grandmother would never want me to carry around the burden of that memory, but sometimes you just can’t help it. I felt like she never received the peaceful, palliative send off into the after-life that she deserved- due to my negligence.
The outcome of my grandmother’s situation allowed me to consider a career in aged care. I had so much to learn from the ageing community I was looking after. I learnt a lot about myself by serving those who could no longer will their bodies or minds to complete the simplest tasks- tasks that most of us take for granted. I used my festering guilt to pay it forward with empathy, compassion and, above all, love for our fellow human beings. By age 22 I was managing my own facility and continued to thrive in a poorly- recognised sector. But it was where I wanted to be.
Fourteen years after my grandmother’s passing, Paul’s motorbike collides with a truck. What if I had listened to the doctors’ recommendation to turn Paul’s ventilator off and allow “nature to take it’s course”? Where would I be now? A single parent, working my ass off to make ends meet financially? Two young girls without a father, the backbone to our family. What if Paul had jumped into a truck rather than his motorbike? What if I had made Paul’s lunch that day so he wouldn’t have had to go and buy it himself? What if that truck waited 3 more seconds before turning? What if?? What if???What if???? What is the point of thinking this way? The point is to deal with the metaphorical cards you have been dealt- no matter how crappy they are. The silver lining is there, you just have to dig through the crap before you find it.
It took years of maturing, growing mindfully and spiritually, to realise that holding onto guilt was never going to serve me well. Guilt is a self-imposed standard that we put on ourselves and is often perceived to be negative- like in the case of keeping Paul alive. I know people have judged my decision. But whilst I allowed myself to be eaten alive by this guilt, the real problem was I wasn’t learning from it. I made my decision to keep him alive because I was confident (and still am!) that my husband would make a full recovery and help me to finish telling his story to the world! So WHAT IF…. from the guilt of my grandmother’s departure from this earth, I was being led down the road to self- actualisation? WHAT IF, from age 18, I was being groomed to be the greatest wife, carer, friend, confidante, boss- lady, nurse and advocate for Paul? What if?