Monday, 19 November 2012

What's the matter princess?

Diarmuid spent 6 nights in the hospice and, while he was there, we slept in the hospice with him. Just 24 hours before he was moved there from the hospital, we thought he was coming home and would start chemotherapy a couple of weeks later but instead he was moved to a hospice to die.

My two boys (15 and 17 at the time) knew everything that was going on. But we hadn't told our youngest yet that her Dad had cancer. His prognosis was two years so why would we tell her how serious his illness was at such an early stage? So when we got to the hospice one of the most pressing issues was the fact that Aisling didn't know how ill he truly was. The boys and I had only found out that morning that his time left was very short.

While they would normally break the news of cancer to young children over a period of weeks, Aisling would need to be told urgently.

A team consisting of a counsellor, two doctors, a nurse, a chaplain, myself, my sons and my brother Chris sat in a room to explain to Aisling what was happening. In retrospect this was the perfect combination of people. My children because, tragically, they needed to know the truth. The counsellor because she gets it. The medical experts to answer the questions and, sadly, transmit that this is science, it's about cancer cells, not some imaginary or half-arsed 'syndrome' but a real medical disease killing a real physical body. My brother because we are very close and he gets it too. He cares about me and the children, he's not hysterical or dramatic. He's there because he cares.

The head doctor and the counsellor asked Aisling to describe what had happened to her Dad. She told them how a few weeks ago he wasn't feeling well and he had seen a doctor and was vomiting and sore. They listened and validated every word. Then they told her about cancer - how there are bad cancer cells and that even though it's often fixable, Diarmuid's particular type of cancer was very bad. They said (in such a kind and loving way) that they had done all they could but, at this point, there was no more could be done except to ease his pain.

Aisling just stared from them to me, to her brothers, to her uncle. She was mute. I could see the realisation slowly dawning. Her little face was full of desperation - she so badly wanted someone to say "BUT..." as in "but of course he'll be okay" or "but he'll go home soon"...... There was total silence in the room. Then she looked at me for an answer. I caught her hand and put my arm around her and I said "I think my love that even though the doctors have tried everything and even though Daddy got the best medicine there is..... well I think this means that Daddy is going to heaven". She went white and her innocent little face went to pieces and the tears poured out of her. Everybody cried - the nurse, doctors, counsellor, me, my ubrother, my sons, Aisling. The tears flowed freely. Everyone hugged her in turn including her big brothers. She urgently wanted to leave the room. She said: "We must tell my Nanas, we must tell everyone, they should know".

Across the hall there was a day room where my family and friends waited that whole week, taking turns to support us and to visit Diarmuid. At that moment Aisling ran into the day room with tears pouring down her face - she threw herself into the arms of her auntie and her grandmothers and said "my Daddy's going to heaven, my Daddy has to go to heaven" and then she sobbed and sobbed and we tried to catch her before she ran but she ran down the corridor to her Dad's room shouting "I have to see Daddy". Then she threw her arms around him and cried her heart out. Diarmuid gave her a big smile and said "hey, what's the matter princess?". She looked at me and looked back at him and instinctively knew that he didn't know he was dying. She didn't mention heaven. She just said "Daddy you have cancer". He said "yes but I'm fighting it princess". He still thought that chemotherapy would be happening. She hugged him tightly and let the tears flow. He looked at her and looked at me and I think in that moment he knew his life was ending.

Four days later Diarmuid passed away with Emmet holding his right hand and Daniel holding his left hand and me rushing into the room as he took his last breath. Within minutes of his dying Aisling came into the room (she had been out for a walk with her auntie, Diarmuid's sister) and I knelt down and told her "Daddy has gone to heaven my love". She cried and held him and, along with her brothers, myself, our family, our closest friends, we stayed with him all day, saying our goodbyes.

She sleeps in my bed and I look at her sweet innocent face as she sleeps and I'll tell you something - there's no pain worse than the pain of watching your children's hearts break. My boys too. My handsome wonderful boys. Sobbing over their Dad's body as he passed from this world. It was just so awful. It IS just so awful. This pain... the agony of watching your children yearn for their beloved Dad... it's indescribable.