Waiting For Grief

Inside a living room in London

I’m sleeping on a sofa bed.

This has been my life for two months now: since June, apart from brief escapes to Scotland, Italy, and the east of London.

I’ve relocated to the front room of my dad’s house. I’ve unfolded a dust-covered mattress from the confines of green sofa cushions, pulled it out, covered the thin striped material with a mattress topper bought off my ex-flatmate, and tried my best to make it feel like home.

This sofa bed is not exactly comfortable, either. I’m pretty sure it sits at a slant: I wake up multiple times each night with the uneasy sensation that my feet are higher than my head. I dream that I’m falling backwards.

Of course, my erratic sleeping might be to do with drinking too much coffee. It could also be due to the roll-ups I’ve taken to smoking covertly in the garden while sitting on a broken wooden bench under the night sky.

I use the time to stare up at stars, at slow moving planes, at sickly yellow clouds. Sometimes there are invisible foxes mewling in the bushes. One night a group of neighbours sang ‘Happy Birthday’ from far away.

Feliz cumpleaños cake

There’s another explanation for my lack of sleep. It’s why I’m on the sofa bed in the first place.

My dad is dying. 

Watching the people you love get sick is an awful experience. What’s worse is knowing they won’t get better – and it’s so frustrating and painful to hear responses from those who just don’t get it.

“I hope he’s on the mend soon!”

“We’re sending lots of get well wishes!”

Nope. He’s dying. My dad is definitely, diagnosably, dying.

I have to say this to myself because I need to time to adjust to the idea. I have to prepare myself as much as possible for what’s inevitable – and yet I can’t directly say it out loud, because it’s horrible and unexpected and so hilariously awkward. It cuts a conversation clean in two. People who actually take on the responsibility of discussing such a bombshell are fantastic – but even they eventually have to talk about something else.

Then again, those conversations aren’t exactly common because I don’t go out much now. I can’t. He needs me in the house.

Just two months ago, my dad was living by himself.

He could drive his car, go to the corner shop for a paper, move around his house. All of these things took time, effort and careful pacing, but it was all still possible.

Now he’s basically bed-bound. After eight weeks of watching his breathing get increasingly worse due to acute lung fibrosis, I’ve realised he now needs everything he uses during the day to be close to hand, just a few steps away from his bed.

A hand amongst virtual flowers, Pace Gallery

He’s been ill for two years – seriously ill since this March – and my perception of time has become strangely fluid.

This isn’t permanent. It can’t be. My life exists in another place – albeit one I’ve stepped unwillingly away from at the moment. My normal, real, loved life is travel and spontaneity, friends and photography, chaos and movement and excitement and challenges. Challenges I want to embark upon, not those which have been thrust on top of me with such force that I feel like my back might break.

Learning my ‘new normal’

Inside my dad’s house, the days blur into each other. Hours are the only unit of time I measure now: awake at 9am, a snatched period of semi-relaxation for coffee, music, typing, until Dad’s carer opens the front door at 11am and I know I need to shoulder my responsibilities.

This situation and the horrors which accompany it are things I never thought I’d have to handle at 29 years old. It seems like such a cruel injustice to carry them without a second parent or a sibling to help me through.

Still. I sit and chat to him, hold his hand, do the household tasks and errands he only trusts me to do. I fetch and carry, change sheets, wash clothes: I do normal day-to-day housework on autopilot, trying my best to forget why I’m doing it. Trying to forget that he’ll never do these things again.

The carer visits again at lunchtime and comes for a final visit in the early evening. She cooks a frozen meal in the microwave as it’s the easiest thing for him to eat, makes him cups of tea, and provides us both with a much-needed distraction of another person to talk to.

'Keep calm and carry on' mini cake selection

When people ask me what is so difficult about all this, I can’t always pinpoint specifics. But I know the toll it’s taking. I clock-watch obsessively: not wanting to leave him alone upstairs for too long, but knowing that spending too much time with him zaps all of my energy. Watching his laboured breathing makes me scream inside. I recognise how sluggish my thoughts are, and how hard I find it to speak.

I don’t feel the caffeine buzz my body like I used to. I wake up exhausted. I move around the house all day like a ghostly shadow of myself. I say goodnight to him at 9pm and fall asleep on an uncomfortable sofa bed by midnight.

Some unexpected side effects

The very worst part for me in all this – selfishly, perhaps – is that I have no time for writing.

Before my dad got too sick, I was mid-blog-overhaul: working on resource articles and affiliate partnerships, really knuckling down to the act of making this passion of mine into something more professional. I was overwhelmed with ideas for my book manuscript too, and felt the sudden excitement of knowing just how I could make it great.

Now I’m terrified to write. The emotions which pour out of me when crafting every article are perhaps too much right now, and I also need careful, distraction-free alone time to work the way I want to.

I’m also terrified of losing my ability to write.

Before my mum died nine years ago I wrote poetry: reams of the stuff, couplets forming in my mind before I had time to jot them down. I adored the structure and the puzzle of poems so much that it was a complete shock to discover that my desire to write them vanished after her death. It took me a long time to fall back into writing anything at all, and poems were a victim of the fallout. I haven’t really written poetry since.

So this is why I’m writing here. I know it’s not about travel – sorry – but it’s necessary. It’s vital. It rises high above any of the vapid, internet-related bullshit of SEO and traffic: this is life and death, family and home, loss and grief, in all their purest forms. I’m losing my dad, after already losing my mum, and I feel so achingly lonely and suffocated and unable to cope.

What do you do with grief? 

In moments of immense difficulty; in moments where your life is unrecognisable in the worst of ways; you simply have to draw strength from wherever you feel able.

At some point each day, I suddenly remember the world beyond the house and I step out into the light. There are lime green front doors and rows of potted plants on windowsills. Someone’s dug up a fresh haul of onions from a tiny vegetable patch in their front garden, the bulbs resting on an open tea towel laid out on the ground. I peek through a window to see a girl lovingly stroking a black cat.

I don’t know why things are the way they are. All these lives, connected by proximity and geography but strangers to me.

Bright flowers in a neighbour's garden

If there’s one thing the last nine years have taught me – between my mum’s sudden death and my dad’s impending one – it’s that I am a writer. So if writing about this process can help me through in any way possible, then I’ll do it in a heartbeat. And if sharing how I feel can help anyone else through their own journey of grief then I’ll do that too.

If I can’t travel abroad, what I can do is walk the streets around my dad’s house, and wander through the one park and two graveyards which sit close by. I can still take photos of the moments which move me. Search always for the little glimpses of light which serve as a reminder that things like this can happen; will always happen; must happen, sadly enough.

Death is a truth I’ve always known, and one I have to shoulder once again. As so many others do.

Cemetery benches in the setting sun

I sit in the cemetery beside my mum’s grave, on a slanted wooden bench placed for someone’s granddad. I don’t know who, but it’s been here ever since Mum’s funeral. Nine years. At once a lifetime and what feels like one drawn out breath.

I’m not doing this alone, however much it may feel like it.

I’m sleeping in my dad’s living room while he dies in the room above me. The buses move past on the street outside; people talk loudly on the pavement and leave empty bottles in our yellow rose bush. The world still moves, and so do I.

Writing it down gives me clarity. Sharing it gives me strength. Hopefully that’s enough.

My stretched shadow in South London

About Flora

Flora Baker is the founder and editor of Flora the Explorer, where she writes about her travels around the world, her volunteering exploits and her ongoing attempt to become fluent in Spanish by talking to anyone who'll listen. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

, , , , , ,

55 Responses to Waiting For Grief

  1. heidivellastarr September 7, 2017 at 1:50 pm #

    I’m so saddened to hear your father is terminally ill and of your pain and grief. I’m an only child, too, and although I don’t know, I can imagine how lonely you must feel right now. Things may get worse before they get better but the important thing is they will get better.

    And you are a fantastic writer.

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 8:49 am #

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Heidi 🙂

  2. Gerry Pare' September 7, 2017 at 2:02 pm #

    Dearest Flora, I am so Sorry you are having to shoulder this alone at 29. I can’t imagine. My dad died in 2000 and I was 46. It was hard. He was my best friend. Sometimes, writers need to take a break – look around – see life up close and save it for another day, another moment. This time with him is precious. Use it to be with him. The other stuff – writing and travel – will happen again later. But this time is sacred time. I would give anything to have another 15 minutes, a lunch, a cup of coffee with my Papa. Savor this time because you will yearn for it later.

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 8:54 am #

      Thanks Gerry 🙂 Alas the fact of being a writer means that words are how I process events – and even this part of my life feels a little less overwhelming if I can put a shape to it through writing. I’ll try my best to savour this time with him though.

  3. Claire September 7, 2017 at 2:21 pm #

    Flora, my thoughts are with you. Your article is beautifully written, very elegant ways of getting the reader to sit here with you and contemplate this situation and heartache.
    You are a wonderful Travel blogger however as you rightfully wrote, you are a wonderful writer before anything else. I wish you the smoothest transition these challenging times can possibly be. And I’m looking forward to read from you may it be next week or next year, in this blog or in a book.
    Best wishes

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 9:02 am #

      Thanks Claire, that’s so lovely to hear 🙂

  4. Mike Cotton (@MikeCjourno) September 7, 2017 at 2:43 pm #

    Flora, I have no words. Your writing is beautiful.

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 9:03 am #

      Thank you Mike – that’s a wonderful thing to be told 🙂

  5. Editor September 7, 2017 at 3:12 pm #

    Flora be kind to yourself. Go with the flow. The flow is that you are on your grieving journey already. It’s happening. When my dad was dying I couldn’t say it even though I knew it. When he went I didn’t find it as hard as the waiting. I hope it’s the same for you. You are where you’re supposed to be right now, with him, holding his hand as he held and will always hold yours.

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 9:05 am #

      Thanks so much for this, Rachel 🙂

  6. theworldonmynecklace September 7, 2017 at 3:42 pm #

    I am so sorry Flora, I can’t imagine what you are going through so I won’t pretend to try. Keep writing and we will keep reading – fuck SEO

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 9:08 am #

      Haha YES! Fuck SEO 🙂 And thanks so much for saying you’ll keep reading – it really helps to hear that right now!

  7. Rick Guilbeault September 7, 2017 at 4:46 pm #

    Thank you for having the courage to write about this most difficult time. My dad is suffering from the same condition and although he is still enjoying life his abilities are noticeably beginning to decline. I know he will in time face the same decline and this will be an unthinkably hard time in my life. My heart and thoughts are with you.

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 9:09 am #

      I’m so sorry your dad is ill too, Rick. I’m sending my best wishes and hope you can spend as much quality time together as possible xx

  8. Mikeachim September 7, 2017 at 5:41 pm #

    This is nightmarish. So sorry to read this, Flora, and know you’re suffering like this.

    Words fail me, except for these:

    You are absolutely not losing the ability to write. This post shows that plainly. And all the words you need will be there when you need them, and probably not beforehand, when there are other things to think about.

    Hang in there.

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 9:17 am #

      Thanks so much Mike <3 You know how much I value your advice (and writing critique!)

  9. paulandcarolelovetotravel September 7, 2017 at 5:54 pm #

    So sad to read as we can totally relate to losing loved ones. You definitely have not lost your ability to write as this is such a meaningful read.

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 9:15 am #

      Thanks so much 🙂

  10. Beatrice September 7, 2017 at 6:11 pm #

    Thank you for sharing Flora. More important than a travel blogger, you are a person with feelings and a life. You write beautifully from the heart. Tears are running down my face. I am so sorry you are going through this. Not the same but I miss my grandma every day as I was very close to her and shared a home with her in the last years of her life. Grief can be lonely. Love your faithful reader.

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 9:28 am #

      Oh Beatrice 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing your own grief – it’s such a struggle, but there’s a strange relief in knowing we all go through this in our own ways. Sending love to you xx

  11. Bronwyn Kienapple (@B_Kienapple) September 7, 2017 at 6:18 pm #

    I’m so, so sorry to hear this. Thanks for writing this beautiful piece.

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 9:25 am #

      Thanks so much Bronwyn x

  12. Michelle September 7, 2017 at 6:25 pm #

    I was 29 when my dad died from multi system organ failure. I also had no second parent or siblings to help me deal. I have no real words of wisdom other than it sucks but you’ll get through it.

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 9:26 am #

      Yep, it absolutely does suck. Sorry you had to deal with the same, Michelle – and I hope you’re doing better now <3

  13. Gretta @ mumsdotravel September 7, 2017 at 8:23 pm #

    Flora, I’m so sorry. Your writing is beautiful, and you’ll never lose that.

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 9:28 am #

      Thanks Gretta – I hope not!

  14. Dave September 8, 2017 at 12:11 am #

    On April Fools of 2011, we were told my wife had leukemia. She had shown no signs of anything up till that point. The next 9 months were a roller coaster ride. She was in ICU once in a coma from pneumonia and the second time when she got an infection and they put her in a coma. That one was the end. She passed away after 4 weeks in ICU.
    If anything, it has made me want to write, I’m just not sure what about exactly. The first two years I was a slug. Went to work, came home, ate, cleaned up, went to bed and got up to do it all again the next day.
    Take it one day at a time. Don’t rush anything. Talk, take notes, listen. It sucks, pure and simple. I did have my sister and a very good Brother in the Lord around me. My sister and I got closer than ever and the same for my Brother.
    Peace.

    DaveO

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 9:34 am #

      Dave, I’m so sorry about your wife 🙁 That sluggish behaviour was just how I handled myself after my mum died: I was numb and couldn’t even begin to process how drastically my life had changed. Strangely, the very fact that I’ve already lost one parent means this time feels very different, as I know how that part of the grieving process can be (although I’m sure this will be its own process yet again!). But you’re right – taking it one day at a time, and learning to be present during each of those days, is a valuable tool. Thanks for reminding me of that 🙂

  15. Leah September 8, 2017 at 1:58 am #

    Please don’t ever stop writing. It will be a source of healing for you long after your dad is gone, just as it is now. I’m so sorry to hear what you’re going through and respect so much your dedication to this moment that needs your attention. Travel will always be there. ❤️❤️❤️

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 9:30 am #

      Oh Leah, thanks so much <3

  16. veena September 8, 2017 at 2:38 am #

    I don’t have anything profound to say, but I am keeping you in my thoughts while you go through this difficult time and I hope you and your dad can both find peace soon. Your writing continues to be moving, and I hope it brings you some solace and some clarity. Sending hugs from Memphis xx

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 9:29 am #

      Thanks so much Veena 🙂 Profound isn’t always necessary: it’s amazing enough to just feel like a community of people are supporting me through this xx

  17. Torre DeRoche September 8, 2017 at 3:59 am #

    Please keep writing. Beyond the fact that it is so good for you to keep cleansing yourself in this way, some of us find a great deal of comfort in these honest and hard angles. Some people need companionship in the dark. xoxox

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 10:06 am #

      Thanks Torre <3 I'm gaining a deeper understanding of that need every day right now xx

  18. Kristine Li September 8, 2017 at 4:26 am #

    Very sorry to hear about your Dad’s condition. It’s good that you’re honouring your feelings and keeping it so real. We’ll still read, even if your article will not appear on Google via SEO. Writing brings you comfort at difficult times like this. Hang on and do what you can for him and for yourself. Take care and wishing you the best, Flora.

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 10:06 am #

      Thank you so much Kristine 🙂

  19. frederick hayward September 8, 2017 at 8:00 am #

    Dear Flora Thank you for your blog at this time. I went to a prayer Meeting last night and I mentioned your name in my prayers and those there prayed for you and your Dad.Along life`s way loved ones have died .I do believe in a life after this one.Grief is a personal thing .When my lovely Dad and Mum died it was hard to deal with.,you are in my thoughts and prayers. Regards Frederick

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 10:09 am #

      Frederick, this made me cry! Thank you so much for including us both in your prayer meeting – that’s such a beautiful gesture <3

  20. Jennifer Campbell September 8, 2017 at 6:54 pm #

    Dear Flora, I just discovered your blog today. I’m a 51 year old wife and mother of 3 who has a daughter living in Thailand. So your exceptional, award-winning article was shared with her and also printed for my 9th grader to read and learn from. We home-schooled the youngest for the last 3 years and traveled to about 25 countries during that time, so we completely understand your love of travel. Then, I saw your post about your dad. And cried. Then the link to your post about your mom. And cried harder. And wanted to hug you and invite you to Omaha, Nebraska. And wrote the Thailand daughter (who’s moving to London) to maybe look you up and make SURE you had a hug on Christmas. I took care of my dad while he was dying. Mom had already passed away years before. I haven’t cried in a long time. You helped me grieve a little. I needed it, even after all these years. I’ll say a prayer for you every time you come to mind in the next days, weeks and months. As a mom, I can tell you that deep down, we just want our children to feel loved and know how to love. Your grief shows that you’ve been loved and you know how to love….

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 10:27 am #

      Jennifer, what a wonderful thing to read 😀 I’m so sorry about the deaths of your parents but knowing you’ve found a little bit of peace from this article is really soothing.

      I’m also extremely humbled that you’ve been printing off my writing for your family!! I promise whenever I make it to Nebraska I’ll drop by :p

  21. Pauline Susanto September 8, 2017 at 7:03 pm #

    Hi Flora,

    I’m so sorry about your dad’s condition. You probably only know me through these rare comments, but please know that I am praying for you, so that you have strength to walk the way, and that you continue to hope steadfastly even when your heart is breaking into a million pieces.

    Sincerely,
    Pauline

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 10:29 am #

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Pauline 🙂

  22. Aaron Philips September 9, 2017 at 8:36 pm #

    Flora,

    I wish that I could relate and send some words of comfort, but the truth is that so far in life, I’ve been lucky enough to not experience the grief or loss of a loved one. We all know that facing death, whether it be our own or that of a loved one, is a matter of time. Not if, but when. I believe that you recognizing and vocalizing your impending, inevitable loss that you will soon face is not only incredibly brave, but that it will help you immensely in your overall grieving process.

    Do not fear losing your ability to write. As you said with such conviction, you are a writer (and a damn good one, at that) and I don’t believe that that will change. It is a part of who you are. It has opened the eyes of many people to the countless fantastic places that you’ve treavelled, and now it will come to your aid when you need it the most to cope with this loss. Be strong, you will make it through this. I look forward to reading more of your fantastic writing.

    Aaron

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 10:32 am #

      Thanks so much Aaron! I’m obviously glad you’ve never had to deal with a situation like this – but you’re right that recognising and facing what’s happening can only be a help to the overall process. And thanks for your words of encouragement about my writing, too 🙂

  23. abetterman21 September 11, 2017 at 9:32 am #

    Great post. Believe in yourself.

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 10:29 am #

      Thank you 🙂

  24. Katie Pope September 18, 2017 at 2:02 am #

    You are a writer, pure and simple. I know because your words gave me a knot in my throat, a momentary portal into your life even though I’ve never gone through anything like you’re experiencing. I only recently discovered your blog and can’t wait to read more – it’s an example of everything I aspire to in my own (still lackluster) storytelling. Thank you.

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 10:35 am #

      Katie, this was such a gorgeous comment to read 🙂 I’m so, so glad that you feel that way when reading this – and that you bothered to tell me, too! Best of luck with your own storytelling & writing process xx

  25. Listen to Your Mother September 19, 2017 at 4:52 pm #

    Flora, I’m a writer but death has changed the way I write. It’s a challenge for me to stay positive after having lost both my parents but I force myself now to see the Bigger Picture. That life and love are always here and always in the Now. When I was a kid I kind of arrogantly and tragically as well as sadly thought my family would never die. I know…right…a true desperate fairy tale borne out of child abuse but one thing for sure, my emotions have opened up and from confronting death I have been able to reach out and feel my kinship with the Family of Man. We have so much in common more so than apparent differences that I pray we can connect to each other and offer support. So I send you connection and support, friend.

    • Flora September 20, 2017 at 10:38 am #

      Thanks so much for your connection and support! xx

  26. Kali September 21, 2017 at 7:12 am #

    it seems the dad`s house bring you the best memories! That`t great you feel positive being at home!

  27. Helene September 27, 2017 at 9:07 pm #

    Dear Flora,
    I finally got down to read it. Beautifuly written as always. I haven’t lived lived what you lived (death of a mom) & a father’s terminal illness, but I can only imagine. I’m sending you extra strength. (Hoping I’m not too late!) Not good with words but I’m thinking of a photo I’ve made. I’ll tag you on FB. It’s personal to me but it also fits your present situation. Hugs,
    Helene

  28. Sunny @ Same Day Taj Mahal Trip October 20, 2017 at 12:22 pm #

    Lovely trip experience the travel blog.

  29. Barbie October 26, 2017 at 4:29 pm #

    So glad to have found your wonderful writing. Sue would be so proud. My thoughts are with you at this sad time.love Barbie

  30. BB November 3, 2017 at 9:11 am #

    Dear Flora, first of all I have to say I found your blog recently and I started reading from the beginning . It was to some kind like reading about myself! We are pretty similar and reading about your adventures did help me a lot these days. I did loose my dad last year, and I am still struggling some days as he was my best friend… I were working at the UN in Geneva and I left everything to take care of him, and yes, It is extremely hard to see people you love vanishing slowly .
    I am now 26 and trying to find my place in the world. However, I send you strength and loads of love from Spain.
    You’re invited to come If you might use the peace of a seaside village to put in order your feelings and start writing your wonderful book 🙂
    Un abrazo fuerte y aguanta guapa!
    BB

Leave a Reply to Mike Cotton (@MikeCjourno) Cancel reply