We had some unexpected bad news from the family yesterday. My stepfather has been in the hospital for close to a week with something that they were thinking was a type of infection that would clear up with treatment but yesterday became (with a 99% certainty) the big C. (and not the benign kind). He’s in surgery as I type. On the one hand it’s great that they got him in so quickly, but it’s also never a good sign when they feel they need to move that aggressively.
I missed my Mum’s phone call yesterday because I was out all day at a conference (and giving an incredibly cobbled together paper that apparently managed to look coherent and convincing, go figure). Q. told me the news when I got home. I called my Mum, even though it was late, and talked things through with her. I had already said earlier in the week that I could go home whenever if I could be useful, but then, and again last night, she insisted that was unnecessary. E. has croup at the moment, so Q. and I have our hands full looking after him, but it’s reading week here which always means we’re under a bit less pressure.
After I spoke with my Mum I tossed and turned in bed for a while until I realized I wasn’t going to be able to get to sleep right away. I needed time to process things. So I got up, trundled downstairs, and texted my sisters, both of whom now live on the west coast of the USA and so were only part of the way into their evening.
We all linked up via a g.oogle hangout where they told me that they’d already had a chat and my youngest sister was getting on the first flight out the next morning to fly home. They didn’t want my Mum to be alone during the surgery, or to be without support afterwards.
I felt about a billion times better when they told me that’s what they had decided. My Mum didn’t really protest the decision, which means that’s really what she wanted too but just wouldn’t ask for. My sister won’t make it back before the surgery because they’ve been so quick at getting him into an OR, but she’ll be there later tonight.
I am, however, having a hard time with this. I am the eldest. I am the closest in terms of geography. In my mind, I am the one who should be there. I have always, always felt an enormous sense of responsibility towards my family. It was something my therapist commented on when I was living in the UK, reading for my MPhil, and clinically depressed. I think it stems from being the eldest child in a family where we moved a lot and our parents split up. At some point I decided I was responsible for looking after my siblings as well as myself. Now I feel it should extend to my parents.
Two years ago I would have been on a train home the moment I first learned he was going into the hospital. It was reading week. I wasn’t teaching this semester anyway. I had no major deadlines and could pull the conference paper I gave yesterday. Easy.
Except now, of course, it wasn’t easy.
Now there’s E.
I can’t leave E. and go without him because Q. is teaching this semester (a really heavy load) and we don’t have any sort of daycare lined up since we’re used to juggling him between us.
I can’t bring E. either. I can’t think of a more useless support person for someone who needs to spend hours in a hospital than someone arriving with a TODDLER in tow.
I could stay in their house with E. (did you see I called it ‘home’ up there? That was instinctive, even though I am more likely these days to call ‘home’ the house I share with Q. and with E.), keep it tidy, look after the cats, make nutritious meals. But I can’t keep my Mum company for ten hours a day in the hospital.
My sister, however, can. And when she needs to go back to get back to work, my other sister, who has holiday time she needs to take before her contract resets in April and she loses those days (which is frankly barbaric) is planning to come in, after the surgery, once my stepfather is back at home, to help out.
I am so grateful that they are able to do this.
I am struggling a lot that it is something I cannot easily do myself.
My stepsister, who has two children, one a year older than E. and the other a year younger, and who lives in a different province, must be feeling exactly the same way.
I called my stepfather before he went into surgery and managed to have a brief chat with him. I apologized for not being able to just hop on a plane and get there. “You come with excess baggage now,” he told me, souped up on morphine. “I love your excess baggage. Give that little guy a kiss for me.”
It’s true. I cannot drop everything as easily as I once could. I have new responsibilities and a family that I have built that sometimes must take precedence over my family of birth. And while I logically recognize that even though I could go now and take E. with me it would make no sense whatsoever, I am still struggling with feeling guilty about staying here. I feel like I’m abdicating the role I’ve felt I’ve needed to occupy in my family for as long as I can remember.
And it is hard for me to grasp that my baby sister, who has been known to need the odd bailout from her older siblings on a variety of matters, has grown up so much and so far that she can now be the one to drop everything, to get on the plane, to sit and wait with our mother. I’m enormously proud of her and impressed that she and my other sister thought everything through so neatly and decided exactly what I had already decided myself but felt unable to implement.
But I do feel like my world is ever so slightly off-kilter as a result.
And now, we all wait.
Please universe, let the news from yesterday be the worst of it.