“TIME AND TIDE WAITS FOR NO MAN”. (Continued from previous blog.)

And there is another important lesson for all of us to learn here. I remember returning home from university during undergraduate days at the commencement of vacation, about two years after my father had died. At the time of his passing, my mother was consumed by sorrow as she set foot on her tortuous and lonely road of personal grief. When I arrived home on the occasion in question, my mother appeared brighter and more her ‘old self again. For my part I was, of course, delighted to see such improvement and so I ventured the question, “Do you feel you are beginning to get over the loss of Dad?” What had I said? I can tell you that my mother (who was busily preparing tea at the time) stopped and visibly stiffened. There she stood in her delightful diminutive form, yet ‘towering’ over me, both hands holding on to the living room table. “Get over?” “Get over?” She repeated, with a look that pierced my very soul. “It is well to see that you are not married” (as indeed I wasn’t at that time) “or you would never ask such a question!” I couldn’t speak, other than to hug her, whispering through my own tears, “I’m so sorry”. Then, as all mothers do, she quickly relented and was, as ever, gentle, loving and forgiving. Indeed, there followed (quite literally) hours of enjoyable and enlightening (for me) discussion – all ‘washed down’, as I remember it now, with seemingly endless pots of tea. In the wake of a cancer illness – which, as we have seen, can also be a major cause of grief – things are decidedly not as they were before. Moreover, if for a moment I have made it appear all rather easy and predictable, then I have failed dismally in the task I set myself in writing to you. Indeed, if I could leave just one thought with all of those who work at the ‘coal face’ of cancer patient care and support, it would be this. Whilst it is wholly desirable and right to seek to limit and where feasible repair the physical damage caused by malignancy, with surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, appropriate dental treatment or whatever; it is also surely part of our remit to own and respond genuinely and caringly to the savage disruption and trauma that both the disease and its treatment inflicts on truly needy individuals. Again and again over the years I have seen patients ‘light up’ at the very thought of a particular member of health care staff, be they a junior doctor or a ward sister, a consultant or a physiotherapist, a ward auxiliary or a voluntary worker: some spontaneous remark about “his gentle touch”, “her lovely smile”, “her willingness to listen”, “his caring manner”, all bear witness to a “job well done”. It isn’t rocket science but for the person concerned who is facing a crisis, it is far more relevant to need and precious than that. As one patient described it to me, “She makes me feel like a person and not just a number on a case sheet”. Here surely is a pristine example of “evidence-based” psychosocial care and support at its very best. What then can one meaningfully say to anyone undergoing the pressures associated with those mind-states which I have touched upon over the course of this blog? Well in the first place, don’t just ‘bottle it up’ in the hope that it will, of itself, gradually fade away. I know we say – and with good reason – that “time is a great healer”. But it is what we do with that time, i.e. how we either just ‘fritter it away’ or use it imaginatively and productively, that really matters. Find someone with whom you feel comfortable and are at ease and whose judgement you trust. You may have to be a little more proactive in this regard and this, of itself, is no bad thing. Remember too that given the increasing number of professional services now available, e.g. CancerMacmillen and others beside, help is only a ‘phone call away. Then there is the support already offered in these letters, e.g. “Living a Day at a Time”, “Positive thinking: Power or Parody?” and other “…Relaxation and Healing” letters. In my next blog I want, if I may, to refer, albeit briefly, to one other – for some more than others – powerful “wave of recovery”, i.e. a sense of unerring purpose and meaning in life. This may or may not enshrine a formal religious commitment and creed. Nevertheless, there is, as we shall see, increasing evidence not only from what we might call “intuitive feel” but also nowadays from research designed to explore especially the relationship between meaning in life and psychosocial well-being, of a positive correlation between the two which at least, makes for interesting – and hopefully, productive – reading. (C) SB.

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