The last paragraph of chapter sixteen

“‘… I’ve had a bad week.’
‘What’s happened?’
‘Nothing’s happened. I’ve had a bad week in my head, is all.'”

(Quotes are from ‘High Fidelity’ by Nick Hornby. Go and read it. And don’t just cheat and watch the film again – it’s good, but the book is better.)

I need to say sorry for such a pathetic breakdown. And I know it’s hard to tell whether I’m still going to be apologetic in a few hours time, or if I’m going to be acting like someone else entirely and suddenly upset for no reason… I can’t help that. There is crazy in my bloodline (The surname Byron isn’t exactly synonymous with sane, good and unhazardous to know), I’ve got a stupid fucking “personality disorder” because I have terrible parents, I have panic disorder with agoraphobia because of I-don’t-know-what, and then there is this: my contribution to the end of my grandad’s life.

Listen to some gospel. This is my all-time, number one, best worst secret. This is also the worst thing I have ever done in my life – and I’ll tell you about the second, as well, just for good measure. I may have to break this down into two parts, but the juicier stuff is in this one.

See, I forgot you don’t know this bit. I’ve been reciting the words over and over in my head for so long now, I’d forgotten this part hadn’t been turned into a story yet. I’ve been painting myself as a victim; an innocent party who wasn’t responsible for any of the events that unfolded. Well… I was responsible for this one and I find it so fucking hard to live with. It makes my heart sore.

It was New Year’s Eve 2006. My grandad had been diagnosed with cancer by then; he knew he was dying. I was doing pretty much everything for him because he went downhill so fast. I don’t want to disgust you with the details, but he needed 24-hour care at this point. When people say that they don’t want to get to that state, to be cleaned and fed and taken to the toilet because they are no longer capable, what they don’t consider is how terrifying it is to have death hovering over your shoulder. You don’t want to die. You’re scared. You’re in pain and everything is awful, but you don’t want to die. You want to live. You want to wake up tomorrow. So you go through the indignities, hoping for a miracle.

I was struggling. I was just shy of 23, and although I had worked in a nursing home for six months when I was 17, nothing had prepared me for this. When it’s your job, you have colleagues and support and protocols in place. We were just alone and suffering.

The timeline here is hazy; I had fallen out with my mum and her boyfriend – yet again – in June of that year when my mum’s boyfriend tried to start a fight with me and got angry and threatened to hit me. He backed down when my grandad, not yet incredibly sick but still frail and shrunken with age, jumped in front of me and threatened to knock him out. He backed down. This is an important point to remember about my mum’s boyfriend. Sometime towards the end of the year, we were on speaking terms again. I know I called my mum once we knew something was wrong with my grandad, because she was still his daughter and family meant something or whatever.

The terrible thing about this is that the thing I’m trying to use as a guidance point for this part of the timeline is my affair with my mum’s boyfriend’s – very married – boss. I was creating him a website; he was trying to woo me by showing off diamonds from Dubai and talk of casinos and helicopters and some guy who used to be on Eastenders. I wasn’t interested in that. He wanted a threesome with me and some other woman. I didn’t understand why he wanted me. He’d send my mum’s boyfriend on errands and we’d fuck in his office, barely sorting ourselves out in time before he came back. And I know he got me a Christmas present, so it was still going on then… I just can’t remember when it began. Never mind.

I fell out with my mum and her boyfriend over Christmas. I forget when we went over, but I’d begged for help from my mum and she said she’d help but only if we went over there. Fine. She then basically put him to bed and left him. I was receiving the same amount of [no] help, but now we were surrounded by total bastards in a place we couldn’t stand. One night – either Christmas Day or Boxing Day, and I forget which because I had taken to feeding my grandad in bed and then just napping next to him until he needed me to wake up for something – he suddenly couldn’t piss anymore. At all. He started swelling up, and panicking. He asked my mum to call an ambulance; my mum said ‘I think you can only call an ambulance for an emergency’ and I called the damn thing myself.

At the hospital, I called my mum. I said he was okay, he had a catheter and they were sending him home. Her boyfriend was in the background saying we had to go back there. My mum repeated the message. I said no, we were going home. She repeated the message back to him. He called me a stupid fucking bitch, and some other stuff which I can’t repeat because I’d already hung up the phone and gone back inside. Was I a stupid fucking bitch? They weren’t helping us, I didn’t see the point in going back.

We went back for New Year’s. I made my mum promise to help. I can’t do this by myself. She promised. She fucking promised, but the same thing happened – except this time it was chest pains. He couldn’t breathe. The paramedics had a terrible time trying to get him down the stairs from the bedroom we had been banished to, and then the Sat-Nav tried to direct the ambulance into the Thames. Somehow we made it to hospital, with ten minutes to spare until midnight. We were in triage when the clock struck 12. The doctors and nurses disappeared briefly to see 2007 in as civilians; my grandad and I held hands – he was half-naked, stuck with squares which connected to things that uncovered information, and I was wearing mascara tears and filthy pink ballet slippers.

They couldn’t figure it out. They said it might have been a blood clot in his lung. They gave him a bed, in the dark, where all the other sick people were already asleep or drugged-up. I asked if I could stay. How would I get home tonight, of all nights? The nurse said she couldn’t give me a bed but handed me a couple of blankets and watched sympathetically as I curled myself up in the uncomfortable visitor’s chair. He slept. I listened to music until my batteries run out.

So. This secret. Look how much I dance around it.

Two days later, normal workdays began, buses started running and phone lines became operational. I visited, took clothes and snuck in nice food. My grandad smiled weakly. ‘They’re sending me home,’ he said. ‘There isn’t anything they can do for me here.’

I remember sitting outside. I think it was sunny, that low winter sun that gives me a migraine and blinds me on the road. I think I had just gone outside for a smoke. I pulled the number of the consultant from the pocket inside my bag, the person who said the genuinely upsetting ‘C’ word at us, and I don’t remember what I said or what they said, but I know I bawled down the phone and said I couldn’t do it alone and no one was helping and could they please find a bed here because I can’t do it.

Because I’m a terrible, awful person. Because I couldn’t even take him home and look after him and let him see out his last days in the bed he’d shared with my nan for so long, even though he’d been the only person who had ever cared about me and genuinely wanted the best for me.

The second worst thing I’ve ever done was going to America while he was in hospital. This possibly sounds even worse out of context. I had met someone – we’ll call him Ryan – and we were in love and even though there was a fucking ocean between us this guy wanted to see me so bad and wanted to hold me through the trauma I was facing that he was willing to take a weekend off from touring and fly me out to see him. And I went. My mum’s boyfriend – in spite of never actually going to the hospital himself – threw this viciously in my face after my grandad died. I responded by spitefully pointing out that my grandad literally, genuinely, only ever refered to him as ‘The Arsehole’ and wouldn’t want him at his fucking funeral anyway.

My grandad begged me to go. He told me I might never get a chance like that again. He knew he wasn’t going to die while I was away.

And that was how I repaid him. You might be reading this thinking, ‘Yeah, but you couldn’t cope. And they have drugs in hospital, and nurses, and it must have been the best place for him…’ but that’s neither the point, nor is it entirely true. I couldn’t cope, but I don’t think I tried hard enough. I should have got some speed and blazed through it, or stopped talking to Ryan when I had a moment spare and our timezones were in sync, or just ANYTHING. I didn’t explore all the options; I assumed they would have told us all our options but all they said was that there was no room at the hospice – perhaps if I’d tried harder to find something then I would have actually found it. As for drugs, I don’t think he really got any. He was in constant pain. Maybe he was too weak for painkillers; maybe Basildon Hospital is full of sadistic bitches. I don’t know.

What I do know is that one day, while I was brushing my grandad’s teeth over the sink on the ward and having a little bit of a cry, one of the old boys on the ward my grandad had been shoved onto (they never figured out where to place him so he went on three or four different wards over those few weeks) came over to me and said that I might need to ask about more painkillers because his moaning and crying was keeping everyone awake. I was taken aback by what I registered as totally inappropriate cruelty, and he noticed this and quickly moved to explain: this sick old man, along with another sick old man on the ward, had been taking it in turns to stay up with my grandad to rub his tummy, to try to give him some kind of human comfort and reprieve from the unending pain.

And that should have been me.

No pain I inflict on myself will ever match the pain I have inflicted on others, no matter how many cuts I make or how many emotional disturbances I manufacture with my interactions with other people.

I never told him that I was the reason he wasn’t allowed to go home.

I am so sorry I tried to distract myself from this with you. You see, when I first started writing all this down, I felt like I had your support, like you gave a fuck. Just as a friend, but all the same… And everyone who has ever given a fuck has inevitably left me, so – in order to protect myself – I do stupid shit like this. You were so nice to me and I don’t believe I deserve it so I performed this epic little show for you. I told you from the start I was awful and that you were way too good to be spending your time talking to me. You were never anything but awesome, and I don’t regret a moment of this… aside from the way I’ve treated you.

In the next installment, I’ll explain how my mum still managed to upstage my rottenness. But I need a couple of days off first.

“I lost the plot for a while then. And I lost the subplot, the script, the soundtrack, the intermission, my popcorn, the credits and the exit sign.”

13 thoughts on “The last paragraph of chapter sixteen

    1. No novel, no… I probably should have written one but I decided to start a blog and it all just ended up coming out on here!

  1. The hospice was to blame. Had you taken him home, he would have no drugs and be suffering, plus alone because you couldn’t be there all the time. At hospice, he had others looking out for him, and he them, in a friendship based on something only those men could understand.

    Cancer was the cause. Not you. He saw you plus got support. His own daughter did nothing. You did so much. You are fine.

    1. I know… BUT… Back then, I didn’t realise that I had such little time left with him and hindsight has made me feel so guilty because I feel like I could have pushed myself to get through those few weeks. I know I wouldn’t have been able to cure the cancer, but I honestly think what I did was unforgivable. I don’t think he would have forgiven me, anyway.

      It was a shitty situation all round, and external – and internal, I suppose – influences were conspiring against us. I just know he would have done so much more for me, had the situations been reversed.

  2. I used to work in death and dying as a social worker. It is impossible for one person to provide 24-hour care. It takes a team. Everyone needs some down time and some personal time when caring for someone who is sick and dying.

    You tried as hard as you could. You provided everything you could for your grandfather. He knew that. He loved you for it. You no longer need to feel as miserable as you do.

    The question is, how much longer do you need to feel this way? When can you let this go and forgive yourself?


    1. It all happened very fast; he was obviously ill with something during late summer/autumn, but it was late November when they found a ‘shadow’ on his lung on the X-ray, December when he was diagnosed with lung cancer, and January when he died. I chatted to people online while he slept, but I didn’t have a chance to even think about taking any more time for myself.

      It’s all the thoughts of ‘What if…’ and ‘If only I…’ that won’t leave me alone. And knowing that he would have probably been heartbroken if he knew I’d asked them to keep him in is the hardest thing of all.

      I have no answer to that question. I don’t feel as though I’m in a position to forgive myself but I never worked out a suitable atonement so it just hangs over me. It’s been almost ten years and I’m not that much further through than I was just after it happened. I’m hoping that writing about it will help. And it has, a little. Something has lifted, ever so slightly.

      1. You might consider trying this, then: write a letter to him and ask him for forgiveness and then write a letter from him to you. And, after ten years, it may be time to talk to a professional councilor someone who specializes in grief.

        I’ll keep reading your blog, though. You’ve got a hell of a story and I’m glad you’re telling it.

        1. I will definitely try that, thank you for the advice! I will need to be in the right frame of mind though… And that’s not me trying to procrastinate, it’s just that I could actually make things worse if I’m feeling negative in any way when I do it. Grief counselling has been mentioned before, and I think I was ineligible for NHS treatment, but I’ll see if I can push for something.
          And thank you for reading! That means so much to me 🙂

          1. Definitely wait for the right frame of mind on the letters. But, I can’t make diagnoses any more and I don’t know enough about you, but it sounds to me like complex grief and possibly PTSD are reasonable grounds. I don’t know what the NHS qualifications are for treatment.

          2. I will, thank you. Ah, the categories are in a bit of a state on here but I tried to write up some of my medical history in the ‘Case study’ category. I’ve seen a psychiatrist, a bunch of psychologists and a psychoanalyst but they’ve all focused on my childhood and the horrible stuff that happened when I still lived with my mum (which is also detailed on here, but it’s all tangled up with other stuff) so the issues with my grandad got overlooked. One person mentioned complicated grief, but I had to research it myself. My actual diagnoses were: borderline personality disorder, panic disorder with agoraphobia, past history of Anorexia Nervosa, and substance and alcohol abuse.

            NHS referrals depend on where you live and what’s wrong with you, but the only thing I’ve ever seen that’s meant to be useful for BPD is DBT and every time I’ve enquired, the GP hasn’t even heard of it!

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