A Death At Home

A Death At Home.

Tim had just turned 18 years of age, and is the older son of three siblings. Together with his mother, Joan, they had been looking after his father, Homer, at home for the past 9 months. Joan was still holding on to a full time job as a high school teacher, while Homer had been on unpaid leave since a recurrence of his carcinoma a year ago. In between accompanying his father for his hospital appointments in the preceding year, Tim was also caught up preparing for his ‘A’ Level exams towards the end of the year. Homer was 56 years old and had been a tobacco smoker nearly all his adult life. When his third stage nasal cancer was discovered seven years earlier, he underwent emergency surgery and chemotherapy. The disease went into remission for six years thereafter, but returned with a vengeance; spreading rapidly throughout his system. Despite further treatment, the cancer did not abate and his doctors’ prognosis was grim. When Tim came for counselling, the family was anticipating Homer’s demise in the following months. His father had refused admission into any care facility and had chosen to spend his last months at home. Palliative oversight care came from an ex-classmate of Homer, a family doctor, who would drop by twice a week to monitor his condition. By this time, Homer was unable to do anything for himself, and Tim assisted Joan in performing all the necessary daily feeding, cleaning, and bodily ministrations. The level of stress was etched all over Tim’s appearance and posture.

Surprisingly, Tim showed no emotions as he related the circumstances at home, despite the imminent death of his father. In fact, he told no one about it until one of his church friends bumped into him one day at the hospital, as he accompanied his father. No one at his school knew about his predicament. A bout of tests surfaced that Tim was in depression, and had literally buried his emotions beneath a silent surface, in order to cope with his father’s ailment and his ensuing exams. Needless to say that at some point in the future a probable eruption of one kind or another may take place, or his depressive state will worsen, if Tim remained bottled-up!

Three month before his 6th Form National Exams, Homer’s condition suddenly took a turn for the worse. His pain became excruciating, and his doctor friend appeared twice a day to administer morphine. Nevertheless, his father’s groans could be heard throughout some nights, keeping Tim and Joan awake. Unable to sleep, Tim wandered into his father’s room and would sit by him, holding his father’s hand, till both fell asleep. It was during a few of these sleepless sessions that his father began to talk about his early childhood days back in pre-communist China, in between bouts of long and painful silences. Tim never knew much about his extended family in China, as Homer never brought it up. As Tim related these story-telling incidents in the counselling sessions, the first indications of him connecting with his emotions began to surface; choking on his tears became a regular occurrence. He became more congruent with his feelings about looking after his father’s daily needs and what his death would mean for him. There was no doubt that this daily care-giving had taken a toll on his preparation for a critical exam. The cumulative stress on his ability to cope was overwhelming for an 18 year old.

Two weeks before his exams, Homer passed on.