Back in late 2019 I was supporting my dad by taking him to Southampton General for his weekly check-ups at Oncology.
When a person is on a clinical trial, particularly someone you love and care for deeply, these visits are especially difficult.
Every week it would get harder for dad, and we had to develop new routines with wheelchairs, car parks and drop-offs. Somehow though, when you must do these things, you dig-deep and find the resolve to get things done!
The final waiting room we would visit would be that of the Specialist consultant who was Managing Dad’s trial. We would most often see his Colleague, a Chinese Lady who my dad adored and had a manner so kind that she would always make us smile.
On a Tuesday these appointments were often delayed as the Specialist team had a briefing with the top Consultants. Dad and I became accustomed to this and had a routine….. of sorts.
We would get to where we needed to be, and I would read while Dad would get as comfortable as possible and perhaps take a nap to conserve some energy. One thing I could always count on was that if he had the energy, Dad would make a friend!
The people I always felt for were those who attended the visits on their own. Dad must have felt the same too (although we never discussed it) as we would both always make a point of saying hello to others in the waiting room.
I remember one Tuesday morning particularly well. I was struggling. Dad was now so thin and weak that he couldn’t walk. It was also increasingly difficult to help him get comfortable in the wheelchair. Consequently, I was more frustrated than normal that the appointments were running behind.
Showing frustration was not appropriate, as everyone in the room was having to demonstrate the same patience. So, Dad and I would check in on each other with a wink, small smile, or another subtle gesture.
The waiting room was getting a little busier than normal, sat opposite from us were a Mother and Daughter. The Mum was frail and clearly in pain in her wheelchair, the daughter struck me as a lovely person and seemed to be glowing while she cared for her Mum.
I can’t remember how, but Dad and I ended up discussing sweets. Probably as we were starting to get hungry! Dad mentioned that he fancied some Jelly Babies and I said I would pick some up later, perhaps after we had got home.
At that point the frail lady opposite us looked up and smiled as she said:
‘I bite their heads off!’
‘Sorry?’ said Dad.
‘I bite their heads off’ repeated the old lady……. ‘Jelly Babies, I bite their heads off!’
She smiled broadly as she made her point.
‘Oh’ said Dad as he burst out laughing……. It was a lovely moment.
It must have taken the lady all her energy reserves to talk to us, but that moment was hilarious and changed the atmosphere in the room.
The Ladies daughter started to laugh and suddenly we were all smiling. So were all the other people in the room with us.
We made some small talk with the daughter and then Dad took his nap while I read my book and distracted myself in the normal fashion.
Time continued to pass slowly, and it was clear that we were going to be there for some time. I popped to the vending machine and grabbed a hot chocolate (all tough guys drink hot chocolate 😊).
When I returned, I checked on Pops and then prepared to return to my book. Then the daughter opposite us came back into the room. I hadn’t noticed her leave, but she had left her Mum in the care of her husband while she popped out. On her return she smiled broadly at me and reached into the bag she was carrying from the hospital shop.
At that point she pulled out two bags of Jelly Babies, one for her Mum and one for my Dad. It was a lovely thing to do, and she blushed as we thanked her.
Both patients weak and frail then dug into their Jelly Babies. Dad ate his conventionally while our new friend delighted in the theatre of beheading the candy with a smile….. It was funny!
I can’t remember anything else about that visit, except how happy those sweets made my Dad. He told everyone that story. It was a wonderful example of simple kindness.
I think it was a wonderful demonstration of Empathy.
I have a friend who shared with me a theory.
He says that when someone you care for deeply passes away, they gift you a part of them.
He believes that this gift could be a certain behaviour or quality. I think it is a lovely thing to believe!
When I ponder this idea, I am not clear on how this may manifest. Perhaps it is as simple as in missing your loved one (and therefore often thinking of them and their qualities), somehow you are more demonstrative of these traits yourself? …… Who knows? I am certainly no expert……
But, ….. I do know this…
Since my Dad passed away I have missed him dearly. However, I feel enriched by many of the experiences we shared in his last few months.
I certainly feel more connected to those around me, and I try to empathise with everyone as best I can.
Six months back I heard that a Karate Senior of mine had suffered a stroke and was hospitalised with massive up-hill challenges ahead.
Having witnessed the battles that faced my Dad and similarly seen another of my Friends rehabilitate after breaking his back, I instantly felt for Mark and wished him a full recovery (somehow a speedy-one felt unsympathetic).
Mark and I have not always shared the same point of view (this is healthy in Martial Arts) but we both love karate, share the same sources of our karate inspiration and we both genuinely care about our students!
I have witnessed supreme bravery on Mark’s part in sharing his rehabilitation publicly online to help motivate his students and doubtlessly himself! It takes a tonne of courage for a senior martial artist to publicly demonstrate vulnerability! I am sure he will prove an inspiration to countless people as a result.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of teaching at Marks Newport Dojo and it was an honour to lead the classes for him.
As I learnt in the waiting room with my Dad, it is the small gestures that count and a random funny can brighten up everyone’s day.
Treasure your health, support your friends and loved ones and if you are eating Jelly Babies…..
‘Bite their heads off!’.