Life and death in Hong Kong
This is the sign I see on a daily basis ever since being released from quarantine. The daily trip to hospital is one of routine mixed with complex emotion. Every visit is largely similar, sitting beside my father for several hours as he sleeps. He rarely wakes to talk but when he does it lasts a matter of seconds or a few short minutes before lapsing back into his sleepy state. This may happen once or twice per visit. Sometimes, he doesn't wake during my visit and I leave with no interaction with him at all. The visits aren't fulfilling but they are important and I'm sure, with hindsight, they'll be memories that will have a particular significance.
In the present, however, it's difficult to encapsulate how I feel about the situation, given the blunt reality that I'm staring at my father's crawl towards death. Well-wishers have texted me to ask me how I am and how my dad is. These seem like simple questions (and, to be clear, I don't mind them) but the answers are not so easy to answer. Naturally, I guess, some days I am stoic and on others I am sobbing in the streets like a maniac. It's not a particularly predictable set of emotions. When you're confronted with a parent in this state, it's difficult to know what to even pray for - neither life nor death feel like alternatives that I wish to consider in too much detail. So, I apologise if my responses haven't been particularly enlightening and are generally quite blasé. For once, I feel a little lost for words to describe how I feel. Or, more accurately, it's difficult to explain the complex combination of resignation, indifference and pre-emptive heart-wrenching grief.
Visually, seeing my father lying permanently in the hospital bed, shredding every last bit of his muscle and flesh and losing his ability to speak is heart-achingly difficult to witness. Having not eaten for weeks now, his frail skeletal body is an uncomfortable sight to see. Naturally, watching a parent deteriorate in a slow and inevitable way is not something that is easy to bear as I struggle to reconcile the memories of my fierce and determined father with the mess of life lying in front of me.
This is an uneducated man that emigrated to the UK in the 1970s and endured and overcame isolation, poverty, racism and setbacks to painstakingly find employment, form friendships, own businesses and ultimately create security and a future for his family from nothing. Without courage, raw intelligence and relentless determination and hard work, this would never have happened. He is a true inspiration for me, genuinely beyond the expected father-son bias. Telling his story and living it partly with him is a truly impressive journey of sacrifice and testimony of overcoming deep adversity. Yet, the man who exhibited those powerful attributes is the same man confined to a bed 24 hours a day and barely able to find strength to drink from a plastic bottle. The difference is stark and surreal and frankly difficult for me to accept.
I'm keen to reiterate that I'm not seeking sympathy, I'd be embarrassed and perhaps ashamed if that is how this post comes across. I know there are people who read this blog who have suffered their own grief and encounters with the terminal illness and death of loved ones. So, I'm sensitive to the fact that everyone's experiences, opinions and feelings are different and mine is just a dot amongst billions. Similarly, I've seen a lot of pain and suffering during my daily visits to the hospital and I struggle to comprehend the amount of consequential pain and suffering for the families of these patients. None of us are in a unique position of suffering, it's just the extent, our individual perspective and our personal level of tolerance to it. Currently, I have a lot of fears that fleetingly haunt me. Fear of the inevitable, fear of receiving the call, fear of not being there, fear of being there, fear of the loneliness that losing a parent brings, fear of indifference, fear of unfathomable grief and many more fears that flicker and fade with every moment in limbo. For the time being, ironically these fears are being stilled by the daily visits to the hospital, because in that moment by his bedside nothing matters and it would be grossly unfair to show him my fears in light of the ones that might be running through his mind. So, for now, we continue to tell his story even though I am afraid to turn the pages.
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