I don’t know how to start this really. Not even sure I want to post about it – it’s so sad. Still, it’s so present, so important, and such an extreme example of where exercising the freedom that is so crucial to my survival now (see: Kids & Joy & Selfish Me) is at odds with the other things happening in my life.

Very sadly, my step-dad is dying. He has had Alzheimer’s for many years – early onset dementia which he was diagnosed with in his 60’s – but was up and walking about until a couple of weeks ago when he contracted a chest infection – pneumonia. It seems to have taken a hold of him and his death is expected any day – in all likelihood over the next couple of weeks.

However over the last 10 days it hasn’t been clear which way it would go. It looked like he may succumb, and then like he may recover from the pneumonia more than once. Through trying to support my mum I was also thinking that I just didn’t know what to do about this trip I had planned – to Mexico for 3.5 weeks, leaving on 12th Dec – a trip that was so important to me for my ongoing recovery from my relationship breakdown, for the new path of discovery that I am now on.

At first I said – I want to know if he dies, I want to come home. But I woke early the next morning laid awake in bed, thoughts churning in my head & feeling awful for thinking – ‘I don’t want to have to come home from this trip of a lifetime. I want to say goodbye and to be here, and equally I don’t want to have to come home’. I just couldn’t reconcile the 2 things and just didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t look forward to, plan for, shop for, travel all that way for a trip I may have to abandon at any point.

I devised a plan that they would contact me at certain points during the trip with updates so that I could at least prepare myself, and also think strategically about at which points I could get flights back home depending on where I was.

I spoke with my (biological) dad about it, loving and supportive as any daughter could wish, and completely committed to my happiness. He says things that make it all OK – puts my feelings in context and validates them. He said ‘this trip is really important for your recovery’, which I hadn’t thought of in that way until he said it but it’s true. It’s also true that logistically I would need to wait another year to do it again if I had to, by which time I may not have the job I now have, that allows me to work and travel.

After a few days – whatever people may think of me, and I did feel selfish for this – I had decided in my head that I probably wouldn’t come back even if he died while I was away. I felt bad, and didn’t want to tell this to my mum and reveal my decision. Also, it’s possible I wouldn’t have to so there wasn’t any point at this stage. But I had been thinking about it non –stop, completely conflicted by it, and it was the only way I could look forward to, let alone bring myself to actually get up and prepare for my trip. It had begun to really get me down, and a couple of days I was finding it hard to get the motivation to get out of bed and get on with the day. I had to act still as if I was going to go, and deciding that I would commit to the trip completely was the only way I could find to do that. Though I was feeling like not the nicest person, and worrying about a horrible scenario in which I would have to tell my mum from abroad that I wouldn’t be coming back for his funeral.

To my relief, my mum – gracious, understanding, loving woman that she is brought it up with me again just 3 days ago as we were at his bedside (he is no longer aware of his surroundings – very thin, weak and sleeps most of the time). She said she would completely understand if I didn’t come home if he died. I felt overwhelmed by this –  relief that I wasn’t an awful person. Love and gratitude towards my mum, for being so understanding, so magnanimous, so strong. And of course grief then thinking these may be the last few times I spent with my step-dad.

I wanted to be there to say goodbye but in reality I have been saying goodbye to him for a while – we all have, and especially the last few days. I say goodbye now every time I see him, it’s a very sad time.

I’m concerned of course about the support for my mum if I was away, even though there would be lots of others about. ‘I want to be able to be there for you mum’ I said. ‘You are here for me’, she replied, ‘you have been here for me and you’re here with me now’.


It is now Sunday and I have just came back from seeing him. He is so thin now, just skin and bone; you could wrap your hand around his thigh where strong muscle used to be. On seeing him mum says ‘This is the worst I’ve seen him’. Then, ‘he loved this song’ as it comes on the radio – a classical Bach piece I think. And in my head I’m having second thoughts, thinking ‘I can’t leave now can I? With him like this? It seems he could die within the next few hours. I can’t go home then go out dancing this evening as I had planned, then get on a plane tomorrow to the other side of the world tomorrow – can I??’.

I say this to mum and she says ‘I want to think of you out there, having fun, living your life’. ‘Life affirming’ I say. ‘Yes’. Doing it precisely because there is this horrible shit that happens, and what else is there to do? Like dancing later, like going on a big exciting trip – we must do these things, as an anathema to the shit stuff – which again is something I’m almost 100% committed to, though this one for obvious reasons has proved much more of a dilemma.

Then he opens his eyes and as he is facing the other way, mum moves round the bed and speaks his name in the most affectionate, comforting voice. ‘Darling? You’re not feeling too well are you? You’re looking a bit shit I have to say’ (I should explain that my mum has a wonderful, affectionate and reassuringly comic way of handling these situations sometimes and this is one example – don’t in any way get the idea this was a cruel thing to say, it was completely the perfect and delivered with the utmost love and affection. Please understand also that he has been sick for a very long time and she has had many years day in, day out to adjust to the situation).

The sight of them there together – she looking into his eyes, he into hers – but seeing? who knows, – is too much for me. I am crying and mum comes over to comfort me ‘I can’t stay in here mum, I’m sorry!’. ‘Oh, don’t be sorry darling, you’ve nothing to apologise for. Stand up so I can hug you properly’. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t even remove my hands from my face. ‘Its just heartbreaking’ I say. ‘It is heartbreaking’.

I manage to get up,  kiss my step dad – a final goodbye I suppose – and walk out the room. I stop outside and mum comes to see me again, offering to leave with me and give me a lift home, but its a clear sunny day and I decide to walk through the park.

One thought on “Dilemma

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