On Death, Regret and the Future of Hope

It’s two in the morning here in Osaka and I should be sleeping. I have a busy day tomorrow and a lot to do, but sleep is waiting in a distant time zone for me tonight. I’ve been restless all day and even hours of physical exertion have failed to calm my mind.

Today is, was, an anniversary of sorts. A complex, messy affair of an anniversary that only adds to the regret. Exactly a year ago today marks the day when I returned to England after being away for more than 7 years. I should have arrived a week, or maybe two, earlier, but I made my excuses.

This day a year ago was the day of my older brother’s wedding. I should have been there, but I wasn’t. My mum and dad should have been there, too, but they never made it either. Two days before, on the Friday night, my father had suffered a massive heart attack. By the time I arrived early Sunday evening he had had another two or three attacks and had had an operation to insert a balloon into his heart to keep it beating. By the time I got to the hospital he was unable to speak most likely having suffered some form of stroke. He was awake though, agitated and restless, very disorientated but aware enough to recognise a son he hadn’t seen in more than seven years.

At that point I’d probably been awake more than 36 hours, it was getting late, I was bone tired, and yet I chose to stay with my father as my mother and younger brother went to get some sleep. It was the very least I could having been away for so long, besides that my father had been in a constant state of agitation for which the doctors could seemingly do nothing and so it had fallen to the nurses to take turns holding my father down so that he didn’t move so much and rip out the lines and equipment he was hooked up to. For 7, 8, 9 hours maybe more I held him down having only a few minutes in the night were he would calm down enough to release my grip. There were a few minutes when he would stop and then focus on me, really focus, and even though he couldn’t talk he knew I was there and he was listening to every word I was saying. I can’t recall what I said to him though I have the memory of trying to think what I should say, what words I should choose. Where to start when I’d seen him maybe only two or three times and spoken over the phone only handful of times in fourteen years?
The following day, Monday, he was put into a medically induced coma as his ceaseless agitation was doing nothing to help him. That night, in the ‘family room’ of the intensive care unit, the doctor laid it all out. I nodded my head as I took in every word and felt absolutely nothing. Five minutes later, on our way back to the ward, I experienced what I can only describe as the most profound and utter despair. It was the single most horrendous experience I have ever had, and words just cannot express how fortunate I was to have both my mum and younger brother beside me when it happened.

My dad died just as the sun was coming up on that Tuesday morning, the three of us by his side, holding him, talking to him as he went. My older brother and his new wife arriving only a handful of minutes later after making a mad dash across the country by car.

So, what’s the point of all this?

I find myself talking to my dad now more than I ever did when he was alive. In dreams mainly, at first they were flat out nightmares from which I would wake sweating my heart beating wildly, but these days we’re all just like a family again and I remember him the way he was in my teens.

Oftentimes I find myself getting angry at him, why? Because as I said to him in the last few hours, I wasn’t expecting to be there, having that talk, feeling those feelings and having those regrets for another twenty or thirty years.

My father was only 60. When the doctor first examined him he thought my father was in his mid-seventies. A lifelong chain smoker, it had been almost impossible for the doctors and nurses to find veins and arteries, to insert needles into. By the time I got there many areas of his skin were black and discoloured where they had tried and failed to insert IVs and needles. His body was a mess long before he come to be in the hospital. He had suffered a minor stroke a few years before that I had only learned about a couple of years after the fact because he didn’t want me to know. There are many other instances I can recall but won’t mention and all of them, all of them completely preventable.

As I sat there in the hospital I thought about how medicine and technology simultaneously so advanced yet horrifyingly basic and inadequate. We can do so much and we should be able to do so much better.

It didn’t have to end that way. It shouldn’t have ended that way. And that’s one reason why I created this site. My dad knew, at least to a large extent, that smoking was destroying his body, he even tried to give up once but started up again after he almost severed a finger at a barbecue. I recently think about how different life would be now if he managed to give them up. My mother used to smoke, too, but she gave up in the late 80’s and today, despite having lived with my father’s second-hand smoke for decades, is still in rude health.

I’m really hoping that in the next few years pioneers like Aubrey de Grey make some serious breakthroughs in terms of regenerative medicine and technology, but in the meantime there are lots of things we can do, in the here and now, to improve our health, our lives and the chances of living very very long and healthy lives. There is so much science, so much knowledge that can be applied right now, to help, improve and even save lives and it doesn’t involve expensive drugs or treatments, nor doctors for the most part only some time and a willingness to be open to change and new ideas.

It’s 4:09am now, I’ve been writing this for a year and two hours and still barely scratched the surface of what I meant to convey. It’s not what I imagined it would be but things rarely ever are. Sometimes it’s better to go with what you have now then to put it off and tell yourself you’ll do better in the future.

it’s late now and I should sleep. I have a lot to day today.

mum and dad
Geoff Morris senior. Mum and Dad at my younger brother’s wedding

 

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