Priorities

This post is written for Fandango’s One-Word Challenge (FOWC), amount.

My mum and dad both died in 2012 (separately). My dad has a sister, who is now in her early/mid seventies. She emigrated to Australia back in 1970, when I was just a toddler. She got married out there and remains there to this day. I have three cousins who I’ve never met. I do, at least, keep in touch with the aunt via a weekly email exchange.

My mum was the middle one of three. She had an elder sister, and a younger brother. I haven’t seen the brother since I was a teenager – actually he is an interesting guy because he was a lowly market trader, who one day had an epiphany moment (think St. Paul!) and then became a church minister! I’ll tell you more about him one day, but this post isn’t about him.

My auntie – my mum’s elder sister – is somebody with whom I have been in regular contact, especially since my mum died. She was born three years before my mum, and is 79 now. She lives up in Greater Manchester – halfway up the country from me, about a five-hour drive.

Since the stroke, my own mobility has of course been restricted – I posted about this all the time, especially a couple of years ago – and I have not been able to visit her. We make do with a phone call every couple of weeks. When I last spoke to her she hadn’t been feeling well. Her eyes had been hurting, her head was aching, etc. I made sure I called her daily for a few days, as things eventually wore off. She has a daughter (my cousin) who still lives nearby, so I’m not really the primary contact anyway.

A week ago, the cousin contacted me, to say that my auntie had been taken into hospital. Where I’d laid off calling her for a couple of days because I thought she was getting better, she’d actually become bad enough to be admitted to hospital. All I could really do was to call her daily. When I spoke to her, there was a noticeable difference – she had become very anxious about things. She was convinced that she had done something, and that this was her punishment. She was convinced that her cellphone had been tapped, so she would not speak for long. Imagine the secuity services analysing those phone taps – what juicy material our conversations must have been 🙂. She apologised for even knowing me, in case it had somehow jinxed me. But, to her this was all real, and nothing anybody said could convince her otherwise. I mean, it sounded very stroke-like to me, almost a switch flicking in her brain. I wouldn’t claim to be an expert, though, and in my years volunteering with stroke survivors, I never came across anything like that. She did have an MRI scan which didn’t reveal anything – but I took that with a pinch of salt because mine was negative too, and now look at me!

Anyway, Fandango issued the prompt of amount, and I’m getting there. It won’t have escaped your notice that there is a little health scare going on at the moment. In the UK, the peak is expected in the next 2 weeks, and the NHS is preparing for it by kicking as many people out of the hospitals as they can.

This can mean things like cancer patients not receiving urgent treatment. Some hospices, too, have been closed. In my auntie’s case, she was discharged on Tuesday, complete with 7 days of anti-psychosis meds and an urgent outpatrient appointment booked for tomorrow. When I spoke to her Tuesday night, she was convinced that she had not been discharged properly (although she wouldn’t know the difference), that she had effectively run away, and that my cousin was about to be arrested for kidnapping her. So, judge for yourselves how cured she was!

Amount, okay. I heard on the tv tonight that this is very much a deliberate strategy by the NHS, and that some hospitals had brought their occupancy rates down to 80%, in preparation for the onslaught. I don’t particularly blame the NHS – this seems like a no-win situation. People without COVID-19 are not being treated, or not being treated properly, and they are the collateral damage. I wonder whether these people will appear in the final Corona data? I suspect not.

Our media is expressing shock, horror, that our medics might have to choose who to treat and who to ignore, as they have done in Italy. It sounds to me like that choice is already being made!

As a postscript, I spoke to my auntie a few hours ago. So far, so good. Actually she sounded better tonight at home than she had all week in hospital, but I guess that’s not surprising.

Wasted Potential

A while ago now, one of my friends posted about suicide – she specifically highlighted male suicide. It was a very objective accont, facts and figures. In addition, the TV News a few days ago presented an article about veterans’ suicides, so I thought it might be useful to publish my own experiences. Truth be told, I have had this post written for a while, but (a) I’ve never been 100% happy with the wording – the post probably has a hundred edits under its belt, and (b) it’s on such a sensitive subject, I’ve never been sure that the time was right to publish.

My own experiences during my daughter’s teenage years (this is not just a male thing). We had all sorts of issues with my daughter. As a teen, she sat in the next room from where I am right now, and cut herself. I knew nothing about it despite only being a few yards away. It was clear to us that something was wrong, but not the extent. When we did try to get help, every time we asked, we were told we fell through the cracks in the system.

To compound things, aged fourteen, a girl in the same class as my daughter, Megan, committed suicide. For many people, life at the age of fourteen can be pretty shitty, but most of us get through it somehow. This girl decided to hang herself instead.

We saw some interesting effects from my daughter.

First, my daughter started describing Megan as her best friend. I have no idea whether this was indeed the case, but I do know that we hadn’t even heard the name spoken before her suicide. So, they might well have been friends, or it might have been an attempt by my daughter to exaggerate her loss. My daughter had tried to do that before, but certainly never on the same scale.

The second effect was that the event normalised suicide. Does that sound weird? What I mean is that my daughter subsequently tried attempts of her own. Clumsy attempts, which fortunately didn’t succeed. She is twenty now, it is not something we discuss but she seems to be navigating life’s ups and downs. I guess she’s glad she didn’t succeed. She lives on her own so certainly, if she did want to do anything, she has ample opportunity.

I say fortunate, and I mean that of course because my daughter is still alive.

But I also see this from my own perspective, too. It feels quite selfish, but it is unavoidable. Because I know fingers would have also been pointed at my wife and I. In fact, we had very little interest from social workers, except in adversarial circumstanses, when everything had become inevitable – all our earlier metings were confined to being told how we didn’t qualify for something or other. And, I include the Police in this too – they will say that they are not social workers, which is absolutely fair enough. In fact, they tried to “help” the situation just by trying to build a criminal case against my wife and I (which wasn’t there). You wanna know why I don’t trust a policeman? That’s why. That’s how they operate. Black and white. A child is harming themselves, therefore the parents must be abusing them.

So, had the worst happened, I can only imagine what they would have tried to conjure up.

Despite this sorry episode, however, I do accept that suicide can be justified. In fact, I get irritated at the simplistic mantra that suicide is bad and that we should do what we can to prevent it. A former head of the UK’s armed forces said as much in the news article. Frankly it seems perverse to me that it is okay to build an environment in which somebody is left wanting to kill themselves, but all the same.. please don’t! In the case of veterans, this story comes around every year or so, so you can judge the scale of their efforts for yourself. (In their defence, the evidence against them is just anecdotal right now, because nobody has yet thought to measure such things.)

Every suicide is a tragedy, somehow, but each of us has a set of scales, reasons to live versus reasons not to live. For most of us, if we even spare it a thought, the scales quite easily tip one way. I guess that most of the time it is so obvious, we don’t even think of it. But what do you do when the scales tip the other way?

When the scales tip the other way, then I believe that suicide is a rational course of action. I think it is a pity if they do tip the other way, and the reasons why they tip the other way might not be sound, but all the same, I can understand that they might.

Imagine two extremes – somebody being worried about something, say. Money, for example. Something which many people woud say does not warrant taking one’s own life. Yet, it happens. Then, somebody with a terminal illness might decide on suicide, rather than prolonged agony for both themselves and their loved ones.

There is a whole spectrum of reasons, and I think we must view every case individually. Even somebody who commits suicide unnecessarily (we might judge), we should probably then ask ourselves why they perceived that things were so bad, that they took their own life.

So I don’t buy the straightforward mantra that suicide is bad. There is more to it than that. In fact, when somebody simplifies the issue that much, it does leave me wondering whether they have any real concept of what is going on in people’s minds.

I am, however, going to end the post on a yes, but…

I do still think from time to time of Megan. As far as I know I never knew her, never even met her, but suicides are uncommon, after all. Fourteen. I mean, if you’re gonna go, go. I understand that people have their reasons. But people need to give themselves a chance to live a little first. Megan would’ve been twenty now, same as my daughter. Not long passed her driving test, even managed to total that first car, but she was out drinking and clubbing with her mates at New Year, presumably enjoying herself….and goodness knows what else she gets up to that fortunately, I know nothing about! But she’s trying to carve out a life for herself in the big, wide world, unfettered by any constraints from her ever-so-square parents.

I wonder whether Megan would feel the same way now?

Daughter Update

Just a few weeks ago, at New Year, I posted about my daughter. I thought I’d give a little update.

Unfortunately, the job turned out as I expected. I hate to say I told her so, but… I told her so. Whichever company she had applied to join, they had decided on the strength of the firing that the potential risk of employing her outweighed the potential gain. I can’t blame them, I would have done exactly the same.

[For anybody new to the saga, daughter’s last job was also her first, she was fired from it (albeit under dubious circumstances), and given a correspondingly bad reference.]

Without saying anything, daughter changed her CV, to exclude this previous bad job altogether. It was her only proper job.

So, when we next saw her, daughter was full of smiles. She hadn’t got that job, but don’t worry, several others were in the pipeline.

With daughter, the devil is in the detail, and it took a while to tease out the detail. My wife thinks she did the right thing, even though it will mean dropping a recent job in the same sector she wants to work in. Start from the bottom again. I said that if I were a potential employer, gave her a job and then found out that she’d skipped a job on her CV, I would fire her immediately for not disclosing it.

How would they ever find out? she says. I don’t know, but that kind of thing tends to haunt you – she will have to be on her guard about it for the lifetime of the new job. It only takes a slip of the tongue to mention this previous job. Especially as my daughter is prone to slips of the tongue!

My own suggestion was that instead of asking for a reference from the head office, she should in future ask for a reference from an ex-colleague, somebody she had worked with and got along with. There isn’t anybody, she says. That’s the real problem – she worked there for six months and can’t think of anybody who’d have a good word to say about her. Plus she has strange ideas about who can and can’t give her a reference. Those ideas might well be contrived, a way of just telling me to butt-out. My idea is that somebody who’d worked with her, built a rapport, would more likely be positive. Anyway, for those reasons, daughter rejected my advice. I shrugged – to do anything else wouldn’t help. She will sink or swim by her decision. I’m in a position anyway where I’m happy to butt-out.

As regards her visits, it is like my last title (Boomerang) – she keeps coming back! About once a week, for a couple of days at a time. It is a bit much for me but how can I say no? Besides, she is quite pleasant when she comes, sometimes even quite useful with her car. She does not want to be at (her own) home. I find it awkward when she is here, because her decision to accuse me of abuse was a watershed in my book. It was a trapdoor – we fell through it and can never get back up. We were never going to be a regular father-and-daughter, from that point on. That’s not necessarily her, but something I have trouble getting my head around.

Can I just come over for a visit? Well, at least she asks.