My previous blog post was about eroticism…this one is about a very different topic, it is actually quite on the opposite side of the emotional spectrum. Somehow this illustrates the fact that being human means having fun and feeling physical or emotional pain, being light and being deep, laughing and crying, going out and staying in, staying away from people, animals or nature while craving for company and shared experiences.
When was the last time you became close to sickness and vulnerability ?
I unexpectedly left South Florida to fly to the island of Corsica ( 3 flights ) two weeks ago to spend time with my father who has been lying down in a hospital/ rehabilitation center room in Ajaccio ( Corsica’s capital ) for 3 months.
This is the curse and the blessing to live far away from my immediate family : I can’t just fly out for 3 days as it’s far away.
My father’s disease was diagnosed over 3 months ago but I believe he started getting sick early 2020.
Quarantine and the Covid-19 pandemic obviously did not help in identifying the early stages much earlier on.
My sisters flew from Paris and London ( where they live ) twice for 4-5 days since he has been out of home. Despite the fact that I had much work to do, I decided to spend 3 weeks in Corsica to see my father as much as possible, help him cheer-up, eat more and gain physical strength. I am lucky to have a French passport, as a result, I was able to fly to Europe during the pandemic.
My father has not been able to feed himself for the last three months, therefore my stepmother and myself cook savory and easily swallowable food for him.
It’s such a strange and humbling experience to have to feed your parent with a coffee spoon, one step at a time.
He has become like a baby in just a few days, completely dependent on us as well as nurses for survival; to be fed, to be lifted on his hospital bed, to pee or else…He switches from moments of joy to moments of deep fatigue and despair, willing to get out of the bed where he has been lying for way too long. The rehabilitation center sits next to the hospital, which used to be a prison or penitentiary for children, opened by French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in 1854. The department where my father stays is dedicated to oncology patients. It is surprisingly gorgeous and incredibly peaceful here as the facility stands a few minutes from Ajaccio, in the middle of the mountains, covered with a gorgeous green carpet of eucalyptus and olive trees. The photo above was taken from my father’s hospital room. When I leave in the evening, I temporarily remove my mask and smell the incredible scents from the surrounding trees.
Philippe Lancon, the French journalist who survived the Charlie Hebdo newspaper terrorist attack in Paris in 2015, author of the book ” Disturbance”, writes very well about entering into a new reality; once you enter the realm of hospitals, you are in a different world, detached from everyone else ( at least from anyone who is considered healthy ) and you start embracing new rituals, the hospital rituals : eating meals, being cleaned-up and changed, medication, shots, physical therapy sessions, blood work, doctors appointments, chats with dedicated nurses…and little by little you include your own rituals within the hospital rituals : feeding my father, trying to cheer him up when he feels depressed or upset and screams he wants to get out, massaging his hands or feet with my home made avocado body oil deliciously scented with lavender essential oil and natural vanilla extract, hydrating his face with an organic shea butter and coconut oil cream, washing his teeth, playing music he likes such as jazz or soul music.
The irony is that no one wants to spend time visiting someone dear to one’s heart staying at a hospital or a rehabilitation center and I have been spending hours there every day when there is so much beauty to explore in Corsica ( which is also named L’Ile de Beaute ; The Island of Beauty ). But once you start visiting someone you love at the hospital, it becomes part of your life. It’s like being in a bubble, where time and space have a different meaning than in the “outside world”.
I obviously got very attached to my father, as I follow tiny details and changes in his daily life. His loss of self esteem and fear of the unknown make me feel like hugging and protecting him. I had not spent that much time with since I was in my late teenager years. I also got attached to some other patients, to the nurses and to the place itself.
R., his nextdoor neighbor, who comes from Poland ( near Auschwitz ), barely speaks any French and carries himself with so much dignity. No one comes to visit him. He can walk and feed himself but only gets out of his room to walk through the hallway all the way to the little outdoor area surrounded by the beautiful mountains to smoke a cigarette.
Most of the patients who are able to walk do smoke a cigarette a few times a day.
If your life may only last for a few more months, who cares about quitting smoking and erasing one of the very last simple pleasures you may have ?
Witnessing sickness, emotional and physical pain and the probability of the end of life makes me look at so many things in a new way.
There is also P., the gregarious and warm red-haired lady who blows me a kiss each time I stop by her room to say hello.
The nurses are really nice and caring, it’s wonderful.
R. is such a cute guy in his late 20s…He speaks to my dad with a caring and soft voice.
I. is such an interesting woman. She used to work in the restaurant business and changed career to become a nurse as well as a sophrologist.
She loves this “double professional life “.
We spoke about the books and work of Wayne Dyer and Eckhart Tolle, it was so delightful to share a great conversation about such inspiring writers and mindful living in the middle of mountains in Corsica.
And there is “Chaussette” ( “Sock” in French ), the hospital cat, who often comes in and stays at the entrance , near the outdoor terrace, sitting there and softly staring at me ( See photo ).
My own daily rituals while I am in Corsica have been to start my day with a moment of silence ( a prayer or meditation ), write my daily gratitudes, have breakfast, do some work, enjoy a refreshing swim in the nearby ocean, where the water is so transparent, buy fresh vegetables, fruits and cheese, which tastes are divine ( nothing beats locally grown produce and high quality food ), have a shower, get changed and enjoy a savory lunch before heading to the hospital for a few hours. Then I jump on food in the evening as I am usually starving, share the daily news about my father with my sisters and mother, do more work and collapse, exhausted by a long day.
Being close to sickness and vulnerability, seeing my father express his sadness of loosing the person he used to be; a charming and energetic man, I see how many of my daily frustrations or thoughts become meaningless. Who we are and what we do today will not last forever; so let’s enjoy what we have and who we are, right now, let’s enjoy each other. Things seem so ephemeral.
I feel gratitude for being alive, for being able to see, feel, touch, smell, listen, speak, for being able to cry and laugh, walk and run.
I am thankful that the backdrop of this challenging time is the beautiful island of Corsica; its streets go up and down, there are still a few libraries where one can wander, browse and purchase books ( I was so excited to buy a few ), the transparent ocean is surrounded by mountains, nature here is simply gorgeous, the architecture and lifestyle remind me so much of Italy and the taste of fruits and vegetables is absolutely divine.