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'It's like being on a rollercoaster that only operates in slow motion.' The unique pain of living with a sick parent.

Having a sick parent is strange. It’s all you think about, but at the same time, you don’t think about it at all. 

My adolescence was spent knowing my dad was terminally ill. It felt like being on a boat that you know is sinking. There could be millions of the best lifeboats or life jackets, but they won’t distract you from the impending doom of the rising water. And your boat is very far out; you lost sight of the shore a long time ago. 

The medical staff and the psychologists and your support system are the captain that tries to reassure you that they are doing the best they can and that they are trained for this, but the water is now up to your ankles. 

Next year, your knees, and the year after that your waist. Some days, the water doesn’t rise at all, and you are so well adjusted to life on a boat that it doesn’t even cross your mind.

You even fool yourself into thinking the sea is calm.

Watch Robin Bailey as she shares her story on losing her dad at a young age. Post continues after video. 


Video via Mamamia.

Other days, the ocean is brutal, and the water rises quicker than you ever remember, each storm worse than the last. It is in these moments that you remember you don’t know how to swim.

Having a sick parent is like a big game of emotional Tetris. 

It’s waking up and wondering, “will my feelings fit together nicely today, or will they fall jagged?” 

It’s laying in bed at night with a wet pillow thinking, “how do I leave a game I never wanted to play?” 

It’s sitting next to a hospital bed silently screaming “why does this damn game not come with an instruction manual?” 

The game produces big blocks of anger, sadness and confusion, and you will wonder if there is any room for the good feelings in your life anymore. But there is. The little pieces are your friends bringing you flowers, your little brother making everyone in the hospital laugh, and the nurses who let you stay an extra five minutes past visiting time. 

You’ve got to find and make space for the little pieces. They really aren’t that little after all.

Having a sick parent is like a rollercoaster that only operates in slow motion. The constant 'what ifs' make the incline treacherous. 

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What if my dad doesn't get to see me graduate? 

What if my dad doesn't get to walk me down the aisle? What if my dad never gets to meet his grandchildren? 

What if, what if, what if? 

The constant anxiety is debilitating. It takes so much from you and offers nothing but an aching body and a tired soul in return. As you slowly make it to the top of the loop, you realise the harness has tightened and your knuckles are white, clenched around a buckle that doesn't even seem to provide an ounce of safety. It's getting harder to breathe now. 

You're at the top, swinging your feet and hoping the drop is further away than it looks. 

Everything looks different here, and sometimes you reluctantly appreciate the perspective. You sure aren't grateful for it, because it robbed you of your innocence and hope, but you know you're a better person because of it.

A better daughter, a better sister, and a better friend. 

Listen to No Filter's episode on little griefs and how to process them, as well as the big ones. Post continues after audio. 


Some days you think it makes you a good person, who is understanding and wise beyond their years. Some days you think it makes you a bad person, because it’s a reminder of the bad hand you were dealt.

You sit at the top of this rollercoaster every time an appointment is booked, every morning when you get out of bed, or sometimes even when you're sitting with a cup of tea in the afternoon. The feeling can be suppressed, but it doesn't go away. 

I don't like roller coasters anymore.

Having a sick parent is like a really sad, long and elaborate game of pass the parcel. First is the layer of worry, which is shortly followed by google searches and meaningless medical jargon. 

Then you open up the layer of empathy. It’s your friends and families and teachers and bosses repeating the same two words: “I’m sorry.” Sometimes, the condolences come from people you’ve never even met before. 

You smile and nod but feel a touch of anger, and it grows each time. You wonder how your entire life being absolutely obliterated can be dismissed in two measly words. 

But you know you shouldn’t be angry at them, because they are trying, and death is awkward and scary and frankly, taboo.  

The jarring conversation doesn’t age well either, but the story gets easier to tell. Finally, you arrive at the layer of acceptance. I’m still unwrapping this layer. 

It’s extremely heavy, and I probably need a couple more helping hands to avoid crumpled up paper.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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