A second and more recent experience also reflects a time when I was completely torn between the relentless pressure of work, with responsibilities to patients, colleagues and students, and the acute pressure of family illness.
My mother, a vibrant and amazingly important person in my life developed pulmonary fibrosis. Over several years her health declined with my mother gripping fiercely to her independence, her extraordinary social life and yes her work: at the age of 85 she was still working about 30 hours a week, smocking dresses for little girls. When she started to need oxygen and became frail she wanted to ensure she stayed at home for as long as possible. So this required often daily visits, shopping and cooking for her, helping her tidy her house, getting her to medical appointments, visiting during her increasing hospitalizations.
This situation was unbelievably stressful: my mother needed help and I felt guilty when I took any time off work. I considered quitting work. It was so exhausting trying to care for her as well as meet all of my deadlines.
Two weeks before she died, Mum was discharged from hospital and we quickly arranged to take her to Noosa for a holiday. Professionally, the timing for me was terrible. But between us, my sister and my husband helped me to get mum on the plane to Noosa, to the beach every day in her new bathers, into the water in the arms of a bronzed lifeguard, out for cocktails and dinner every evening.
After she died my sense of loss was enormous: although I was expecting her to die, nothing could prepare me for her death. But I am so grateful that I have absolutely no regrets: my sisters and I did everything we could possibly do for our mother; she knew how much we all cared: on this rare occasion I got the balance right and put my family first.