'I took my sick, elderly parents to Mexico and for the first time in ages, they weren't just patients'- author Claudia Carroll
In a new series, writer Claudia Carroll shares her most special summer memory
So a few years ago, my poor parents were hit with a whole tsunami of health calamities, each with varying degrees of seriousness. My mother was in Vincent's Hospital going through scary, stressful cancer treatment, Dad was in the Eye and Ear having eye surgery and there was me in the middle, shuttling between two different hospitals to visit them both, trying to keep the show on the road.
It was a rough time for all of us and the only thing that got me through was the fantasy holiday I had planned in my head for when it was all over, and both parents were - with any luck - restored to health.
It became like a little act of faith with me, while I sat wanting on Mum to come out of daily radiation treatment, God love her, sick as a parrot and with skin the exact colour of urine.
When this is all over, was my little vow, we're spending a whole summer together. Proper quality time. Because I was heartily sick of only ever seeing my Mum in a chemo ward, where just the sight of her would break your heart. And I was even more fed up with my poor Dad slowly succumbing to end stage glaucoma, till now he's legally declared blind and doctors have uttered the dreaded phrase, 'we're so sorry, but there's nothing more we can do'.
Anyone who has acted as carer for sick, elderly relatives will tell you how stressful it is on everyone, but what propelled me through it was the thoughts that we might still be able to enjoy happier times ahead.
To create memories that didn't necessarily involve oncologists and scary CAT scans and sitting on uncomfortable plastic chairs in waiting rooms anxiously waiting on test results. Above all, I fantasised about spending time with my folks as far as it was possible to get from hospitals and radiotherapy clinics and the Eye and Ear. Or as it's known in my family, 'the Jaysus Eye and Ear.'
So I went and did it. Thanks to a cheapie deal with Tour America, as soon as Mum and Dad were home from hospital, the three of us were able to book a proper four-week summer break in Cancun, Mexico for about half the normal price.
All the consultants we'd been dealing with thought this was a great idea and the perfect break for the Aged Ps, so from a medical point of view at least, we were cleared to go.
Of course I wondered if I was insane. After all, a month is a month and we hadn't spent that much time together under the one roof since I was living at home, with all the rows that entailed about leaving the immersion on all night on 'bath'.
Would the fantasy summer I'd planned in my head turn out to be a complete disaster?
The first hurdle was managing two wheelchair-bound passengers through the airport, but the travel gods were smiling on us and the staff at Dublin Airport couldn't have been more helpful or friendly, even though we looked like we should have been on our merry way to Lourdes instead of sunny Mexico.
But once we actually got there, just stepping out into actual heat and humidity felt magical. In Ireland, I refer to summer as 'winter minor', so to feel warmth on your bones and to know you could venture out in July without the added insurance of an umberella was pure bliss.
The hotel we were booked into blew us away too. The three of us were sharing an apartment in an all-inclusive complex and by all-inclusive, I really do mean that covered everything. It took us a while to get our heads around the fact that theoretically, this meant you could fill a bath with champagne and soak yourself in it, if you had a mind to.
The complex was vast too, akin to a cruise ship washed up on land, with over 20 restaurants to choose from and live shows every night.
All bars were completely free, open 24/7 and as we used to joke, in Ireland that alone would probably bankrupt the hotel chain inside of a week.
Best summer memory ever.
Even now, thinking back on it gladdens my heart. To actually get to spend quality time with my parents as people and not patients was beyond price. To see the two of them glowing with health and to see the colour come back into their faces made all those long winter months spent trekking in and out of hospitals seem worth it.
After all, no one is their best self when they're sick, are they? Whereas we're all great having spent a day soaking up the vitamin D in warm sunshine with a glass of sauvignon blanc and a juicy novel.
So that joyous summer, we all temporarily got to drop out of our allotted roles. The Aged Ps were free of consultants and hospital food and illness and I could temporality drop my role as carer and actually get to enjoy their company as people instead of stressing and fretting.
We sunbathed during the day and ate in the most divine restaurants at night. We chatted and laughed and luxuriated in doing exactly what none of us got to do at home; absolutely nothing, bar peeling your bum off a sunbed to order another G&T.
There's not a single year goes by that I don't find myself going to the funeral of the parent of a close friend. And every time, I say the same prayer: 'Please dear God, don't let it be one of my parents next'.
What will come will come, but till then, I have the most precious memories of that one blissful summer when the three of us were all together and the sun shone. Where I got to hear my mother actually belly laugh like she hadn't a care in the world, and where I actually had the time to sit and listen to all my Dad's stories about Dublin in the 1940s, instead of constantly rushing him off to his next hospital appointment.
And to me, that is surely beyond price. Isn't it?