A letter to Dad

Dear Dad

Conversations with you were always difficult.

Being so much older than us was a part of it. I’ve tried hard not to carry on this trait with my kids – the gap in years between you and me is the same as it is between me and my girls.

But mostly you weren’t around much. During my childhood you worked night shifts and either slept or, briefly, ran a Salvation Army Citadel.

Then the accident happened when I was 9. We lost you as a man. Any role you might have played disappeared as you worked to recover from the devastating injuries.

We all learned sign language but conversations with you were always short angry events. You made little effort to concentrate on our little fingers. We persevered though and forced communication with you.

As you recovered you started to collect stamps and would sit and tirelessly type out borders for the pages. Mum would walk you into town to buy them as singles or sheets and all would be archived away, catalogued and reordered.

I don’t know whether you lost interest in us or if we just outgrew you. Probably a bit of both. We played out a lot in sunny Melbourne and P and me got jobs delivering newspapers when we turned 13.

You treated my younger brother badly, bringing him  to tears with your harsh words but Mum always justified this with your head injury and seizures. It just seemed unfair.

We all got away, as young adults, to college as soon as we could, leaving you to direct Mum’s every move. Her shopping trips were timed and you’d stand at the window waiting for her.

Any attempt at bringing friends home was met with sarcastic comments and uncomfortable silences which taught us not to do this. Mum too avoided asking folk over. Even district nurses were made to feel unwelcome.

For the last thirty years you turned various houses (you two moved a lot) into cliché pretend homes. Every shelf was lined with china ladies and animals and scenes. The walls were covered in warrior spears and clocks and teaspoon racks.

Mum would push you around Torquay, Newquay and the Isle of Man on miserable weeks filled with awkwardly posed photo opportunities which would contribute toward diaries of your visit stuffed with tram tickets and café receipts.

Your health failed a full forty years after the accident and you became bed bound and silent. Mum carried on as your carer, bustling around you filling the silence with both sides of the conversation.

She thrived on the routine you provided, even buying more coins for your latest collection long after you could enjoy them.

Finally shortly after you turned 88 you passed away, sitting snoozing with Mum one cold November afternoon.

Initially Mum was devastated, blaming herself, confiding in me that she thought she might be dragged away at the inquest.

Nothing of the sort happened and the coroner was calm and kind and even chatty.

We laid your ashes to rest under a rose bush in a garden of remembrance which I visit occasionally.

Mum has long forgotten where you are.

Initially she just sat and gazed. We stepped in to buy supplies and when her health failed, we took over her medication and are now at the point where we make all of her decisions for her.

She’s in an Old Folks Home surrounded by pictures of you and us. I’ve made her albums of your courting days and our childhood.

Do I miss you? I’m not sure. Could I miss something that wasn’t really there? You were disabled for almost half your life, suffering seizures and struggling to keep food down with half a paralysed throat. Before that there was the night shift which meant us playing in whispers to let you sleep.

I think what I miss is the soundness and solidity that you provided Mum with. When you were gone she slipped quite quickly into confusion and forgetfulness.

Now her dementia is full blown she only knows that she’s lost a lot. But she doesn’t know what exactly.

I always felt you were a dreamer. Maybe being in the mop up operations around the Med straight after WW2 gave you an optimism which never quite translated into career success. In my lifetime, in the 9 years before the crash you were a milkman, a weaver, a worker in a transparent paper factory, a railway linesman and  a Salvation Army officer.

I felt more like an observer than a son. I don’t resent it. It’s just something I know I am to my kids that you never were to me.

Rest in Peace though. Mum’s in good hands.

You’ll be together again, under that rose bush one day.

Yours sincerely, Dave

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Birthday Girl

It was Mum’s 76th birthday on Wednesday.

We had meant to go over and see her but the weather has been hostile just lately.

The news has focussed mostly on Scotland and the East coast where the brunt of the cold weather hit.

We got off lightly but it was still foul here.

Temperatures dropped and a biting wind made it feel even colder.

The bin men have not caught up yet either.

However, this morning it’s raining and the sludge will clear soon.

So we’re going to get Mum shortly.

The cake looks nice and she has flowers to take back.

I’ve digitised more of her photos and have made her an album from the 50’s when she was courting.

The kids have done cards so she’ll go back with an armful later.

We think the more extreme behaviour has stopped for now with no reports of doors being kicked or midnight rants.

The right balance of drugs is hard to find but maybe they’ve got it right.

We have new neighbours – we live on a terrace of houses so every sound is shared.

They’re a young family and only as noisy as most of us are when moving in.

Time will tell if they’re good or not. The house is rented and the leases tend to be short.

My health is finally getting better.My back twinges but only as much as it always has done. My chest is clear too – Gill thinks it was an infection and it was hard to shake off.

Heather has glasses and loves her new look. Her hours at the bar have gone up but she’s not losing sight of her eventual career.

Ashley’s psoriasis is worse again. We think the bad weather plays a part. The drug that works raises his cholesterol and the one he’s on isn’t as effective. Poor kid.

Hope this finds you happy and well. I’ll try to catch up with your blogs soon.

The Beast from the East?

The media in England have overreacted to a recent spell of snowy weather and cold.

This time, an arctic system has bobbed south and sucked cold air in from the continent.

They call it “The Beast from the East”.

You can hear me sighing, can’t you?

My youngest wondered briefly if school would be closed but as it’s 50 feet from our front door and the Principal was in at 7 for an inspection, we knew she’d have to go.

Other parents on social media were gnashing their teeth and wailing about getting into school but in the end only one place in the town closed and only then because they’re on a hill you’d only find in Lancashire.

Overreacting is something you do eventually grow out of.

Knee jerk reactions are for kids and fools.

Experience grants us serenity as things like The Beast from the East dwindle into a bit of snow.

I drove my daughter to college without any problems and I’ve just walked to the post office with a parcel and felt foolish for wearing my boots.

We should save our more extreme feelings for things which actually warrant it, don’t you think?

It’s all a matter of perspective, I suppose.

Less of the same

Plan A was to leave off bringing Mum over for Sunday afternoon.

The disturbance she caused when she got back last time was too much to truck on a weekly basis.

However, after a reassuring call from the Home, we brought her over again.

She’s had a good week, talks everyone silly and was even singing in the living room.

There have been less overnight nonsense too.

As we prepared to bring her back she started to ask for her keys again.

Experience is a great teacher so we simply said “you don’t need your keys, you live at B House now”

This seemed to quieten her.

When we got back she started going on about not knowing the place but with less gusto.

She said she was scared and what would happen when we went home.

A carer stepped in at this point and took her into the dining room.

So we got a watered down version of last week.

If every visit is like that, we’ll cope.

It’s her birthday on Thursday and I always bring her daffodils. I’ve done it since I was a kid. St David’s Day.

I’m working but we’ll bob over in the morning.

My back’s still creaky in the morning but I’m otherwise well now.

The kids are back at school tomorrow and the calendar’s fairly clear.

The weatherman says it’s getting really cold at night this week as an Arctic system bobs down onto Britain.

Life goes on.

Dementia Update

It’s been a weird few weeks.

I was ill with the flu – the real type with pain and weakness, not the Man Flu.

I went back to work too soon and paid the price, having to stay off some more.

Then I hurt my back and this was further aggravated by my coughing – after the flu.

My back would spasm, even in bed and then I would have a coughing fit which caused huge pain.

Along side this my Mum’s behaviour in the home is getting worse.

She wanders the corridors at night shouting to be released and kicking doors.

We brought her to our house for a Sunday visit and on her return she denied knowing the Home.

She made a real scene saying I had picked her up from her house (the one she’s not been in since early December).

She shouted that she had been betrayed and this was all a trick – despite carers saying hello and using her name.

It was upsetting and eventually we left.

This week we had notification that they have taken out a Deprivation of Liberty order on her which stops her leaving the home even if she wishes it.

In the report it tells of her saying she loves the place, wants to stay and has been there for two years.

Their assessment is correct in that she lacks the capacity to make her own decisions, find her way or even to cross the road.

The house where she lived has been taken over by the council and completely renovated for the next tenant.

Her confusion is sad but it’s important that we accept it.

Our house is lettered with her leftovers now. Although we realised that 95% of her belongings had no value, we’re discovering that we were being optimistic about the rest.

It’s a slow painful process and may take longer to resolve that we first thought.

I’ve digitised all her photos and am cropping them and putting them into little albums for her.

My health has improved especially after a week off work.

My eldest is loving her bar job and keeping up with her Uni work.

The rest of the kids seem fine and Gill’s still a treasure.

A long goodbye

It’s Sunday so I went to get Mum from the care home. We’ve missed a couple to allow her to settle. She was ready to go but fast asleep with her fellow residents. I woke her gently and am sure the look on her face was not for me: just a distance in her eyes. I went to put her new laundry basket in her room and when I got back she’d almost reached the front door. On the drive up she asked me if I’d locked her front door – she hasn’t been back since early December. She’s been here an hour and fallen asleep twice. She wanders a lot at night we’re told so days are spent napping. She remembers nothing of her week. In her room was a note I took which says she wants “OUT” and that she hates us all.

I know it’s the dementia but it still hurts.

The little ones are delighted to see their Nana but there’s not a lot of interaction. Tea is at 4:30 so we’ll get her back soon.

Dementia is a long goodbye.

Another battle won

Why do people have to be so bloody arsey?

Mum went into a care home two weeks ago and we’ve cleared the house.

Well Gill has cleared it. Works like a Trojan she does.

So having got rid of twenty years of tat we obviously want to hand the house back.

I phoned her landlord, the main subcontractor for our local town council with this in mind.

Unfortunately I got a weasel who felt it good and right and professional to ignore the word dementia and alzheimers and who tried to enforce a standard set of regulations on me. Four weeks notice is standard and won’t start until next Monday. Blah blah blah.

I pointed out that I am not the tenant and so her rules didn’t really apply.

Ditto with Mum. She is no longer capable and rarely remembers what happened five minutes ago let alone has the wit to fill in a form.

She persevered. Though even after I said “you’re not listening to me’.

Gill overheard the call and said she had a mocking lilt to her voice too. Not nice.

Having given her my name and address to send me a form I hung up.

I then emailed the director of her company and cc’d the Chief Exec of my town council. (I don’t have him on speed dial but I’m sure he has an email filter called defcon1 applied to my messages)

Yesterday while working I received email from customers services, the housing director and firstly from the CE. All were hugely apologetic and promised action.

I’m a sceptic but there was indeed action.

The receptionist’s boss called and left a message and emailed the contents. Basically the call was substandard and action will be taken. The tenancy can be ended after just one week and she even gave me an email to apply for the overlap rent to be paid for Mum.

Sometimes things do turn out well – it’s just a shame you have to fight so hard for it.