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