Back in the family home, the place my parents have lived for almost 40 years. It’s so much quieter. The clocks tick softly, the radio burbles indistinctly in the kitchen. All is still.
We’re into the final act. Dad lies in his makeshift bedroom in the old dining room. He is pale, his mouth downturned but still good looking – noble looking I’ve always thought – despite how much weight he’s put on from the steroids.
He sleeps a lot now and when he is awake he will stare at me through half closed eyes but there is no reaction, no smiles, no words.
For a man who was absolutely the life and soul of any party, confident and able to talk to anyone, it seems a cruel blow to see him like this. How many others must have endured the same fate? How many other friends and relatives must have had similar thoughts about their loved ones?
Every visit I have made, which was normally every other weekend, there has been a change. From the start he was having blank episodes and these were there when the tumour was supposed to have first appeared in July.
It was then his legs which started to weaken. In September he was pushing himself on a Zimmer frame to go the loo. By the end of October he couldn’t make it and he had to use the wheelchair.
By November he was spending most of his time in the chair staring at the TV and his conversation – always his greatest strength – had started to dry up.
At the beginning of December – my last entry – we was still relatively astute but had lost the ability to access the sort of knowledge in his memory that he would love to talk about.
On the battles of World War 2 something he always loved to talk about and knew so much about he would get stuck. When I asked about him what happened at Normandy he responded
‘Normandy…oh!’ That defeated tone. The knowledge that you’ve lost something you once knew so well. The knowledge of getting iller.
I remember Mum also looking after him in his chair him looking up at her vacantly but also as if checking that she was there. So reliant on her by this stage. I remember her putting his mohair rug over his legs and saying:
‘You look so old when you’re young and boisterous’
D ‘Stop trying to boost my morale’
M ‘Well, come on. 50 years!’ And she bends down to kiss him on the lips.
Their repartee had survived.
The next day I had to say the dreaded goodbye before the long slog back to Bristol. I’d touch Dad on his shoulder and we’d clasp hands like tennis doubles partners. Since he’s been stuck in his riser / recliner chair gone are the days of he and his man hugs which one day he decided was the way he would greet my brother and I.
What did I say?
‘Bye Dad. I’m off now.’ Always cheery. Just as he would be.
‘Oh bugger. I thought you might be staying a bit longer.’ I think he’d forgotten I had to go back to work.
Between that day and when I came home for Christmas something changed. I saw him on the 21st December me excited at being back for Christmas with 2 weeks off but the old sparkle had gone. He just couldn’t make chat like he used to. We’d be lucky to get a short phrase or observation and that’s how it’s been since.
As Mum says ‘This is the new normal.’ I can’t help but think the new normal is changing every day. It’s about to beyond our comprehension.