Dad is calm and still in his hospital bed. It is the ‘new normal’ but it’s also been strange: him being cared for around the clock lying in the dining room of the pink painted Tudor house we’ve called home since 1982.
As I walk through the front door into the hall, the door to the dining room is the first on the left. There he lies, mostly asleep, his head slightly raised up on his pillow and his mouth turned down.
It’s been a blessing having him here, so much better than a hospice. Although he can’t say what he wants and I’m not even sure he can think what he wants anymore, I’m sure this is what he would have wanted. To be at home surrounded by who and what he holds dearest.
Every morning and night either Alec or Brian his Zimbabwean carers arrive to do his toilet. Grace from Namibia is here full time to care for him. And mum is constantly checking on him doing whatever she can.
This morning Claire, the vicar came at 11. She has been twice already to give him communion. This time he was too weak. She knelt next to him and put her left hand on his forehead. Dad opened his eyes briefly and then closed them again.
‘Dear Lord, bless Peter for the life he has lead and the life he will continue to lead until he is ready for the light, love and life hereafter. Amen’
Mum and I stood round the foot of the bed, heads bowed hands folded in front of ourselves while we recited the Lord’s Prayer. It felt like we were in a painting by a Dutch master. The dark oak room. The priest kneeling beside the bed. The dying man, his pale face raised towards heaven and the close relatives looking at the man through tear stained eyes.
There was something funereal about it. Dad’s face. The darkness of the room. The finality of the words. It felt suddenly intensely sad.
I can’t help but wonder at Mum’s devotion to him. She hardly leaves the house. She might watch TV for a bit but then will be up on her feet and wanting to check on him, making sure he’s ok, making sure he’s still with us.
I think about how they used to dance together. They both always loved to dance. Sometimes holding each other, her looking calmly over his shoulder as they moved together. They always both had a look of calm like they knew how each would move at a given moment. Like they understood each other perfectly.
At other times they would boogie like the sixties kids they were, Dad laughing and gesticulating wildly with his hands in the air.
It’s one of the ways I’ll remember him, I WANT to remember him, not choking on one of his steroids as he was last night.
I remember early on in the illness when Mum and I would chat about it she was incredulous. I’m afraid she still is.
‘I’m in self denial’ she would say.
‘I thought we were going to get old together.’ It reminds me of the poignancy of Auden’s ‘Funeral Blues’:
‘I thought love would last forever
I was wrong’
I want to think Auden is wrong. When everything goes to pot love is all we have. It’s the final defence.
And what did Dylan Thomas write?
‘Death shall have no dominion
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the West moon
When their bones are picked clean and their clean bones
They shall have stars at elbow and foot
Though they go mad they shall be sane
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again
Though lovers be lost love shall not
And death shall have no dominion’
Though lovers be lost love shall not..