Tag Archives: sad

More thoughts about grief …

Vimy Ridge 100 years on

This week we’ve been visiting a lot of First World War sites. On balance, this was probably less than smart, so soon after my father’s death. But in another way it was cathartic. Grief is a properly odd thing and sometimes it does you good to take a few quiet moments to have a snivel and let it out. You can’t sweep it under the carpet and pretend it’s not happening. That doesn’t help.

However, that said, it does tend to pop up in weird ways when you least expect it. Case in point, Dad. When Dad died it was the culmination of nearly fourteen years worrying about his mental health. He was calm, totally ready and for those few days before he left us, it was as if he’d come back to us. After his total loss of reason, and the psychotic stage he had returned to us a fair bit, in the home. He came out of the small boy stage and was a grown man again, struggling with his affliction in different ways.

In those weeks, he was calmer and seemed happier but looking back on it, perhaps it was because he’d decided this was the end of the road and resigned himself. I worried that he was fighting and losing. Looking back on it, I think it more likely that he was coming to terms with things and I was seeing the light and shade of his various moods as he worked through it. The thing about Dad’s death though, was that it was a really, really good one. People who loved him were with him, reassuring him and he was a man of faith, and while I’m sure he appreciated that reassurance, he probably didn’t need it.

It was a relief, for him and us, because it was the end of his suffering. It may look callous saying that but I remember waking up the morning after Dad had died and feeling sad that he had gone and that there really was no going back now and at the same time, also feeling as if an enormous weight of responsibility had been lifted from me and feeling happy for Dad (although as a Christian who believes there’s some kind of after life that might be easier for me than it is for some folks).

Now, I don’t know what I expected from the grieving process but it seems most sensible to accept it’s there and roll with the punches when it pops up. But I’ve noticed two things which might help other people.

Thing one: No matter how good the death, no matter if death was the only place to go and no matter if the death was a good one, you will feel incredibly sad. Not only that but if my own experience is anything to go by, you will feel way, way, sadder than expected.

‘But it’s your dad! Of course you’re sad!’ I hear you say. Well, yes, but I’ve spent the last eight or nine years, at least losing little pieces of my dad each day, and I’ve spent the last five years grieving for those pieces of his personality, facets of his sense of humour, things that gradually faded until I could no longer resurrect them. There was a horrible point where the jokes we used to have suddenly stopped working.

‘I don’t know why you think that’s so fucking funny,’ I remember him saying about what I’d thought was his absolute favourite joke between us. ‘Stop saying it.’

Various people have told me that, after an illness, you get the person back. I think I’m too brain fogged to get much back, my short term memory is completely shot, just yesterday I was chatting to McMini and he reminded me of something we did together, when he was a child, an event of which I have absolutely no memory. That is quite frightening because such a total and utter memory loss has never happened to me before. No matter that my diagnosis was hormones, I have some pretty deep set misgivings, in my own mind, that I have dementia, myself. That said, a friend (0lder) who suffered depression when her kids were growing up says there are huge tracts of their lives she simply can’t remember. She put it down to the medication, but it must have been stressful, and I’ve been pretty stressed for at least eight of McMini’s eleven years, maybe I it’s just that. Yeh, I’ll cling to that hope. If it isn’t, I just hope I can hold it together until Mum goes, or even better until McMini hits twenty one. That would be another eight years. Mmm … fingers and toes crossed.

What I was trying to say, after that considerable tangent, is that I haven’t got the memories back really, I still can’t remember anything much before the dementia (Dad’s) but I do have a much better conception of what he was like when he was firing on all cylinders; his cheekiness, his sense of fun, the things he loved and the things that made him laugh. I can remember his humanity, his compassion, his kindness – partly because his behaviour was the antithesis of many public figures today, not to mention the current behavioural ethos which seems to be that we should each be as big a cunt as we can be because it’s our right and we ‘shouldn’t take it’ from other people.

Which brings us to Thing Two: I guess the moral of this is simply that even if you are expecting it to be weird and trying to be open, not fret and accept the nature of the beast, grief still pops up when you don’t expect it and surprises you.

But after a death when it’s really a release and the person who died was clearly at peace and happy to do so, I guess I assumed I’d mourn less perhaps, or at least differently. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when you’ve been losing a person for so long while they’re alive and grieving their loss has already been going on for some years I suppose I thought that the grief of the actual death would be … easier?

Or to put it another way, for all my trying to be open minded and take it as it comes, it seems I’d assumed that there’s a finite amount of grief and that I’d used up a good half of it while Dad was still alive.

I was wrong.

That’s probably worth remembering. Meanwhile, for now, for me, it’s head down, give it space whenever I can and wait. I’ll get used to it eventually.

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The end

on top of a Down for a while

So here we are … it’s official. I’m a demi-orphan. Dad died, peacefully, just before eleven am on Saturday 25th May. My brother and I were on separate sides of the M25. My mother was holding his hand. In those last two weeks I had two visits to Dad where there was so much love.  He seemed way more lucid too, as if being too weak to speak very much had given him back some brain power to compute the world around him. And after he’d had the last rights he was totally content, peaceful and unafraid.

Dad stopped eating. People with Alzheimer’s do this but when it happened, in April, I was away. I returned form holiday in late April to dire stories from Mum of how thin and ill he looked. Before I visited him, I asked the lady who ran the home about it. She explained that his refusal of food was, indeed, a standard Alzheimer’s symptom. I asked her if this was the end game. She told me that it depended. Dad was frightened to try and stand, he feared he’d fall, so his rehabilitation wasn’t going so well and that meant, ‘some young whippersnapper’ (her words) did everything for him, dressed him carried him … everything. The only thing he had any control over, she explained was whether he said yes or no to food and drink.

So it was about control.

‘How long does this stage go on for?’
‘How long is a piece of string?’ she replied.

She went on to explain that, while it was hard to ascertain the exact motives, at this stage of Alzheimer’s there were three reasons people stopped eating; they’d forgotten how, it was the only thing they could control, yes or no to food, or they’d had enough.

‘It’s very difficult to say but I think your Dad falls into the third group.’

She explained that both she and the doctor who had come out to see him believed it was about leaving. That Dad had simply had enough of this life and wanted to go on to the next one. I asked what I could do and she said bring things he likes for him to eat, so I bought jelly babies, wine gums and Turkish delight for the next visit – three great favourites.

He was pretty dogged, continuing to starve himself for the next few weeks with the odd break where the temptation to eat ice cream clearly became too much for him. During that time I want to see him every week; a bad visit, a pretty good visit when we did silly waves goodbye and I left him laughing and then a completely wonderful one, where I sat next to him in the lounge and recalled stuff my brother and I had done. It was like talking to someone who was half asleep, he was very weak and couldn’t raise his head, so I angled mine down so our eyes could meet. I told him what his grandchildren were up to, my lad and the others, and he smiled and chuckled, and projected this amazing aura of love. There were points where he fell asleep and I sat back and gazed out of the window, at the downs and Cissbury ring but the love thing remained. Then he’d wake up and I’d start recalling stuff again.

I’m a bit mithered about what I’ve told you but I think I mentioned that one visit was very bad, the first after my holiday. Dad told me to go away, so I held his hand and explained that he had a daughter and it was me. He changed then and was happy to let me hold his hand but there was still no response from him. It was difficult to get the measure of this new unresponsive Dad so in the end, I got out my phone, and Gutenberg, and looked up a book he used to read my brother and I at bed time, The Fierce Bad Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. I read it to him.

Dad made no sign of enjoyment but Maurice, next to him, clearly loved it. And next to Maurice was a gentleman sitting very straight with his hands on his knees staring into space. I wasn’t sure if he’d heard or not, until that good visit, near the end, with the gaps where Dad nodded off. In one of the gaps I sat back and looked over at the fellow who was sitting straight up. He was staring straight at me and then, very slowly he raised his hand and gave me a thumbs up. I don’t know what his condition was, so I’ve no idea if he was a simple Alzheimer’s sufferer saying hi or someone who fully understood how hard that previous visit had been and was giving me encouragement. Whatever it was, it brought a bit of a lump to my throat for some reason. I gave him a big smile and a thumbs up back, then Dad woke up again and we carried on.

Five days after that visit, on the Monday, is when I got the first call for the deathbed scramble I described in my previous post. Dad got the last rites, which we knew was important to him, and I felt that I was incredibly lucky that I got to say goodbye with ADBA even if it was three days beyond that before Dad actually left us. Strangely, that feeling of connection I described with Dad didn’t actually go, it stayed there, quietly in the background.

On the Friday, I got a call from Mum saying they didn’t think Dad would last long. I confess I cried on the phone and told her that I couldn’t make it that night. I prayed, sort of, only to Dad, trying to send him love and good thoughts and explain that I’d see him the following morning. McMini hadn’t seen me for four days, then, when I’d finally returned home on the Thursday, McOther was out. He begged me to stay Friday so we could have a family evening together and go to Sussex on the Saturday morning. I’d already said goodbye to Dad so any thoughts of going to Sussex that night evaporated and I agreed.

That Friday night I got a message on the carers’ chat group. Mum had rung one of the carers, worried that Dad would die when she wasn’t there. The home were brilliant and had promised us that when he became really bad there would be someone with him round the clock. They’d also told me we could go any time. The carer said she’d reassured Mum but a little while later, at half eleven, she rang me, in tears. She and her Mum were the original carers. The team has grown over the years but to start with, back in 2012? 2013? It was just the mother and then, shortly afterwards, the two of them. She loved Dad like he was her own father, people tended to do that when they were around him for long, and she explained that she felt as if she hadn’t said her goodbyes to Dad. I told her how the home had said we were welcome to go see Dad any time and said that if there was anything she needed to say to him, to go then. I told her I’d ring the home and let them know she was coming.

A few minutes later she pinged me a text to say she and her mum were going over.

I slept fitfully that night and the next morning, received a message on the carers’ WhatsApp group at about half six. The mother and daughter team who’d gone to visit Dad the night before had stayed with him, chatting and sleeping fitfully all night. They knew it was what Mum would have done if she’d had the strength and it was an act of such complete and utter love on their part which still humbles me.

They were texting to say they were leaving. They said he was able to do a half smile when they shared funny stories, so they knew he realised they were there. By half eight while McOther was out at the shops, I got another call from the home to say Dad only had a few hours left and that someone should come. I rang Mum and told her I’d put out a call on WhatsApp and it’d be the first person who answered.

The younger of the two ladies who’d been with him all night popped up and took her in.

My brother was on his way, I left as soon as McOther came home from the shops.

When Dad died I was on the four lane bit of the M25. No stopping and the traffic though slow, was moving. Thanks to our lovely carers, Mum was sitting next to him, holding his hand. The local vicar missed him, there was some huge Christian festival which blocked all the roads for miles around and she couldn’t get there in time but she said some prayers after he’d died.

Something happened, I’m not sure if it was just after or just before I got the call about him dying, I honestly don’t recall, but the feeling of connection, of love that I’d felt the at the last visit and the Wednesday before … that was still there and I was kind of praying to him I suppose. This is difficult to explain but basically I was thinking about him really hard in the hope that I could somehow send enough love out through the ether for it to reach him and for him to know where it came from.

As I thought about Dad, and tried to send him love from afar, I had this weird kind of out-of-body. I was looking at the roof of the home he was in, like the satellite picture only it was in much higher definition, receding fast, as if I was flying upwards at speed. There was a sense of freedom and unbelievable  joy. In no time, the viewpoint was high above the downs, flying along side of them towards Truleigh Hill. I could see the blue of the sky, the yellow and white of the flowers in the meadows below, I could hear the larks, drink in the sunlit green of the hills and blue of the sea. All the while, my heart was bursting with love and joy at the beauty and wonder of it all, at the sheer delight of existence, of a life well lived, of gratitude at the loveliness of the people surrounding me and the love and happiness I enjoyed, and I was filled with it, too. It was a bit like that feeling you get when you come off the best fairground ride ever and you’re thinking,

‘Blimey! That was a blast. I must do it again.’

Except it was a million times better. It was pretty fucking extraordinary. Because I was sort of feeling it as if it was me, but also feeling it with someone else; their feelings, being shown. And I may be nuts to say this, and I’m definitely laying myself open saying it in a public place but it felt as if, somehow, my efforts to connect to Dad had succeeded, as if those were his last conscious thoughts.

After it was gone, the traffic slowed more and I had to contend with the bell ends in the van behind me who were so close I couldn’t see their headlights. Clearly my decision to leave a 20 yard stopping distance, crying my eyes out as I was, my vision blurry with tears, offended them. But I was unable to stop and blurb properly because you can’t on that bit and I didn’t fancy sitting up the arse of the car in front while visually impaired! I gave them a brakes test and they backed off.

Back in Sussex, the people at the home washed and dressed my dad, and laid him out with a palm cross in his hands. Another act of humanity and love.

See you later Dad.

Back on the M25 I tried to reimagine the experience I’d just had, the connection, the joy, but I couldn’t make it feel the same. It wasn’t just because you can never quite recreate the impact of something like that a second time, but also because it didn’t feel as if it had come from me. It felt as if it had come into my mind from outside. Maybe those were my father’s last conscious thoughts.

Later, when I returned to register Dad’s death, I went to see his body. All I could think of was that bit in whichever gospel it is when the women go to look in the tomb to embalm Jesus and there’s some bloke is in there who basically says,

‘Why are you looking for him in here among the dead? Fuck off back to where he is; with the living.’

A good death then.

The connection? Still there. Quietly, in the background, giving me strength.

Death Is Nothing At All

By Henry Scott-Holland

Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.

Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.

Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?

Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just round the corner.

All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again

Source: https://www.familyfriendpoems.com/poem/death-is-nothing-at-all-by-henry-scott-holland

This poem was read at Dad’s funeral and shortly afterwards, one of the lovely people on my mailing list sent it to me, which rather heartened me as I must be collecting a group of the right kind of people!

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A bit of a sad one …

Last Friday night I got a Facebook message from one of my cousins, out of the blue, telling me one of my uncles was very ill, by Sunday morning he was dead. He was in his 80s and had lived a long and fruitful life. I believe he was refusing treatment and I think I was supposed to have received an email about it the week before but due to the joyous vaguaries of the internet it never arrived. Due to the joyous vaguaries of my mother’s memory loss, I never heard from her either – she would be the usual source. She thinks she wasn’t told but she has dementia too. I suspect she simply forgot.

My uncle was a lovely chap, the oldest on my Dad’s side, and a great character. He used to phone me up every couple of months for a little chat which would last exactly eight minutes. I was always touched by this, after all, he didn’t have to and as our most distant (geographically) uncle, we didn’t see him as much as our other uncles so I didn’t know him as well. He was also kind enough gave me a stunning print of Ely Cathedral – because we used to live in Ely – which now hangs, resplendent, in our hall.

He and my aunt and cousins lived near Colchester for 33 years. Ironically, just up the road from where I live now. He was vicar of a parish just outside Colchester. Needless to say, we lived in Sussex at that point. We used to go and spend a night in the Marks Tey Motel on our way to holiday on the North Norfolk coast and pop in to see him. We would spend a day running wild with our cousins and the dog, Seager, and then go on to holiday. Later, after my aunt died, he moved to near Glastonbury, eventually living with one of my cousins. A few years ago he moved again, to Guildford, which was great because it was much nearer to Mum and Dad so they were able to see him far more often. One of my other cousins, who lived near him, would bring him over for tea and a chat with Dad several times a year.

The highlight was always a trip over during Wimbledon. They would have lunch together smoked salmon sandwiches, salad, crisps and strawberries and cream which they would eat off their laps, while sitting in front of the telly while watching the tennis.

Usually, after lunch, Mum and my cousin would take a wander round the garden while Dad and his brother had a good old chat. Last year, I managed to get to the Wimbledon get together, too, so it was great to see him. The home had managed to put his hearing aids through the wash in his trouser pockets so the poor man was ‘without ears’ but we had a very pleasant lunch, nonetheless. I did what is known in my family as ‘Mum’s Joyce Voice’ after the way she used to speak to a deaf friend. It’s a bit embarrassing and you can feel a bit condescending doing it to start with because it’s basically loud and clear (but keeping the treble up).

However, it seemed to work and apart from the fact that my Dad behaved abominably, mainly because he is too far gone to understand that you need to speak a little louder and more clearly to deaf folks and then got annoyed with my uncle asking him to repeat himself. Even so, it all went off pretty well. Luckily this is Dad’s older brother, so maybe he had enough memories of little brothers behaving badly to remain unfazed and unperturbed by a modern day repeat! He was sweet with Dad, anyway.

Only a couple of weeks ago, Mum and I were discussing arranging another visit and talking about how much we were looking forward to it and also, naturally, our faint hopes that Dad would behave himself this time. Wimbledon will not be the same this year, indeed, I doubt there will ever be another Wimbledon without me thinking fondly of my uncle. I think his funeral is going to be sometime during the week after next so I will go to represent my parents. There’ll be no-one to look after McMini not enough notice for McOther who is too busy so I’ll have to take him out of school and bring him with me but it should be OK. If it looks like it’ll be a long service, we’ll bring Beanos.

I don’t normally post pictures of my family but here is one of my uncle – on the right of the picture in the smart light brown suit, having a laugh with Dad (bottom left) in better days and Mum (fuzzy head in the RH corner) at Mum and Dad’s sapphire? 40 anyway, wedding anniversary party. The one below that is my uncle on his 82nd birthday, I think, back in 2011 anyway. Lovely shot sent by my cousin Matthew just afterwards.

 

 

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Ten a penny … Tena pants … Bittersweet Christmas

  1. Language alert on this one: my dad’s rather than mine.

_________________________________________

Just departing from my usual Saturday schedule to post this. There isn’t time for me to do a Saturday post so there won’t be one this week but I promise I’ll finish the where are we now post the week after. I just wanted to post about Christmas at Mum and Dad’s because it was so surreal, I am not 100% sure it happened! And I think this post should go out sooner rather than later, so here it is, on a Thursday. Oooo. Yeh, that’s me, right out there. Posting on a different day. Right then, on we go.

As you know, my dad has dementia; Alzheimer’s and Mum possibly has the same but it could just as likely be exhaustion from looking after a man who only sleeps a couple of hours a night, keeps proposing to the carers and thinks she’s his mum.

We bravely went for three nights this year, and the preceding weeks were spent liaising with the carers over who had ordered what, when and what with. Somehow we managed to order just the single turkey, yay we rock, and the one we did order was from a local farm where they are properly looked after and respected. We did think there was sausage meat to stuff it but on Christmas Eve we couldn’t find it. Meanwhile Mum discovered a box of stuff she’d bought including a box of bread sauce mix, which I’d completely forgotten, phew! Said box also contained chestnut stuffing mix, so in the absence of the sausage meat we thought we had, into the turkey it went. Woot.

Shortly after I’d stuffed the turkey with chestnut stuffing mix, McOther discovered the sausage meat for the sausage meat stuffing – too late for me to have to make it, which, while a little sad, was also good in that it saved me a job at a point when I didn’t really have time to do it. Instead we cut it into ice hockey puck shaped things and cooked them with the bird.

One minging balloon. You can just see the green shred of the other one in one photo.

Christmas Eve we had to wrap the stocking. Obviously, we’d seen that coming and wrapped everything we could on the day of purchase! I had found some completely vile balloons in Wilco which were hilarious but took a fearsome amount of courage to blow up. One ended up deformed, only one ear inflated fully and I couldn’t get the other one to fill. Unfortunately, before I got to take a picture it burst! Boo! The other one popped after getting too close to the tree, but I have a picture of the purple one – the only survivor of the three.

During our first night, I woke up several times to the sound of my dad bellowing orders:

‘I’m NOT wearing these.’ … ‘No.’ … ‘No you bloody stupid woman! I REFUSE to wear them!’ … ‘You’re a thoroughly unkind woman! You’re horrible! Not like … she’s a NICE person.’ Dad is incontinent and was talking about removing his tena pants. He does this every night and he also does a lot of pooh every night which makes a delightful surprise for the carer in the morning – except it’s not so much of a surprise these days.

Other gems included: ‘Will someone come and turn the fucking telly on!’ at about three a.m. and then,

‘Will someone PLEASE come and bloody well get me dressed.’ (at about four a.m.)

Meanwhile during the day, ‘Will someone turn the fucking telly off.’ and ten minutes later, ‘Will someone turn the fucking telly on.’

It’s like Father Jack combined with Granddad out of Bread. This is the reality of living with dementia. I read that the best thing to do with dementia folks is to go with the flow. A while ago he told me that he had to go for a walk NOW. I looked outside and saw that it was blowing a hooley and chucking it down with rain but I knew he’d get in a state if I told him, ‘no’ and I thought I’d give the go with the flow thing a try. So just said,

‘OK Dad, come on then.’ By the time he’d got into the hall I said, ‘Hmm, I am daft! I can’t remember what we were going to do next.’
‘I don’t know,’ he said, I’ve forgotten, too.’ so I said,
‘Maybe we came out here so you could have a wee.’
He brightened up,
‘Yes, that’s right. What am I coming to that I can’t remember?’
I said, ‘I dunno,’ and we had a bit of a chuckle about and I added, ‘I’ll just go and get your bottle.’
Wee sorted, back he went to his chair. No more chuntering about going outside.

The trouble is, that’s fine during the day. Sure, maybe overnight the carer could agree that he could get up, suggest he goes to the bathroom to dress, then by the time he’s got there he may have forgotten and then they can just so the wee thing and take him back to bed. He might remember he was getting up and call their bluff though. Some ideas are more fixed than others. That’s fine in a home, with night staff, they could just get him up and he would probably sleep quietly the rest of the night in front of the telly. But that’s not so easy at home when the same people have to be up and awake with him during the day who were up and awake with him all night. I guess this is the point in the Contented Dementia Sufferer where they recommend the person with dementia goes into a home. But Mum has promised Dad he can stay in his own home and feels that she must honour that promise, whatever happens.

But I wonder what Dad would say, real Dad, before the dementia came Dad, if he could see her now? He would be horrified to see Mum going through this. He would be saying, ‘No darling, you simply can’t be expected to do this, you have to put me in a home.’

He has reached the shouty angry stage of Alzheimer’s and remained shouty and angry from our arrival through to the morning of Boxing Day. And there’s the whole thing that this shouty Father Jack clone who lives with Mum is a million miles from the person he was. He’s in there, but it’s really hard to solve the human puzzle that is demented Dad and find him. It doesn’t mean we should give up, but I wonder if we should take a different view. The trouble is, Mum has to do what she feels is right, but I’m hoping to persuade her to balance that. She can’t keep caring for Dad as if he has been given seven months to live. She’s been doing that for fourteen years. She needs to accept he will be around, let go of the fear and step away every now and again to recharge her own batteries. But persuading her is easier said than done.

As I may have mentioned, Dad was in a bit of a grump when we arrived. He is usually an unhappy chappie in the mornings but once he gets downstairs and has some food he perks up. However, I missed a trick on Christmas day. The food was too complicated, the plate too full. He needed the turkey cut up, he needed a tiny portions of each thing with plenty of white space in between. He didn’t eat. He was overwhelmed and asked to go back to his chair. I let him. He had ice cream for pudding but ate very little else. Another situation when he’s not a happy man; when he’s hungry.

He was too grumpy to come to the Christmas Day service, but that was a good thing, as he was in the kind of mood when he’d be singing Old King Cole or obscene limericks very loudly and shouting that he needed, ‘a fucking piss’ instead of the carols or something.

He has rather lost the idea of time if he says,

‘May I have a cup of coffee?’ and it doesn’t materialise by his side as he is finishing the sentence he will fly into a rage. ‘Hurry up you stupid bloody woman! I want my coffee!’ It took me a while to get the hang of laughing him out of it. It’s one of the reasons I really dread having to help him wee. Because he has a tendency to start berating you if his pants aren’t pulled up the second he’s finished. The first time he did it to me I wasn’t prepared for it at all and I got it so wrong he smacked me over the head.

On Christmas morning he asked me who I was so I explained I was his daughter.

‘Oh yes, I remember. What a pity you’ve got so ugly.’
‘Thanks Dad.’

Everyone in Dad world needs a haircut. ‘You need a haircut!’ is one of the main things he says to everyone, women and men, on a loop. He appears to want us to all have Lego mini figure hair, smooth and unruffled. Three brillo heads staying must have been a joy for him!

He’s deteriorated fast this year and even in the ten days since I’d last seen him. Dad and I have a joke about the German word for father which sounds very like ‘farter’. So I’d shout, ‘mine farter oh mine farter!’ and he’d say, ‘mine taughter, mine taughter,’ no idea how to spell these words, I’m doing it phonetically. We’ve been doing this joke since I was about fourteen and as he has become more and more demented it’s become our anchor, setting the tone, setting the scene, placing me. Do the joke and at once he knows who I am.

When things started getting a bit dicey on Christmas day I gave it a go.

‘It’s not father, it’s vater, with a v you stupid woman. Get it right for god’s sake!’

So he’s forgotten that one then.

Ho hum.

So how did it go?

It was bittersweet.

Upside: McMini – McMini all round actually because was fab and Dad didn’t swear at him once. He also got to light the Christmas Day candle on the Advent wreath. I didn’t have to change Dad’s nappy. I got to prepare a turkey dinner for only the third time in our 22 year marriage (which was awesome) – and I also got to help McOther cook it.

Downside: Dad didn’t really cheer up until the last day we were there so it was hard work and I felt I’d missed him for three days of the four.

Special commendation: to McOther who had to deal with Dad plus full tena pants after the carer had left for her day off on Christmas Day and McMini, Mum and I had gone to church.

Did we have a good time? In parts, which leads me to something important.

Important Thing.

Not everyone enjoys Christmas. Not everyone has a laugh. There are more deaths at Christmas than any other time, which, presumably, means there are more people grieving. More suicides, too. There are more folks who are sad or upset than you could ever know. There is so much pressure on us to have a fun, be joyful and happy. Everyone is going on about how wonderful it is everywhere you look, with their elves on their shelves, their acrylic festive jumpers, their relentless happiness and hall decking and Christmas cheer.

Bastards.

Fact is, for some folks, Christmas is sad, or difficult, or painful. And you know what. If you’re one of them, it’s OK.

Lost a loved one? Looking after someone critically ill? Looking after someone with dementia? Dealing with depression? Dealing with chronic pain? Full time carer? Eating disorder? You are not alone. Here are some I know, a lady lost her son three weeks before Christmas, another lost her husband six weeks before and another lost her husband the week before. Another lady spent Christmas Day in A&E with her husband and lost two sisters over the last two weeks. Two lovely ladies I knew died of cancer just after Christmas, both leaving loving husbands and children. My Grandfather’s mother had a heart attack and died in his arms on the way home from church on Christmas morning. In the news tonight, a lady in her sixties and a policeman died in a car accident on Christmas Day.

You are in good company.

Shit happens, and in that way, Christmas is like any other day. I hope with all my heart that you did enjoy Christmas; that it was wonderful, warm and loving and that it brought you everything you wanted. But it’s not obligatory if you couldn’t manage to enjoy it this year. Sometimes life is hard and sometimes doing the right thing isn’t always the easy thing. Sometimes, you just have to grit your teeth and do what has to be done, or do your utmost to make it as happy for the people you love as you are able.

Sometimes, even when it’s overflowing with love and warmth and compassion and kindness, Christmas still hurts.

It’s worth trying to look for the shiny bits. If they aren’t there you can always have a go at making some even if it’s just finding someone who is having it harder than you and giving them a hug. They’re there, believe me. But if you can’t find anyone obvious, take heart from that list there. It isn’t just you.

That’s the thing, I guess. It isn’t always easy or enjoyable. You don’t have to pretend it is. You don’t have to pretend it’s OK. Finding it difficult is far from failure. Lots of people struggle at Christmas, so if that’s you, here’s hoping it gives you the strength you need to know you are in good company.

God bless, hang in there and good luck.

___________________________________________________

And just in case a word from the Samaritans. As soon as I have the time to do it I am going to become one.

Whatever you’re going through, call us free any time, from any phone on 116 123. We’re here round the clock, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you need a response immediately, it’s best to call us on the phone. This number is FREE to call. You don’t have to be suicidal to call us.

There you have it peps:

Samaritans UK and Ireland 116 123
Samaritans Astralia 135 247
Samaritans New Zealand 0800 726 666
Samaritans RSA 0800 12 13 14/0800 21 22 23
Samaritans USA 1 (800) 273-TALK.
List of suicide and depression crisis lines round the world – careful of this one, the first on each listing is the emergency services number but if anyone outside those other areas needs one I hope this link will help: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_suicide_crisis_lines

 

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Goodbye my friend…

If I’ve been a bit absent from the internet this week it’s because I’ve had a fair bit on. An exciting meeting about a new project on Monday, I really can’t wait to get started on it. But as life often is, the high about moving onto the next stage of the project was tempered by the death of a good school friend. He was a strong and noble character and towards the end of his life, he fought with mental health issues and addiction. He withdrew from us all, fell out of contact and then, suddenly, after a long absence, he popped up on facebook. I sent a friend request at once, but then discovered he had suffered a heart attack a few days before. This was all two years ago. The heart attack left him brain damaged and partially paralysed. Oh he was all there but he couldn’t speak – I went to see him just afterwards. Slowly but surely, since then, improved. I kept in touch through his family and I really thought he was going to come back to us. Sadly it was not to be. He died of pneumonia, in his mother’s arms, at 6.35 on 13th January.

I wrote this about him, I sent it to his mum and sister and I’m publishing it here, because it’s all I can do.

Duncan Abbott. 1968 – 2015 R.I.P.

What to say about Duncan? Not so much a case of where to start as where to stop.

Duncan was one of my best mates. He was part of the family scenery for a long time before we actually met as he was in my Dad’s house, at our school and our families had been friends for generations. I would hear his name bandied about (along with others). Our paths crossed many times at school; Duncan and I were cartoonists for the school magazine and he was in my art set. He used to turn up for our art class on Saturday mornings with a full Mohican hairstyle, ready to go to Brighton for the afternoon. As someone who wanted a blue Mohican but never quite had the heart to do it to my parents, I always admired him for this.

It was after I left school, when the two of us were living in London that our friendship really blossomed. The Mohican had gone by that time, “I took it down because no-one would take my intellect seriously.” I think both of us bonded through an eccentricity, and possibly a love of cars, which could make us feel like very square pegs, and the world like an extremely round hole!

This is the internet. I don’t want to go into identifiable detail. So, these are the words that speak of Duncan, to me:

Funny: Duncan was very witty, in an engagingly irreverent way, and not afraid to prick the hide of the pompous. He made me and many others laugh. Lots. Indeed, one of my enduring memories of Duncan is the high guffaw quotient of any time we spent together.

Enthusiasm/Energy: If Duncan was into something, it was impossible not to get carried away with his enthusiasm. I remember visiting him in Sussex just after he’d bought an e-Type. As we drove down a country lane he found a straight and shouted gleefully, “Watch this!” He proceeded to floor the accelerator, guffawing madly as he did so. It was like taking off in a rocket. He was also sensible though, because when I retorted with a, “Go on then! Faster Faster!” He told me there was a bend coming up and slowed down.

Fun: Duncan was effervescent and he knew how to throw a dinner party, which he often did. Usually, after stuffing ourselves with wine and the food he and Lucy had cooked, we’d play a few rounds of the board game, ‘Risk’. Many is the time I remember playing late into the night. Usually we’d give up and go home at about 3 am. We all cheated, decimating the armies of anyone who’d been unwise enough to go to the bathroom by removing half their pieces from the board while they were gone. Nobody ever won because nobody’s bladder was strong enough to achieve world domination.

Generous: Duncan was generous with everything. I remember during my time in London, when I was about to move into a new flat and the deal fell through. I had a month with nowhere to stay. Duncan was one of the most supportive of my friends over that time, letting me store a load of my stuff in his tiny flat – and leave my car parked outside – when he had very little room for either.

Intelligent and a little rebellious: Duncan was very bright – prodigiously intelligent, in fact. I mentioned this to my Dad who said, “Dear Duncan, he was such a naughty boy. It was because he was so intelligent of course! He got bored. If you were teaching Duncan, you needed to engage him. He was one of the brightest lads I ever taught.” Tom Griffiths, our art teacher, also thought similarly.

Kind: Duncan was unfailingly kind to me. Always. I remember in art class, Griffiths saying,

“It’s no good trying to pretend you’re a hard man Abbott, not with those hands, they’re the hands of a pianist not a Hell’s Angel.” This used to make Duncan guffaw both at the time, and when recounting it afterwards. (Griffiths always referred to Duncan as a ‘hell’s angel’. Despite being an art teacher with a goth for a daughter, it seemed he didn’t really understand about punk).

Positive: Duncan had been through some pretty heavy stuff and although it affected him, deeply. One of the things that amazed me, throughout the time I knew him, was the courage and pragmatism with which he attempted to deal with it. He just put his head down and tried to get on with his life.

Sure, he could be mercurial, pig-headed and he didn’t suffer fools gladly! What’s more he could be spiky, difficult and childish (although he was never like that to me). But he was also kind, generous, lively, funny and brim full of energy and joie de vivre. He was a larger than life character and a true and loyal friend. I thought about him or (since his heart attack) prayed for him most days. He was my friend and I loved him. I will miss him.

Wherever he is and whatever he is doing now, one thing is certain: there will be laughter, and lots of it.

Life, like a never ending stream
Bears all its sons away.
They fly forgotten, as a dream,
Dies at the opening day.

Except we won’t forget you mate. Goodbye my friend. Good luck and God bless.

If any of my school friends read this and would like to know the when and where of the funeral,  feel free to leave me a comment or drop me a facebook message.

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