My ninety one year old father, sending me sixty year birthday greetings and prior to yet another stair fall…
Just after my 60th birthday I went on a pilgrimage to my 91 year old father. To call it just a typical family visit would be an understatement. One never knows what kind of greeting might be given going from past contentiousness, and sometime over-touchy, father.
My train journey to Rosslare and the ferry across the Irish Sea to Wales adds to the sense of mission. My journey’s end arrival was greeted by a much-weakened father.
In his time-confusion, or more likely, anticipatory excitement, he decided to get up at 4 am to try and have a shave. I wasn’t due at his house for another nine hours. The shave never happened. Other events took over.
It wasn’t his rushing about that caused him to tumble down the last few steps of his corkscrew style stairs. Unsteady in socked feet, possibly in the dark, and carrying his clothes bundle all played into this drama.
Jane, his 59 year old wife (almost my sibling, at this stage) knows better than to intervene with such a stubborn, argumentative man. Anyway, she didn’t have her hearing aids in, so didn’t hear his final fall. Intuition then stirred her to follow her quixotic husband, only to find him groaning in pain on the kitchen floor…
Torn ligaments, or possibly a fractured bone, made it very painful for him to use his age-weary legs. The shortest of journeys from chair to front door were slow, even with usual aid of walking stick.
This visit was far more pacific than many other past occasions. There were none of the expected arguments, that usually brewed in his brain. Those thunderstorms were created from innocent, well-meaning questions or comments.
But on this particular visit, other minor and unusual issues occurred. For instance, I would be talking to him, only to discover he had fallen asleep mid-paragraph, head bent low. I just waited good humoured, until he woke and we continued the conversational thread, or initiated a new one.
His repartee wordplay and wit were still very much in evidence. But so were his very boring, broken-record, pedagogical ponderings. Who cares about half-baked generalisms about 1960s American society in Louisiana? And so what about the yeast ingredient of rock buns, made by his auntie in the 1930s? I came to visit with meaningful exchanges in mind.
A curious medical development has recently started, as his eyes finally start to fail. He has occasional Charles Bonnet Syndrome episodes. Due to lack of retina stimulation, he “sees” things that are not actually there. It is not dementia.
During one conversation, he complimented a “visiting woman” on her attractive drain-pipe style dress and thanked her for coming to the party. I just played along with this. He soon got back on conversational track.
I see him once or twice a year, so that his long-suffering, ever-giving third wife can have a creative break. I asked her to consider switching off her phone, while having much-needed personal space.
To relieve a bit of the somnolent, long, face-to-face conversations, I scrubbed down the cooker and counter top. Then I relieved the pantry of some stale and mouldy food. Occasionally I would retire to rest my brain, and lie on my bed, in a rented terrace cottage, next door.
I wonder when I will see him again? Maybe that opportunity will never come, if he has a third heart attack, or possibly a stroke. Life holds many unknown adventures for us.
I hope that his end is far happier than much of his life has been. Much of his pain is part due to emotionally violent teen circumstances. There is also his misplaced patriarchal pride and also many self-inflicted wounds.
Kindly counselling was offered to him but declined. It would have gone a long way to reaching unfulfilled opportunities, both with he and I, and also with him and his now-grown grand-children…Much more than the Irish Sea has separated us for the past 35 years…