When Dad does dating

So after my mom died (Grief is a real thing) and Dad moved to the retirement village it was a case of so what now? In short, my father is a people person, he must be around people and be interacting with people all day every day.

The retirement village was supposed to tick all those boxes and provide him with hours of entertainment but nobody reckoned on the crippling depression that grabbed hold of him and hung on tight like a blood sucking leach in a dank swamp. He socialised, with some subtle prodding, which later progressed to a metaphorical forklift to get him out of his chair and out the front door but he did socialise. The yawning chasm though was at night, when everybody battened down their hatches and went about their own business and he still wanted to have a person to talk to and share a meal with etc etc.

I’ll tell you one thing for free, when your parental becomes the aimless one and you take on the role of “advice giver” it is a rough and rocky path. Beyond frustrating because what makes sense and is reasonable to you will most times be a foreign language in your parentals life. Anyway after many months and many phone calls and many “Dad you need to put yourself out there, life isn’t going to come to you”, he did just that. He started “dating” (the word seems dodgy given their age group but you know, made a friend, acquired a partner – whatever) a lady at the village who had lost her husband about three
months after my mom died. Was it awkward, oh yes, massively so. It all looked so wrong, which is quite ridiculous given the circumstances, but to see him with another woman just freaked me out – and yes I know that is despite me being the one telling him to get out in the world.

Those first few months were quite something and I’ve honestly not been that uncomfortable for some time. Lots of time talking to my mom and pondering and musing and reasoning and trying to come up with a strategy so that I could move forward with a relationship that was clearly going to form part of my life fabric (and it has, 3 years now). Very deliberately I reshaped how I was going to do things, what I was prepared to do and what I was prepared to “put up with” for lack of a better way to put it. I was, in all honesty, initially resentful of how different he was with H as far the little things go – buying flowers, helping with grocery shopping which had not been part of his relationship with my mom until a good friend pointed out (useful to have good friends) that perhaps he had realised what he hadn’t contributed the first time around and didn’t want to make the same mistake twice. Fair point and food for thought but it wasn’t easy at the beginning.

Did I mention I have a brother, well yes he lives in a different province and a new woman in my fathers life proved a bitter pill to swallow. Round 999 of talking and explaining and reasoning that she was a really nice person and good for my father and took some of the stress off me and there is an uneasyish truce in place. My father of course thinks that he’s happy so all the family should be happy and is totally oblivious to any undercurrents – this is not a new thing, the subtleties of living have passed him by for as long as I can remember. A close knit family is a blessing without question but comes with its own
matched set of baggage. My husband, who comes from a family with a completely different dynamic and has a father who is cold and remote (the complete antithesis of mine) has I think been bewildered on many an occasion by all our stuff but has proved dogged in his support of whatever decision I’ve made.

And my father and H? All good from what I can see, three years in and contentment reigns supreme – long may it last, are you listening universe thanks.

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Grief is a real thing

So grief, grief is a real thing let me tell you. I’m not sure I really understood the whole process of grief and grieving until we had roughly 18 months of onslaught. I’d been sad before, obviously, you hear about death, you lose a beloved pet (and I howled like a banshee for days after that), contemporaries of your parentals pass away etc etc but it’s only (in my opinion) when it comes knocking at your front door that you really get it.

So first of all my mother in law died, we weren’t close but she died ugly (rampant alzheimers and all the accompanying stuff that goes with that) and I needed to be support for my husband while he dealt with her passing and his father and siblings and all their stuff. I need a new word for stuff but you know – emotion and baggage and arguments and discussions and stuff! Then 6 months later my feisty, never ill, full of life 86 year old mothers appendix burst and she dies two weeks later in hospital. My father literally fell apart and I put up my hand and said it’s ok, I’ll sort it out. You see, I told my comatose mother on the day she died that it was ok to say goodbye and I would look after my father and well that’s a promise you can’t exactly break. She, in her infinite wisdom, had always done everything from cooking, cleaning, finances, shopping for groceries etc etc My father was just, I can’t, I don’t know how, I don’t know what to do. So in the next 6 months we sold his house (at his request), moved him into a retirement village (best decision ever) and tried to find solid ground to stand on. The phone calls were endless and I can remember one night going into a room in our home, switching off the lights and curling up on the floor with my arms wrapped around my head and thinking I can’t do this anymore, I can’t do everything for everybody, when do I get a chance to grieve? Did I tell my husband the depths of my despair? No I didn’t (rightly or wrongly) I’m also the “strong” one, always the one who picks up the pieces so I did, I picked myself up and got back to getting on with life. I think the first time I really cried, well other than at the funeral because who doesn’t cry at funerals (I hate funerals with a passion let me reiterate but we did it because my father thought it was the right thing to do) was driving home from work on my birthday roughly 10 months after she died. It was in the winter and cold and dark and I wept for my mother for 8 kilometres and then I packed it away.

I’m jumping around here but about 4 months into project Save Father, one of our dearest friends also died from colon cancer. He was in his 40’s and once of the loveliest people you could wish to know – his parents have now buried both their sons (the first one in a car accident) so you can imagine walking that road of pain. On the day of his memorial, we got a call to say that my father had been involved in a car accident and was being rushed to hospital. You seriously cannot make this shit up – the photographs from the memorial are something, I look like a ghost. My father was lucky with relatively minor injuries but the psychological impact was massive combined with everything else.

Grief and grieving is an individual process – I don’t believe there is a guaranteed or recommended formula for everyone to follow. I do believe time is critical and that there has to be a line drawn in the sand and when you get to that line its time to start living your life again. You don’t forget, ever, but you remember how to live and why you need to live.

Its now three years later – I’ve had some health issues, nothing major but enough to give me a wakeup call. I’m quite convinced the utter overwhelmingness of the stress and grief was a contributing factor. What has grief taught me? I’ll tell you one thing its taught me –  to take care of myself and make myself the first priority in my life. I consciously avoid people and situations that are stressful and I have redrawn my boundaries – I put up with a lot less than I used to. You’ll probably find that there are people that think I’m selfish but that’s ok because I know my truth and the people that matter know me.

What happened ……

When DH and I go to visit my mum and dad we often drive past a hobo sitting forlornly on the side of the road with a mismatched, ragtag bundle of meager possessions. He’s a big man, long hair and a full beard – filthy dirty with a puce colured coat and head down, never looking at the passing cars. I always wonder how he ended up in such a dire state?

“I used to be somebody you know
People used to look me in the eye, shake my hand and call me sir
That was before
That was before that night – I signed the deal and they told me I was the best
Everybody wanted to buy me a drink and I didn’t say no
Dave wanted to drive me home but I told him to piss off, I was no girly that couldn’t hold my drink
I got in the car

I killed him you know
They say I hit him so hard that he ended up in the ditch across the way
Just 16 he was, on his way home from football practice
They put me away for a while but I got parole for “good behaviour”
Bloody joke, no booze inside.

And now, sleeping rough,
My family moved away, no forwarding address
They deserted me – the bastards
I’m afraid, especially at night
I hide behind the station
Under the boxes
They hurt me when they can find me
They take my stuff,
I’m all alone.”

Postscript – I wrote this a few weeks ago and didn’t get around to posting it. The irony of the situation is, when we went to fetch my parents for Christmas lunch at my brother’s today, there was a plain wooden cross in the spot where he used to be. Willie, that was his name, died on 17 December 2012.

Five Days – Day One

I’ve a lifelong passion for military history and military graveyards (which might sound morbid I guess but its the story behind those thousands of gravestones that fascinates me). From Arlington to Gallipoli, Montecasino to Dunkirk millions of men and women and their families have been affected by the endless grind that is the machinery of war. With this is the ever present spectre of death ……………..

The sky is grey and wet

I’m sitting staring at the nothingness,

I’m searching for you

My hands are restless

I can feel the warmth of your skin but you’re not here.

The silence is so very loud,

I’m screaming your name,

Where are  you, why don’t you hear me?

They keep asking me if I’m alright

Keep bringing me a blanket,

Keep wanting me to eat.

I want to laugh, alright?

What is alright?

My soul is empty,

My head is full

A whirlpool of angry thoughts, you promised you’d come back.

And now all I have left is a handful of photographs,

You, so full of life

In a barren wasteland obliterated by war.

A white cross on a distant hill,

Come home

Please come home.

(photo courtesy of 123RF)

The story in a photograph

 

The photograph is from a recent birthday break in the mountains, the story is whimsical flim flam.

 

“Gramps, where are you” she cried. Anxiety made her quicken her pace as she hurried around the corner of the house.

The old man wasn’t answering the phone and Mrs Dimble from down the street hadn’t seen him either.

It was two years since Gran had died, two years today since the sadness took over his every waking moment.

The patio was deserted, the only sign that he’d even been out of the house were his spectacles and his books.

He never went anywhere without his specs.

Her gaze turned to the mountains, strong in their silence and a constant presence.

Surely not,

he couldnt,

he wouldnt,

everybody knew how dangerous the path was – especially after the rain.

Death Becomes Her

My best friend and a work colleague both lost their mums over the past three months. As a result, what is normally a topic banished to the recesses of my mind has been much more prominent of late.

I’m very fortunate to still have both my parents and thus harbor no illusions of having any answers related to loss and grieving. In both these cases mental and physical illness was rife and their passing was a blessing – I would imagine for them and most definitely for their loved ones!

Yet again, nature becomes my point of reference. While walking the river on our last weekend break, a fallen tree caught my eye. With DH’s warning of “watch for sun bathing snakes” ringing in my ears, my camera and I went to investigate (DH couldn’t be separated from his ciabatta and “monitored” progress from a grassy bank).

A most fantastical display of plant life had sprung forth from their dying host. A veritable forest of fungi and traces of numerous bugs dashing about but I resisted temptation to break away some of the bark for a closer look. You can justimagine the headline in the local Insect News ….. “Monstrous alien invader destroys numerous homes in unprovoked raid”

“Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war”

There was a shy, new moon out last night – barely cracking a smile. In fact if you blink you’d probably miss the silver sliver. Yet there was just a hint of “watch out world, here I come”.

For some obscure reason, it brought a flood of sentiment (not particularly useful while dodging traffic but there is no leash powerful enough for the beast that is the human psyche). There is an afrikaans word that perhaps best encapsulates the emotion – “huimwee”. No literal translation as such – hankering, yearning, nostalgia  … yet more ethreal somehow, a more will o the wisp thing. The what ifs, perhaps and maybe’s, different roads to take, different choices to make.

The fraility of human existence was never more clear than during a documentary on television filmed by an ITN reporter called Jon Steele and called “Baker Boys – Inside the Surge”. Based on the experiences of a company of american soldiers in Iraq it chronicles the experience of being at war in the modern age. No short sharp battle, a winner and a loser – instead a constant, draining war of minds and hearts. I’m fascinated by history and hand in hand with that military history courtesy of us war-mongering humans. I feel unqualified to pass judgement on being at war – my ground level, uncontaminated opinion is that death cannot be recommended but sadly good people die while politicians play at puppet master.

A sea of blank eyes greeted the documentary maker’s questions – “how do you feel”, “what do you think”? Optimistic to expect the truth I guess. Would they do it again – I would imagine the majority would sign on the dotted line. War generates income and in an economic recession people do what they need to to put bread on the table.

It begs the question though – what does the average 20 year old see by the quiet light of a silvery moon on foreign shores?

Baker Boys – Inside the Surge