Friday, September 11, 2015

Things my father taught me

I look for the good in any situation – the upside, the silver lining. It's a characteristic I inherited from my father. He has always greeted good news with enthusiasm, bad as an opportunity.

The day before yesterday I hugged him and told him I thought things were difficult for him. I was referring in particular to a long and involved toilet session we'd just had, and in general to his life with dementia.

He hugged me back, kissed me and said, 'Don't feel sorry for me.' He didn't explain why I shouldn’t but his voice held its usual strength and expression.

He has no insight. That’s a good thing. In this instance, anyway.

Another bright side is that I’m better off than a dear friend of mine who is living with a husband who lives with Alzheimer’s. That’s a ménage a trois I don’t fancy. And my friend’s husband can be mean these days. My father too sometimes gets angry, but it’s not often and he usually apologises afterwards.

Another good thing is that we can afford to keep Dad in his own home. My brothers and I are spending our future inheritance on caring for our father. I’m not sure what he’d think of that. I think his previous self wouldn’t have wanted it – he’d have wanted to look after us from beyond the grave. But in his current incarnation this is best for him I think.

This is another thing my father taught me. When my mother was suffering from Alzheimer’s he used to say that Lucy Before wouldn’t have liked this but Lucy Now is a different person with different needs.

So now, though sometimes to be honest I feel like I’m drowning, I still look for the upside of this situation. Mostly, the worst times are caused not by Dad but by some of the people around me: The Difficult Aunt, The Shrieking Carer. Or The Kibitzer, the person with the great ideas for things I can do. Not that they can do, that I can do. Oh, thanks for that – so helpful, so kind.

OK, tantrum over. Back to looking for the good side, the silver lining, the opportunity. When my head is above water, when I’m spending time with my dad, how do I feel?

At those times it’s like I have become a sack of emotions, most of which I can’t identify. There’s love of course, and pity, guilt and sadness, my old friend anger and, tucked away here in the corner what do I find but gratitude, so hidden that I nearly missed it. Gratitude for this opportunity for closeness and devotion and growth.  For our bubble of privilege in a war-afflicted world. For this intensity of feeling that cracks me open the way tree roots crack a concrete path.

We sit at the kitchen table, my father and I and a guest who has called in. Around us the world spins at a fantastic rate, but here at its centre a father tells his daughter and a visitor a story that meanders and turns back on itself and now is about one thing and now about another.

The listeners sit nodding, smiling, agreeing. ‘Yes,’ the guest says, sipping his tea.

The story flows on and on, carrying him back to when he met his wife, to when his own father was alive. There are billabongs of words cut off from all understanding, torrents that only he can follow.

‘Yes,’ his daughter says. ‘I know.’ And she does.


  1. Oh my goodness, such a wonderful tribute to your Dad and what a way to find gratitude. He did indeed teach you well. My mother turns 98 next month - 2 strokes and still very much alive and well. You make me stop and think back as to what my mother taught me. Among them - girls can can do anything they want, yes, red hair & freckles will be as asset to you some day, and kindness to everyone is something we can all share.

    Thanks for sharing your heart!


  2. Beautiful and honest. And grateful to still have him in your life, as you know your time together is finite and any day might be his last ...

  3. Thanks, Katherine, for your beautiful comment. I LOVE your mother's words. And she was right! Look at Nicole Kidman for the proof of red hair and freckles turning out to be assets.

  4. Thanks, Anna, for your lovely words. You're right of course.