I thought my father would never die.
I was sure my father would always be here. I couldn't conceive that the one constant throughout my life, in my life, would no longer be present.
I was also afraid my father would never die. I couldn't conceive of an end to his growing dependency. The tyranny of care wrought by my familial sense of duty. The ever increasing list of tasks I needed to complete for him. The way these ate into our available time. The fear engendered by my innate selfishness.
But then he died. Last November. Suddenly. Painlessly. With dignity. And the grief was mixed with relief. And that mixture of emotion became toxic. The turmoil of loss swirled amongst my new found freedom, For every time I realised I didn't need to visit, to call, to shop, to drive, to provide for my father I felt relief, then profound sadness and finally guilt the relief came first.
My mother passed away in 2010.
For almost six years my father lived. No. He survived. Alone.
Alone in a physical sense, living in a small bungalow. A pleasant, but small, bungalow. Surrounded by the bare minimum of belongings. More importantly alone in an emotional sense, Waiting. Sometimes willing, yearning, to be reunited with my mother in the after life of which he was so sure.
Dad engaged with us. Largely me. But sometimes us.
J was brilliant, he would visit my father on days when I could not. Sometimes he would be welcomed. On other occasions. Many other occasions. J was met by my father at the door of his home. "Where's the boy?" Dad would ask. Before making an excuse in order to refuse entry, often with a lack of grace that would have appalled my mother.
My mother's death so close to our adopting our son resulted in jealousy on the part of my father. He felt it inappropriate we continued with the adoption. He wanted a hiatus. He wanted. Expected. Demanded. We should wait. That we concentrate on him and his grieving before turning back to our son.
We disagreed. We had made commitments to the little boy who would become our son. He expected to move to us the following day. We continued with that plan. And I'm not sure my father ever forgave J and I.
Life continued for us all. Our son became settled. Secure. We adopted our daughter. She attached in a similar and much stronger way.
We saw my Dad every day. He came to dinner with us each Sunday. If we were away we phoned daily. He spent Christmas with us. Came to birthday teas. Attended school plays. He engaged with our family. Laughed at the children's antics. Enjoyed our successes, commiserated when we failed.
Yet all of this was viewed through the prism of the loss of his wife.
My father wished my mother was at dinner too. Was lonely for company while we were away. Described the joys of Christmas, fun of birthdays, school triumphs, in the third person. Telling us how much my mum would have enjoyed each. He enjoyed the children while reflecting how my mother would have enjoyed them more.
So I never anticipated my father would leave us. But he did. Last November he fell. I received a call to tell me an ambulance was on its way to his home. I went there immediately. Followed the ambulance to hospital. Spent the afternoon with him. Visited later that evening.
Over the next few days Dad deteriorated. I visited on the first evening when he was lucid in his instructions to the medical staff who asked him questions. His instructions were clear, if this was the end he wanted no intervention.
By the second afternoon and evening he was more confused. He was paranoid. He was telling imaginary people who stood over my shoulder to stop listening in to our conversation.
I spent most of the third day with Dad. Leaving only once he had settled, in the early hours of the morning. Finally having persuaded him he was not in an hotel in Swindon. That the family were safe. That he was not in any danger. That we were not in any danger. That it was safe for him, finally, to sleep.
In those early hours we had out last, lucid exchange. At 3am I had persuaded him finally to settle on the bed. He had tried to hit me as I encouraged him to settle again. I told Dad I loved him. He looked at me, clear headed, conscious for just a moment. Looking me in the eye he said "I love you too."
That final interaction means so much to me.
By the third afternoon Dad was no longer conscious of his surroundings. He lay in a hospital bed, his energy spent. His cheeks sunken, his pallor grey, mumbling incoherently under his breath.
J, is a consultant geriatrician. A man used to dealing with the elderly. A man used to identifying the likely outcomes for his patients. He accompanied me on that last visit. He could only stay a few moments before leaving in tears. J knew. J understood where this story would end, and that end was now close.
I stayed. I held my father's hand until he slept. Then I kissed him on the forehead and left him for the last time.
So I now find myself clearing my father's home. Dealing with his final affairs. Negotiating faceless, anonymous bureaucracy on his behalf.
And during this process the guilt has been heightened. I realise how little he had. How for my father life had not moved on after my mother's passing. How age not only diminished him but also diminished his world.
I normally try to end blogs with a positive. I can't with this one. I'm unable to find positivity in this story. Life moves on. I know I could not have done more. I am certain many others in my position would have done less. That knowledge provides no comfort. I feel relief at the release. Then I miss Dad. Then the guilt consumes me. I look back constantly and wonder whether I could have been a better son.
My reaction to these emotions is a different story of its own. Suffice it to say I have felt down. Not depressed, just down. It has impacted negatively on all those around me. A family who haven't deserved my mood swings, frustration and anger. A family I do not deserve for their fortitude and love in helping me through.
Sadness. Relief. Guilt. Repeat.