Friday, November 11, 2005

Heart on sleeve: memories, gratitude and life itself

Golly, that all sounds a bit pretentious! Hopefully not pish though. I've thought quite a bit about this post, but being somewhat a heart on sleeve kinda gal, it seemed as artificial to delete it as post it.

Yesterday I read Marie's post about her dad's friend dying and how it made her reassess how lucky she felt about her life.

It's a year since my dad died - was last Sunday - and although I had worked through my grief about his death even before he had died (it had been a long and slow time coming through dementia and an utter lack of carer support for him/me) the anniversary set me thinking about what he lived through and what I have to be grateful for.

My dad left his family behind when he was conscripted into the army in WWII. His parents died during the war - relatively natural causes - and he lost touch with his sister. Having wanted to become a linguist, he ended up having to be a bus driver in the UK because no one would employ a German refugee for his language skills. Following several heart attacks he was unable to work and became utterly reliant on my mother for support. His sight failed - glaucoma. His blood circulation became poor. Then he was diagnosed as having Parkinsons. (Hilariously - deep irony there - the first person to really raise this possibility was my boss in accountancy whom I HATED with a passion for her patronising attitude and ability to belittle people. On the day I left the firm - to continue my degree studies full time - she kindly volunteered to take my leaving gifts to my house whilst I continued on for the night out. [Perhaps her kindest ever gesture]. My mother, aware that this woman had contributed to me having collapsed from stress - and I'm not exaggerating - and whose reputation she was well informed of, nevertheless reluctantly invited her in for tea. Seeing my dad struggling to to sit and drinking his tea awkwardly, my boss casually commented "oh it's so difficult taking care of someone with Parkinsons isn't it?" Through gritted teeth mum apparantly tried to move the conversation on before my dad's poor hearing picked up the remark. It was around 18 months later when her off-the-cuff comments were proven correct).

Anyway, Mum took care of dad more and more: losing her own life inch by inch in the process. And then she became unwell. Mindful of how dad relied on her, she didn't get full medical advice despite my protests and encouragement. Less than two weeks after she finally consented to go into hospital for exploratory tests, she died: on my dad's birthday, which was also their wedding anniversary. Timing eh. [NB my only other close relative, my mum's mum, died on my mum's birthday. There's a habit you don't want to carry on] By this time dad needed a wheelchair and assistance to get anywhere over a distance - and anyone who knows Nottingham's QMC hospital knows that EVERYWHERE in there is a long distance. Although at first he seemed to cope better than expected with mum's death, eventually he was in and out of the Nottingham Hospitals on a regular basis. He couldn't read properly cos of his sight, he couldn't hear properly, his attention was erratic and his mood swings appalling. Worst of all, no one seemed to give a damn. He played coherence well enough to convince visiting assessors he could cope because damn it he knew he wanted to be seen to cope. This meant that I fought not only all the health care professionals but also dad as well because I couldn't get him to see how difficult the situation was and how much care he actually needed. That this was played against the backdrop of my PhD, insecure employment for Cloud and ultimately severe money worries - let alone the disasters and traumas of some of my closest friends including their family deaths, depression, and relationship tangles of mega-proportions - and you can see how it would take its toll.

He died alone, on the sofa, half dressed, the house in chaos that he had never let me or anyone else tidy up [we had to attack when he was in hospital and even then it was bedlam to do anything constructive]. I don't think in the end he was very happy: but he had God and his faith and I hope, I truly hope, that that gave him the comfort he needed to see goodness in his life.

For me, I know that now I can be grateful for my health - generally, nothing major anyway. For Cloud and my friends who are my adopted family. For my job that I love and students who I adore (mostly). For good tv and films and music that I can hear and watch and go out to enjoy. For books that I love to read for knowledge, pleasure and just the sheer delight of learning more stuff. For images that illuminate the world, highlight the human condition and captivate me. For performances that draw me into another world or view, embodying ideas and ideals. For blogging which has made me so many good contacts. For a house that though rickety is beautiful and has potential [even if that is "potentially costly"] and pictures that hang in it that make me smile and know beautiful things. At least I have known my family for longer than my dad did, and brought others into being family with me. I hope that things continue to be this good, though I know nothing lasts forever.

Like Clare's Three Beautiful Things project, I know I have enough to be grateful for. I just wish that things for my parents had been a little less hard.


J.J said...

They had you Lisa so I'm certain they would have thought they were blessed.

Marie said...

It sounds like you did an amazing job. You should be proud of them and of yourself.

Rob said...

I wouldn't worry too much about the timing issues: there really is never a good time to have a parent or a spouse die.

Otherwise, what Jane and Marie said. How could they not be proud of you?

And thank you for letting us share your feelings.

JoeinVegas said...


Anonymous said...


You have compassion and understanding, two very valuable things. And your father had you. So he did a lot better than he might.