I needed to blow some cobwebs away this week, after the funeral of my Dad. We had a thanksgiving service in Salisbury Cathedral, which was quite a joyous event, as lots of people celebrated his life. But it is still a stressful time and I was glad to get back to Scotland. My son, Tin, and I took the dogs for a walk up Arthur’s Seat. This is a famous hill right in the middle of Edinburgh.
It was a crisp, cold morning and the fresh breeze on top certainly helped clear the mind. If you read this blog regularly, you will know that walking is one of my things. There is something in the combination of physical exertion and the wonderful views that really energises me and gives me perspective.
It will no doubt take some time to grieve for my father, but life moves on, and next week I should be able to get back to our narrowboat. Within a few weeks, Mandy and I will be off on our next big retirement adventure – six months travelling through the canals in the South of England. Mandy says that in my head I am already there. I am certainly getting very excited by the thought.
I look forward to sharing the experience with you.
My father passed away this week. I have written before about him. He has had advanced Alzheimer’s for several years and in recent times has been a shell of what he was. He knew no-one, could not communicate, could not understand, was incontinent and immobile. It made me deeply sad and angry. I still expected however, that when he passed I would be upset. And yet this week I have been very matter of fact, getting on with the logistics. I am definitely more relieved than grieving. So am I kidding myself? Will this come and hit me later? Or did I do my grieving as he deteriorated and I lost the father and man he once was?
He was a traditional father. I don’t remember him ever hugging me. There were four of us children and as we grew up he was always there for us, but in a quite hands-off way. If we had an intellectual argument he became engaged and was fascinated. He was less good with emotions. This is a little odd because he was a parish priest, and empathy with people in tough situations was part of the job. I think it was just that underneath the image of the vicar, he was always a shy man. I think he was proud of me. I was certainly proud of him.
I do have very happy memories of him. We were lucky to have a stable and safe family environment. There was never much money around, but he kept us clothed and fed. I would add “warm” but we grew up in cold, draughty vicarages where you would wake up to ice patterns on the inside of the bedroom windows. But I am not complaining. That was normal in our generation and we were happy. And we were free. He and our Mum always encouraged our independence. I could leave the house first thing and not return till dusk. From an early age I would go to cub camps, or music weekends by myself. I learnt to be self reliant, in terms of my physical and emotional needs. It made me who I am.
This week I have loved reading the many “With Sympathy” cards that my Mum has received. Dad was involved in many clubs and activities and was held in great respect. What I have loved the most is that these memories are all of how he was before the awful disease took him away. It has helped me remember that man. I loved him.
For the first time since the pandemic started I was free to go and see some of my relatives this week. I had a great time, driving around the UK and visiting my sister, one of my brothers & his wife, my mum and one of my aunts. I am feeling a little guilty about others I did not see, but it was still a really good week. I also managed to get a number of “jobs” done including sorting out my mum’s loft, helping her buy a car, and getting my aunt to sign sixty sheets of paper for her powers of attorney. In many ways I feel very satisfied. But one visit has left me sad. For the first time in two years, I was allowed to see my dad face to face in the nursing home where he lives and is looked after. He has advanced Alzheimer’s.
Let me tell you about my dad. He was a Cambridge graduate in the Classics, who then went on to study Theology and became a vicar in the Church of England. He led churches in Derby, Salisbury, Matlock, Frimley and Guildford. He was involved in amateur dramatics. He collected old newspapers. He became fascinated by the Lutheran church in Germany and learnt German so that he could visit and find out more. He was introverted but pushed himself out of his comfort zone to stand up in a pulpit every Sunday. I love and admire my dad.
He started getting confused about eight years ago, and he deteriorated relatively quickly, By four years ago he was in a home, and when I saw him last time, he did not know who anyone was and was fully reliant on care. But there was still something there – just a spark in his eyes when he listened to music, or looked through pictures in a book. He had to be hoisted and he spent the days with others in the lounge, and in his room at night. Just occasionally when I spoke to him, there was the glimpse of a smile and I could imagine some kind of connection.
When I saw my dad this week that spark had gone. He is now in his room the whole time. He seems to be just a shell.
Of course I realise that no-one knows what is going on in my dad’s head. Perhaps there is still something there. And I am glad that I went to see him. But I feel such a sense of loss. He is gone but he is alive. I can’t say goodbye but nor can I connect. I just feel sad. And I feel guilty for feeling sad while he is alive.
Have you had a similar experience? How did you manage how you felt?
Last weekend I went to stay with my Mum in Salisbury. The main reason was to see her for the first time in eighteen months, but it was also to try to sort out a move of nursing homes for my Dad. He has advanced Alzheimer’s dementia and needs 24 by 7 care. It is a sad situation and it is important for me to remember him how he was, rather than how he is now.
So while I was in Salisbury I went up into the loft and reclaimed eight or nine boxes of my Dad’s old newspapers. Now before you think that my Dad was a slightly strange hoarder, these are not just any old newspapers. It was his hobby to collect papers from many years ago. They are fascinating to read, partly for how the front page headline stories were portrayed, such as when the Titanic was sunk, or when the world wars ended, or when we landed on the moon. But also equally for the inconsequential stories and adverts throughout the paper. Who knew so many corsets were sold a hundred years ago?
Dad has papers from as far back as the seventeenth century, but his biggest collection is from the year of his birth – 1936. They paint a real picture of a year that mixed everyday stories with what we now know was the preparation for a war that changed the lives of everyone across the globe. I wonder if in 90 years time, someone will be reading the newspapers from the start of 2020, fascinated by what was being said about a little virus in Wuhan and how that contrasted with page after page about how we were all so cross about Brexit.
I have brought the newspapers home to Scotland and over the next week I plan to curate them, rebox them and hopefully find time to read a few. I do not have so long before we set off on our summer tour of England on the narrowboat, so much of that reading may have to wait.
As I have begun going through the boxes, I came across a speech my father had given to the local rotary club about his hobby. He tells a story about how he was travelling back on a train from London reading one of his old newspapers about the death of Queen Mary. A fellow traveller asked why he was reading a fifty year old paper. My Dad replied “I guess I am just a slow reader”. I am looking forward through my ongoing retirement also to become a slow reader.
Did your parents have any unusual hobbies? What do you think of them now?