My father became very depressed during his last few years. Not least of course when my mother died in early 2003. They had been married for well over 50 years, and had met during WWII in London, when he was a student at Kings College, London. Mum was a native Sarf Londoner and her family home was in New Cross. So he’d known his life partner for the best part of 60 years.
But once he’d got over the initial devastation of that immeasurable loss, a number of his former work colleagues and friends followed suit, and as he remarked in his sardonic way ‘I suppose I’m at an age where these things are bound to happen, but it doesn’t make it any easier’. It seemed at one point that he was attending a funeral almost weekly, and each time he would return home and announce that he couldn’t wait for his own turn, before toasting another old friend several times and often polishing off another bottle of fine single malt whiskey from his extensive collection.
We his children could little to comfort him, but to drink along with him and share our own memories of his latest departed friend.
And then the inevitable event that we’d all been hoping against happened. He had always been a very practical and active man, and he was buggered if chronic arthritis and heart problems were going to stop him from leading his life his way. It was painful to watch him take a whole day to do some task that might have taken him no more than a couple of hours when he was able-bodied.
But he remained truculently independant through to his last dying day, and although I was nominally living with him in order to help him whenever he needed it, the majority of my offers of help were routinely spurned, usually fairly hurtfully. But such was our relationship during his last years. Although I had had a very successful 25-year career in IT, given he and mum their first grandchild – and a son no less, and helped raise 3 other children not from my loins, I think he still considered me a bit of a disappointment as his son and heir, and he never held back in his withering criticisms of my poor general abilities in DIY, gardening and the like, and despite the fact that my presence probably saved him from being put into a Care Home, my presence was hard to bear for him.
All he saw of my life, I think, were all the wasted opportunities and failures, particularly my failure to complete my University Education. I don’t think he ever got to grips with the devastating effect that PTSD had had on my life, and just saw the frequent drunkeness and other habitual behaviours (particularly my heavy use of the Internet in those last years) as evidence of lack of moral fibre.
This is something I have never really understood. Although it was me that had witnessed my younger brother’s horrific death, when all’s said and done my father had lost a son as well. How could he not understand or empathise with my reaction to his death?
The facts as he (and I suspect, both my sisters) saw them, was that I was claiming Jobseekers Allowance, drinking too much and spending most of my time faffing around on Facebook or playing online bridge, and spongeing off my old man to do it. In point of fact, I paid my way towards all the household bills. The only thing I wasn’t paying was any rent.
Dad had fully purchased the house about 5 years before retiring, so it wasnt like I was ripping him off there, either.
To this day, the eldest of my 2 sisters can barely give me the time of day. Luckily, my younger sister still talks to me, but its still a very strained relationship. There was a time that I would get a hug from both my sisters when we got together, and another when my visits came to an end. Those days are long gone.
Every woman in my life has been brilliant and beautiful IMO. Not necessarily beautiful in the good looks sense, though even there I’ve seen a beauty in all of them. But beautiful minds, certainly.
A desperately maudlin, drunken email late one night, as another relationship foundered in 2011, was the start of the rot, I think. I was living with my latest beau in Hastings on the South Coast. We had only just got together physically, having had a long and deeply intimate merging of minds online, and I had been convinced that she was ‘the one’, and that this time it would work. And it probably would have done, if only I could have found work down there. Unfortunately, we’d set up home there primarily so that my partner could spend as much time with her father during HIS last days. Its a wonderful town to live in (IMO), but has one of the highest unemployment rates in the south-east of England. My partner had returned to Edinburgh for a long weekend to see ‘her boys’ and, left to my own devices, I started drinking again having pretty much weaned myself off alcohol.
My partner was a Reiki Master and rarely drank herself, though I as far as I was aware, she wasnt necessarily averse to it, and we’d had a few nights out with her sister and her partner where we’d all had a few beers. But it turns out she WAS averse to drunkeness, as her ex-husband, it turned out, was an alcoholic, and reading between the lines, got nasty when drunk.
All I know is that in my maudlin state, I’d sent her an email in which I’d said I was feeling quite suicidal at the thought of losing her due to my continued joblessness, and it turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. In a panic, she rushed back to Hastings to find me bleary-eyed and much the worse for wear but still coherent. I got my marching orders and told to vacate the flat we were in, courtesy of her cousin. She herself moved out that same day and went to live temporarily with her sister. Worse still, for whatever reason I’d also copied my email to my eldest sister, and she too had had a very fraught night as a result.
The fact is, I’ve lived with suicidal feelings for most of my life, and in fact the only reason I’ve never felt like acting on those feelings was that I was not prepared to put my parents through the agony of losing another son.
But thats water under the bridge. I accept that I had put both my lover and my sister through the wringer, and I don’t blame my sister at all for not forgiving me for it, although as an alleged Christian, I think she might have tried to find some compassion for me. Nor do I blame Lucy for acting the way she did. My understanding is that as a Reiki Master, she was probably overloaded with lots of negative energy from having too much compassion for me.
Anyway, the relationship was shattered and I felt dead inside. Nice job, Ian.
Dad’s own passing a couple of years later just added (I suspect) to the my sister’s belief that I was a worthless piece of garbage. On the day that he passed, he’d begun the day well, got up unassisted and painfully dressed himself as was his wont. After breakfast, he’d started to bring some bits of wood upstairs and into his bedroom, where he set up a makeshift workbench out of 2 chairs. I asked him what he was doing and was told that he was intending to make a mounting batten for the bathroom curtains. He’d recently had a shower cubicle installed and had had to resite the curtains as part of the process. I offered to give him a hand, but was told that he would prefer to do it himself to make sure that the job got done properly. I retreated to my room. At the time, I was very unwell as a result of my prostate problem. I was getting regular and often severe urinary infections, and this particular day I was feeling very tired and sluggish, and I felt ever shittier throughout the day as I headed back and forth to the loo to piss razor blades. Eventually I crawled into bed, absolutely exhausted about 3pm in the afternoon and fell into a near comatose sleep, to the sound of my old man slowly working with a junior hacksaw. I awoke in darkness and was aware of voices that I recognised as my sister’s and her husband’s. They had keys to the house and had evidently let themselves in. Chris was sounding quite panicky and calling out ‘George, where are you?’. George was my fathers name. I got out of bed and called out to them from the top of the stairs before disappearing into the loo for another session of pissing barbed wire.
When I’d finished I came out to hear Chris sobbing and repeating Dad’s name over and over again. I walked into dad’s bedroom to find Dad on the floor by the bed with Chris evidently giving him CPR while talking to a paramedic on his mobile; minutes later there was a blue flashing light and I let the ambulance men in.
Chris had found Dad laying across the bed and he was displaying the signs of having had a heart attack. Despite Chris’s best efforts, he hadnt been able to revive him. The ambulance men took one look at Dad and gently told Chris to stop.
They checked Dad’s pulse and breathing and shook their heads. It seems Dad was already dead before Chris could do anything to save him. It was about 8.30 in the evening and Dad had been due to go round to to my sisters at 7pm for dinner. They had come round after dinner to check everything was OK.
Dad’s GP was called out to confirm the death. He explained that Dad hadn’t had a heart attack as such, but in his opinion Dad had stood up at some point from his exertions, and had actually fallen backwards onto the bed dizzy from low blood pressure. His heart had stopped in that instant with no blood in it. He said it would have been instant and painless. We took some comfort that Dad’s last moments were pain-free and that he himself was now free from pain at last. He had borne the chronic arthritis stoically, but it was perhaps his greatest frustration that he could no longer do all those things that he took for granted.
We of course said our farewells to Dad over the next week as he laid in rest, and again at the funeral. As my relationship with my father was so strained, I really have no clue as to what he really thought of me, and I suspect he was equally in the dark as to my feelings for him.
So if you’re listening Dad, here it is:
I loved and respected and worshipped my old man from the earliest days of my childhood to the day of his death. Still do, of course. He was a good father to all of his children, and he did all he could to nurture us all. He was always there for all of us, even when he didn’t necessarily agree with our personal decisions. He always supported us in whatever we chose to do. He was IMO a lovely intelligent, caring, gentle man, and if I can achieve a half of what he achieved in his lifetime, I’ll die a happy man. I am proud of him and glad that he was my father. And I am equally glad and proud to be his son.
I love him and miss him every day. He was and remains my biggest hero, and my role model.
And so for this blog, I think there is only only one song to finish on. He hated most of the music that I liked as I grew up, but his special bile was reserved for that ‘dirgey racket’ which was his reaction to the music of Roy Harper and Leonard Cohen.
And so Dad, this one’s for you
Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah