I had thought more frequently about what it would be like without my dad, but when it actually occurred seven weeks ago I was totally unprepared. Now all I want to do is talk or write about him and keep his memory alive.
Although a Parkinson’s sufferer for at least 15 years, I did not expect him to go so soon. At 80 years old his skin was hardly wrinkled. He moved extremely slowly and tired quickly. He spoke hesitatingly. He wanted to say more but the effort was great, and his stammer had returned after a lapse of about 50 years. Everything slows, as this disease goes, and yet he was strong and he had a healthy appetite. His daily routine included a healthy breakfast which he had always enjoyed from his early days. He then would listen to his radio and read his local paper or a little of a current book on the couch. Occasionally if there was something interesting going on in the news the television would be on. He dozed off a few times before his lunch snack. When he woke after his afternoon rest he would use the walker or wheelchair with the nurse on duty to go outside in the lobby and sometimes he would go into the garden to sit. This was his favourite time of day. He spent at least an hour and a half to two hours in this way every afternoon. He thoroughly enjoyed seeing people come and go, waving, nodding or smiling at them, as he always got a wave or smile in return. He loved to interact with people in this way. Many repeat guests were delighted to see him and stopped to chat, always knowing his name, although he may not have remembered theirs. The local people who passed each afternoon through the Reception area to buy a takeaway from the restaurant were always friendly and smiled and said hello. I could tell that he took everyone and everything in, even though his verbal communication skills had become so hard to navigate. He watched closely as guests arrived in taxi vans, or departed, and I could see that he was imagining where they were coming from or going to.
Dad’s face lit up when he had a visitor. It was usually one of his four daughters. When I visited, I would sit close by him and wait for him to speak. He spoke almost in a whisper but not quite, and I was glad to be sitting so close to him. I did not mind waiting. Small talk was not necessary with him. Contented silences dominated our visits. I knew he always loved to hear about the grandchildren and if I had heard a new bit of news which had a picture attached to it, I would share that. He became used to looking at iPhone photos, although the screen often went blank as he stared so long at the pictures. His favourite question was “What’s the news of Dan”. In the last year, his eldest grandson, had sailed from Costa Rica to Tahiti, French Polynesia, and New Zealand. I liked to think that Dad was living through sailor Dan, he was so interested in all of his adventures.
Some of the memories that have resurfaced in recent weeks have been random as I am discovering how grief can work in unexpected ways, but I would like to share a few.
Dad always came to kill centipedes in our house. Just a scream was enough and he came running with one of his black hard bottomed work shoes. In a house of 5 women, he was left to do the dirty deeds. Occasionally he had to chase it around the room, while we continued screaming and running in different directions, depending on the direction of the villain. He always got it and he was our hero.
I remembered the dances, weddings, and places where we were invited with our parents. It was always guaranteed that I would have at least one dance partner, no matter how shy I was. That was my dad, immaculately turned out, and always making a point of asking each of his beautiful daughters to dance. Sometimes a slow dance, sometimes a fast dance; usually I wanted to dance more, but as the gentleman he was, he first had to make sure each of my sisters got a turn with him.
Swimming was his best active pastime and I knew he would have liked to do more of it. His work always came first. But, during the weekends, Dad would take my sisters and I to the beach as youngsters and early teens. As we got there, he would wade into the sea and swim far out until we could hardly make out his figure. I always wished I could join him, but I would never have kept up. I missed him but he would soon be back and his slim body would look revived and content. He would then relax on his towel on the sand where the rest of us were. I remember he would throw us into the air when we were littler and play games in the sea with us. When it was time to leave we had to make sure as much sand as possible was off our feet, so that we wouldn’t bring it inside his car.
I remember making cheese and tomato toasted sandwiches every Sunday night for my mum and dad and eating in front the TV. Dad (and I) always liked the skin off the tomatoes. We would watch a popular sitcom at the time or perhaps a rented video cassette. He liked a good thriller, a good comedy and anything historical.
As memories of my dad are triggered in many different ways I hang on to them as best I can, sometimes shedding a tear or more, a smile, or a laugh, and write them down, fearful that my fading memory may do me a great injustice. This humble, loving man that I call Dad is resting in joyous peace, this I know.