In memory

4:44 pm : Sunday, 12 January 2020  |  , ,


30 years ago my dad died at the age of 57. It was a Wednesday night on the 10 January 1990 when I came home from work and was informed by my mum that he had died. The next day I went into work and did not even tell my boss. Instead I just handed her a note written by my mum requesting a day off for the funeral. I feared my boss that much.

He did not look after himself. My parents split in November 1979, with me and my sister being hauled off to Spain for a couple of months, before coming back to the UK to live in temporary accommodation. She had had enough of his drinking, and of his habit for speed and valium. She had had enough of her two kids finding his tablets on the floor and thinking they were Smarties. She had had enough of his yoyo behaviour. 1980 saw them divorce.

Since then, he would visit us at weekends, but live alone in Peckham in south London. One October Saturday in 1986 saw him not turn up at our home, and when my sister arrived home from work, she then hauled herself down to his flat in Peckham. No answer at the door, so the police were called. Through the letterbox he was visible in his bed, so the door was broken down. He had suffered a stroke, and just looked up at his daughter and the police like a puppy.

The rest of 1986 saw us visiting him at weekends at the King's College Hospital in Dulwich. Seeing him reduced to skin and bone, locked away inside and unable to communicate. My dad was not the same anymore. Laying there, eyes open, occasionally slow blinking, not responding to voices.

Progress would eventually come, and a Boxing Day visit to the psychiatric ward at King's College Hospital saw him once again jolly and talkative. Slightly a better person than before. Certainly the sanest person in that ward. There were people in that ward who were truly loopy. He just did not belong there, but he stayed there until sheltered accommodation was provided in mid 1987.

In 1988 there was a second stroke which largely paralysed his left hand side. His left hand was now useless and stayed in a glove, and his walk was a sideways shuffle. Worryingly, in his very limited capacity, and entirely without prior arrangement or warning, he would make the journey on public transport from Peckham to Finchley, and present himself at our home to visit. I found it hard to tolerate, as I was still a teen growing and learning, and here was this shadow of a man babbling about things from the long distant past. It may have helped me draw up an accurate and comprehensive family tree, but the randomness of the visits was not easy to deal with. I arrive home from school, walk up the communal staircase, and am presented with a brown glove on the step. Up more stairs and there he is - waiting outside our door for one of us to be home, and listen to him babble.

It was hard for my mum. I tried my best to tolerate his behaviour, but she broke more easily. He would be recalling some useless fact from the past, and she would respond sharply with: "Yes - so? What are you telling me for? I don't bloody care! Yes, and? What am I supposed to do with that fact?" Despite his very broken nature, in his mind he maintained this notion that he and my mum could somehow reconcile. How that would have worked is anyone's guess. It was hard enough for me to keep switching off the hairdryer and saying: "Sorry?", just because he felt the need to stand and talk at me about some irrelevant thing from the past.

When I learned of his death, I thought: "Right, OK. It is a shame, but so be it. We have to carry on." It was a sad downward spiral, but then he did drink, and that did not help when having high blood pressure. He suffered with depression, so probably saw little purpose in life. In the end he just existed. My mum did feel guilty when he died, but what else could she do? She had a son who was still her responsibility. She had her work to do. How in the world could she have found the strength to care for someone now broken? Qualifications are needed for that, and neither she nor I possessed those very qualifications. We were out of our depth.