It is one year today since my father passed away. He had Alzheimer’s and over the preceding year I’d watched his brain and body decline.
The day before he died, I walked into his room at the nursing home and did a double take: I thought I was too late. He was lying on his side, skinny and pale, mouth open. Then I heard his breath rattle in his throat: he was alive.
I spoke with the Director at the nursing home and we prepared his room for the next, final, stage of his life. We set the table by his bed with a vase of flowers and a photo of us, his family, so that when he opened his eyes it was the first thing he saw. We plumped up his pillows and straightened his bed sheets to make him comfortable. I set the iPod to play some of his favourite music, Neil Diamond and Andrea Bocelli.
I sat next to his bed and took his hand. It was no longer callused from manual work and the muscles had shrivelled so the tendons stood out between the hollows. His hair still felt soft and fine, about the only part of him that hadn’t been affected by the disease. I placed my cheek against his and inhaled and tried to commit all of him to memory while I could so I’d never forget what he looked like and how he felt and smelled.
His brain had slowly decayed over eight years and much of the person he’d been had ebbed away long before his heart stopped beating. My grief had begun many months, even years, before as my once-strong, capable, intelligent father withered. To see him look at a knife and fork and not know what to do with them. To put a bib on him and spoon in pureed food. To see his muscles waste until he was unable to walk. To see him wearing a nappy. To watch him distressed—and he was distressed more often than he wasn’t—and hear him cry.
We’d had time to prepare for Dad’s death and when the news first came that he’d passed away, my initial feeling was relief. Relief for him, that he no longer had his daily struggle, and relief for us, that we no longer had to watch him struggling and deteriorating. I’ll admit there were times during that final year when I’d hoped his death wouldn’t be too far away and when he finally stopped breathing, in many ways it was just the physical remnants that died because so much of him had already gone.
Over the next few days, the relief dissipated and a sadness set in. It’s confronting to realise you’ll never see your father again. I told myself that most people lose their fathers: it’s the natural order of things, the way it should be. Intellectually, I knew that, but when Dad died, I felt it like a child. He was my dad, that strong man who’d always been in my life, and he was no longer. That took a bit of getting used to.
I’ve written a lot about him, both before and after his death. I felt very close to him at particular times during my life. He was a good listener and we shared many of the same passions—a love of music, the ocean, and the bush, in particular.
I’ve looked back over his life during this past year—gone through photos of his childhood and his early adulthood before I was born: slides of him with his mates at Bondi in Sydney; fishing up the Lakes, a string of trout behind him; sitting on the bonnet of his car, one of my toddler cousins on his knee; in his waders by a river, a fishing rod in his hand and his father next to him.
And in all the photos he’s smiling.
Here’s to you, Dad. You taught me a lot while you were here and one year after your death I’m still trying to learn from you. You knew what was important. I will never forget you.
I’ve written about my father in other posts too:
A Connection to Country
My Father’s Hands
You’re a good writer
Thanks, Jeff. I’ve been practising.
Yes, your father was a great man…
Hi Louise, I just read In Memory of My Father and watched the clip. I am now typing this with tears rolling down my face. How beautiful and what a wonderful tribute to your dad. I remember him as an amazing man. It was wonderful to also see photos of dear, sweet Francine. I always visit her grave when I go to the cemetery. Keep writing. Your work is amazing. You are such a talent.
Denise, How wonderful to hear from you! It’s made my day! Do you know, I was only talking about your grandmother, mother and aunt today. How they used to sit on the verandah and watch and greet passers-by, then go inside when it was time for the ‘serial’. It so harks back to another era.
You are right about my Dad — he was a wonderful man. It’s so nice of you to remember Fran and visit her grave.
Thanks for popping by and for your encouragement. Like I say, I will go to bed with a light-heart!
Lovely post Louise it is such a horrid disease xxx
It is a horrible disease, mostly hidden away in nursing homes. It’s really hard to watch someone you love wither away like that, and I had to brace myself before I walked into his room some days. Now, three years down the track, I’ve mostly forgotten how skeletal and unlike himself he became, until I see him in a video. I don’t like thinking of him that way—I want to remember him healthy …
Dear Louise, I’m so pleased you reposted this. I’ve kept it open in safari on my iPad and reread it most days. It’s a beautifully written tribute to a lovely Dad and the musical photographic montage is wonderful. Last Saturday was the 24th anniversary of my Dad’s death and so your words had resonance as well as beauty for me. I also got my love of the ocean and music from my Dad.
I’ve been waiting to respond to this because I wanted my response to be about you and your Dad, but your words have brought back so many precious memories for me that I find I can’t seperate the two, even though they were different people. So I’ve decided that rather than no response, I shall just respond from my heart. I’m so sorry your Dad had to endure the vagaries of Alzheimer’s and I’m so grateful for the precious memories your post gifted to me. Grief is a strange beast, it can be overwhelmingly painful, and then it can bring joyful appreciation for the knowing of love.
Thanks for visiting this post, Tricia, and I’m glad you enjoyed it. I don’t mind at all if my post reminds you of your own relationship with your father and you want to comment on that. That’s the aim of my blogs, really, to resonate with others. So, I’m glad it has! There’s certainly a special relationship between a father and daughter, and for which I’ll have to find the right words one day—so much for my writing skills! You are so right about grief—to not know it, you’d have to not know love. I was only thinking about it earlier today, and how life is all about letting go, whether we want to or not …