So this is Christmas

Just interrupting the Raylene story, now that we’re finally getting out of the kitchen, for some personal notes.

I’ve just bought a lot of champagne and white wine for Christmas, which is largely, damn near entirely, a close family occasion. Usually I like to host as many people as I can, people who aren’t doing family Christmases, but the family outvoted me on that one. So there it is.

Christ on a bike

Christ on a bike

As for me, I spent three days sleeping round the clock, hardly getting out of bed, after finding that I didn’t have cancer. Then I got flu and something horrible and gastric (you don’t wanna know about it).

Finally I got up, weak as a kitten.

Usually I run down to the bottom of the nearby waterfall and back, but all I’ve been able to manage is a walk down my own property and then back to the house. Exhausted.

So that, I think, is my body telling me enough is enough. It’s been a year of death and separation and loss, and various systems want me to take it easy for a while. So I’ll be sensible for a change.

I’m basically stoical, cheerful and optimistic, and I intend to stay that way. But I’m not feeling any sort of Christmas spirit – no jollity, and I have to remember that I love people – not all the people, obviously. Still, I’m going to get back to normal. 

On the day, since my father isn’t able to do it, I’m going to be a gurning fool, possibly in a white cottonwool beard, shouting ho ho ho, pressing champagne on people, and announcing and doling out the presents one by one with a lot of shouting. A sort of meld of my father and Brian Blessed. 

What remains when all else is gone

I’ve been spending time with my father. He was a powerful man, once. Now he is not.

He has no money in his pocket, because he loses it and gets it stolen when he has cash, and he can’t manage a bank account. The hospital provides the expensive things he needs, my sister and her husband look after the accounts on behalf of all of us, and I provide things he shouldn’t have. There’s care for him in that, but he has no power.

He’s not living in his home because he’s in the dementia unit of a hospital. He doesn’t have my mother, the love of his life, with him so he is not a husband and a lover. He cannot protect her or lead her because she is dead. 

I asked him what he wants for Christmas, and he said, “A fast car.” And then he admitted that he couldn’t drive it if he had one. I remember that sometimes, when he was a younger man and I was barely a boy, he’d buy family cars that were a little racy. Muscle cars. I never knew till now how important the cars were to him. He married early, and had his first children straight away (I was a late afterthought), so he never got to drive the kind of cars he wanted. I wish I’d known when the knowledge could have done him and me some good. So now he can’t have a road racer, and he always wanted one. Damn. Damn. 

He’s lost his intellect. He’s lost the power and authority of his body and his voice. All he has, all that remains of the man he was, is his decency and his niceness. He tries to be kind; it’s his instinct and his habit. 

Because of that, the nurses and orderlies and doctors and administrators like him. They make sure any decision falls on my father’s side of the ledger. So he is looked after, and people are decent and kind to him. Decency and niceness are survival characteristics. 

That’s all. It’s a lesson. In the end, you cannot pretend to be someone you are not, because you lose the capacity to pretend. You live better if you are, by habit and nature, decent and kind.  

I don’t believe in any gods and I don’t believe in karma, but that observation about human behaviour (in ordinary, non-emergency situations): I believe that.

Kua hinga te kauri-nui o te wao nui a Tane.

Old man walking

I’m with my father. He’s very old and frail. It’s still startling to see how much power he’s lost, each first time I see him. I took him out of the hospital to a fashionable restaurant in an expensive sea-side township.

shortsThere were lots of girls in cut-off shorts, with only a few threads from the torn denim covering the lower half of their asses. Yay, I thought, though I was busy.

Also, there were the boys in board shorts chasing them, and richer middle-aged men chasing both. I don’t think anyone there had ever seen an actual old person before. 

I felt, noticing the shocked glances of the girls, that by bringing Dad there I’d introduced a memento mori into the scene, like the dancing skeleton among the beautiful young women in a Medieval painting.

I’m afraid I thought their shock was funny, just like those grinning skeletons did. People used to socialise outside of their own age group more, with courting couples and their aunts’ babies all at the same table. And old people. Now they don’t mingle so much: people the media would call attractive only mingle with other people the media would call attractive. It’s not their fault that they’ve been segregated from the very young and the very old, but it is silly. They’re impoverished, in human terms, because of it.  

I hadn’t thought about that aspect of, oh, life, when I chose the restaurant. I’d just wanted to take my Dad somewhere nice, near where he used to live with my mother. He’s been one year and a fortnight without her, since she died. So I thought the shock of the old was interesting, but I didn’t worry about it. And my father didn’t notice.

I could see him remembering my mother, his wife, and his eyes filled with tears. So I hugged him, told him I loved him, and bought him a glass of champagne.

I’ll tell you a bit more tomorrow. 

Going to California with an aching in my heart

I fly out to see my father today. He has dementia now, more or less all the time. He used to be good in the mornings, but he’s got no good reason to keep a clear grasp of a world that doesn’t have his wife in it. 

But my sister told me that in one of his clearer moods he said he’s going to die soon. Of course, that doesn’t mean that he will, but you never know. So I’ve made a booking and I’m going to see him.

He’ll know who I am, I’m pretty sure, even with his marbles gone, and I expect he’ll enjoy the visit. There are some stories he likes to tell, and I only have to drop a couple of key words and he’ll launch onto them. Having forgotten how many times he’s told them before. 

And that will be fine. He’ll tell a story, he’ll fall asleep, and he’ll wake up with a shock and find that I’m there. So he’ll enjoy my being there, while I’m there.

But mostly it’s for me, because I know that the next day he’ll have forgotten. But I need to see him before he dies, if he’s going to. No real reason. I’ve said good byes, and I suspect I won’t grieve much when he does die, because he’s already mostly gone. And he wants to be dead. He’s not in pain or unhappy, but he thinks he’s done and should rest. He’s done everything he needs to do, in his own estimation and mine. 

But we are what we are, and we need to mark these things by meeting. 

One thing, though. I still don’t know whether or not I have cancer. But I’m not going to talk about it with Dad, because he doesn’t need to worry about that. He wants to die knowing that his children are all all right. 

So I won’t talk about cancer, partly because I don’t know whether I’ve got it. And he won’t talk about dementia, because he definitely doesn’t know that he’s got that.