After my Mother died in 1986, my Pa sold the family home and moved in with a lady friend. I was lucky enough to get a flat close by, so it was easy to keep an eye on him, and we shared a lot of quality time together. I loved my Father dearly, he was my hero and my best friend. Life was good for Alfie, their home was warm and comfy, she took good care of him, they shared many holidays, mostly in Italy, and were reasonably well off. But in 2004 Dad’s “landlady” started to complain that he was becoming very forgetful and repetitive, which I suppose I had noticed, but put down to his old age. It drove my Pa’s lady friend crazy, so it was decided to give her a break I would spend more time with him, and become my Father’s carer. Initially we’d go out together for long walks and the occasional visit to the pub. That was our regular Sunday lunch time ritual. We enjoyed the English gentlemen’s privilege, we’d meet Tom my brother in law at the Malster’s arms, and imbibe much good ale, and fine cigars and cigarettes, then I’d walk Pa back to his for a nice Sunday roast, or sometimes we’d enjoy lunch at my Sisters. Those Sunday lunch time sessions were wonderful, the three of us were very close, we shared a lot of laughs, occasionally a few tears for our dear departed, and brilliant conversation.
But on one of these lovely Sundays my Pa turned round and told me he thought he was very ill. When I asked him why, he said “nothing’s right any more”. That disturbed me enough to take my Father to his Doctor, who checked him over and proclaimed that Pa had Cardio vascular age related Dementia, and possibly Alzheimers too. I was mortified. The Doctor(or Quack, as Alfie called him!)advised me to seek out a residential home for my Father quickly, as he believed my Dad’s condition would deteriorate rapidly. After a visit to each of the local care homes that would accommodate my Father, and learning more about the disease, I spoke to the Alzheimer’s society in Chelmsford who confirmed my feelings that my Pa didn’t have Alzheimer’s. A further visit to a specialist confirmed that my Pa had hardening of the arteries, which lead to the poor blood supply to his brain, resulting in his Dementia, but not Alzheimer’s.
From there on in, aside from actually sleeping in the same house as my Pa, I was with him every day. And we shared many wonderful moments. I was still trying to work part time at this point(early 2005)and sometimes, much to his delight, I took him to work with me at a local caravan park where one day, I spotted some beautiful blue flowers at the foot of a fence where we were walking. I asked him what the flowers were, and he said “Forget-me-nots”. Being the son of a true countryman, Alfie had an almost Supernatural connection with Birds(feathered and non feathered!)and Wildlife in general, something I’m happy to say I seem to have inherited from him.
Then one Sunday when we’d returned from the pub, we simply couldn’t rouse Pa’s lady friend. Unfortunately she’d long since took my Father’s door key, blaming his Dementia. Alfie couldn’t figure out where his lady friend had gone. And indeed for the next ten months he continually asked me, no doubt several hundred times a day, where she’d gone, even up til a few days before he died. To use Dad’s words, she’d done a “moonlight flit”, she’d “jumped ship”, taking most of her stuff with her, and some of my Pa’s too, including his credit cards(which I cancelled first thing the following day)his cheque book, and his pension book. Having sensed something wasn’t quite right, I’d already had his pension paid into his bank account several weeks previous, and held on to his debit card, already having the power of attorny over Alfie’s finances. My Father quit full time work when he was 75, after some 60 years plus working, but had continued to work part time til he was 85. At which point he’d stopped citing the “dreadful drive” to the Pine factory in Tolleshunt Knights(TK being his place of birth)as his reason. As a result his pension was considerable.
I really don’t want to name names, or make accusations about a person, whose family may take offence, because I still have much love and respect for that family, or at least certain members of that family. It will suffice to say that my Father’s “landlady” enjoyed my Pa’s wealth and pension, and when he became ill, it was too much for her to deal with, and she took the easy way out, and left. But for my Dad, it was too much to take, and suffering Dementia, unfortunately he never got his head round the fact that she’d gone, and continually asked me where she was. To say his constant repetition and questions drove me round the bend would be a massive understatement.
Pa and I went to mine, and after a telephone call I was told that a small suitcase containing some underwear and a few other minor bits and pieces had been left behind my garden gate. It was so sad, and rather pathetic, this little case that had travelled the world, with it’s scant contents, precious little to show for almost 90 years on the planet. The following day, at the behest of Social services, Pa was taken to be assessed at a local care home. The stench of pee 10 feet from the front door was overwhelming, and despite the best efforts of the lovely staff, the place was grubby, it stank and was falling down. I’d like to think that my Dad’s visit there improved things a little, certainly their security, as Alfie tried to escape several times, and as a result they had to put an alarm on the front door. Once he was found walking down the lane to the nearby village, with another elderly chap. When one of the staff caught up with him and asked where he was going he said “the pub”.
My Father hated being there, and when I visited him he wept and begged me to take him home. After a few days I began to worry that staying there would have a permanent effect on Pa’s health, and it broke my heart to see him crying, so I defied every body, and Tom and I sprang him from the dreadful place. Officially homeless my Pa stayed with me for several months. It was a difficult scenario, I have a lengthy, steep staircase leading to my flat, and often as not I’d wake to find him standing at the top of the stairs, without his glasses on, unsteady and uncertain of where he was. Alfie slept a lot of the time, on a wee bed in my lounge, mostly I think because he was so confused, sleep was a better alternative to the ghastly reality of losing the place he called home, after almost 20 years. People who suffer Dementia become seriously disoriented if they’re moved from the familiar, and this is obviously what happened to Dad.
Some weeks later at a meeting with the local Social services, ably supported by the council’s homelessness officer, and my elder Sister, I was asked whether I could possibly care for my Pa for a few more hours weekly, in an attempt no doubt to save shillings somewhere. I was tired and ragged, and of course all my waking hours were spent looking after my Father. I was so angry I leapt out of my seat and was intent on punching the social worker. At which point the homelessness officer grabbed my hand and pulled me outside in to the corridor, and calmed me down. She told me if I hit the guy Alfie would never get re housed, and I’d be at the top of the SS’s shitlist, so I went back into the meeting and said nothing. There were vague promises made that once Pa had been re housed, then a care package would be put in place, to assist me.
I do sincerely hope(and I do very much welcome comments pertaining to)that the system within the Social services has changed for the better. Because when I cared for my Father it felt like it was a constant battle to get help, and to get things done. Gradually, by September time 2005, my Pa, aged 89, having been homeless for four months, was offered sheltered accommodation. We moved into a sweet little bungalow in Heybridge, and for the most part we were happy. Every couple of days carers came in and showered and shaved my Pa, something he’d long since lost the desire and ability to do. I kept Alfie as pristine dress wise as he’d ever been, obsessively making sure he was his “dapper” self. According to Pa the bungalow wasn’t his home, his real home being Fitch’s crescent, our family home that we’d left some 19 years previous, after Ma had passed. And sometimes he’d remember he’d lived at his lady friend’s house and want to go there. We shared some truly sad times, but there were lots of very good times, and some extremely funny times too!
On Christmas day 2005, Pa, Tom and I had our usual knees up at the Malsters at lunch time. Afterwards Tom took Alfie home with him for lunch, whilst I went back home to bed, for some well earned shut eye. On Boxing day I decided to cook a Christmas feast, paid for by the generosity of the Fireman’s benevolent fund, some thing Alfie had championed for all his years in the Brigade. We sat down to enjoy this lovely dinner washed down with much Cava, tho’ I noticed Pa was scraping the small crusty edge off his stuffing. “Every thing ok Pa?” I asked, wondering why he was scratching at his plate.”Bloody lovely boy” says he, “apart from the Snake. I’ve tried it a couple of times and I’m sorry but I don’t like it”. I’m not sure when he thought Snake had been introduced to the traditional English Christmas dinner, but after me assuring him there was no Snake in the dinner, and him assuring me he had tasted Snake before, and there was, I had to let it go. Another time Pa and I were walking through the local shopping precinct, and a young Mum with a very low cut top, pushing a buggy, passed us. Split seconds later Alfie turned round to me and said “bloody lovely tits Tev!”. It seemed Dad never lost his love of women, and once when we were in a pub in Maldon, he bumped into a small group of ladies he knew, enjoying lunch. “How are you Alf?” one of the more brassy gals asked, “I’m fine” he said, leaning on his walking stick like the errant son of Charlie Chaplin “just don’t get enough sex any more!”.
I quickly found out I had to be very careful with what I said to Alfie. He’d usually wake at 7.30 a.m, I’d hear him get up and take him for a pee, afterwards he’d go back to bed til maybe 8.00-8.30. But then, if he asked me whether we were going to the pub that day, if I said yes he’d say “bloody lovely!” and leap out of bed and attempt to start dressing! At which point I’d have to explain that it was only 8.30 a.m. and he hadn’t had his breakfast, and the pub visit was at least four hours away. Caring for someone with Dementia is probably one of the hardest things you can do, as you’re being constantly battered with the same questions, literally hundreds of times a day, and you’re having to try to keep someone fed and watered who simply can’t remember what happened three seconds ago, never mind a half an hour. I’d always try and give Alfie all his favourite foods to keep him happy and because he’d like to retire no later than 9.30 pm often as not I’d cook his dinner early, and I’d eat later after he was in bed, in peace, without the constant questioning. But several times I’d cooked Pa’s dinner, and for whatever reason he’d been late for bye byes, and me being hungry I’d cooked my dinner and ate it in front of him, prior to him settling. As I was eating he asked me, “so where’s my dinner?”. I explained that he’d already eaten his dins, and that I was having mine late. “Bloody starving I am!” he says, and proceeded to tell me he hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a cup of tea!
Getting Dad ready for bed was always a head spin. If I left him to his own devices often as not he’d simply take off his trousers and jumper, and snuggle down. So I had to help him undress, as he simply couldn’t remember how. Then came sorting out his pyjamas, then trying to get him to take off his glasses, then hand over his hearing aid, which was a nightly battle! Perhaps he wanted to see and hear well in his dreams……?
Caring for my Pa, as far as I was concerned, was just returning the favour. He’d washed me, fed me, dressed me and wiped my bum as a child. And when he got Dementia, it was my turn, the child truly became the Father to the Man. I’d urge any one in my circumstances to do the same, because trust me, it’s about as real as things get in this “Maya”, and the love between a parent and child is very profound, and knows no bounds. As my great friend Mr Lovely says of when some one dies, “where there’s a will, there’s a relative!”, but I’d add to that. Inevitably when some one dies, there’s tremendous guilt, even when there should be none. Despite the fact I did my best I still felt I could have done better, so my ego hammered me with guilt. But in the dreadful scenario that is Dementia or Alzheimers, you have to learn to love in a more patient, deeper way, I couldn’t have lived with myself had I simply packed Pa off to a care home.
So after almost 5 pretty far out months at the bungalow, just when I thought things were becoming a little more settled, Alfie’s Dementia became more acute. And there were one or two occasions where my Father, or rather his Dementia, became very aggressive, and tried to lash out at me. One Sunday when he was due to spend the day with my Sister, he said he couldn’t get out of bed. I tried to motivate him in all the usual ways, telling him it would soon be time to go to the pub, and that my Sister was cooking a big Sunday lunch for him, but he simply wouldn’t budge. When I asked what was wrong he said he couldn’t move, and I became very concerned. It was only lovely Tom’s arrival that finally got him motivated. Looking very subdued and shaky I got him out of bed, dressed him, and sent him on his way. But despite the splendid lunch and much pampering from my Sis and Tom, he returned to the bungalow, breathless and disoriented. The following day he simply wouldn’t get out of bed, and complained he felt unwell, and coughed a little blood.
At that point I called the Quack, who thought my Pa had a chest infection and gave me some antibiotics and said Dad would be fine in a few days. I can’t recall who alerted them, but the District Nurses began to visit, which perked Pa up for the time they were with him. I can’t praise these lovely women too highly, they managed to get Pa to the loo, to drink, and take his medication. But for the rest of the time, Alfie behaved like he had a fever. He moaned and groaned continually, refused to eat or drink, and for quite a bit of the time spoke to various people who were “visiting” him in his delerium. He kept reassuring my Mother he’d be with her soon, and had quite heated conversations with some of his visitors. I was totally freaked out, I felt powerless and simply couldn’t cope, and Dad’s rantings were driving me more crazy than his constant questioning. It was beyond me to nurse my Father at this point, or do any thing to help him further. After consulting my Sisters I decided to call the Quack again, and request that my Pa be taken to hospital, where surely they could attend his needs better than I.
When my Pa’s Doctor did show up some 5 hours later, he was rather uptight and gruff. He said my Pa had a chest infection, and what did I expect him to do? I told him I simply couldn’t cope with my Father being this ill, and please could he send him to the hospital for proper medical care? Then he asked me something that totally blew my mind; did I want him to die at home or in hospital? because if he went to hospital, if the chest infection didn’t kill him, then surely MRSA would. I was outraged that he could say such a thing, and told him that I didn’t think that was the issue, that my Father needed urgent medical attention that I couldn’t give him. He wasn’t willing but got on the phone and ordered an ambulance, which arrived some four hours later! Thank God it wasn’t an emergency……
When I think back to the Quack’s attitude, of course what he said wasn’t as bad as I thought, he was just so brusque and his bed side manner was awful, and he said it all in front of my Pa. I couldn’t cope with my Dad being that ill, but of course it would have been better for him to die in his own bed, rather than a strange hospital. But when I went to see him in hospital the day after his admission, I realised I’d made the right choice. The Doctor on the ward confirmed my Dad had Pneumonia, but anticipated he’d pull through after a course of medication.
My Father was in intensive care, with nurses attending to him regularly. He was wearing an oxygen mask, but as I walked into his room, I could see he was smiling at me, behind the mask. One last smile. One of my nieces stood on one side of his bed, crying and holding on to her hubby, I sat on the other side holding Pa’s hand. He’d stopped his delirium, and seemed relaxed and at ease, tho’ didn’t speak. I left him for a few minutes to speak to his Doctor who assured me Alfie would be fine once he had completed his course of antibiotics. I went back and saw my Pa, told him I loved him, and told him to get his arse out of the hospital asap.
I went back to Heybridge, visited a friend’s pub and had a few drinks, and went home to bed. When the call came through early evening that my Dad had died, I couldn’t believe it. The Quack had said he’d pull through. But I think Alfie had just had enough, and decided he’d leave. Just like all the Yogis and Gurus I’d read about. He was tired, and he wasn’t himself any more. I think he saw a way out and took it, and who could blame him? I felt devastated. My Dad, my best mate, had gone, and he wasn’t coming back. I sort of went numb, like there was a cotton wool barrier between me and reality. Dear old Al was as supportive and kind as he’d always been, and another mutual friend Steve, who’d also been very good to Pa and I, was brilliant. The three of us went out the following day and had a good drink, to celebrate Alfie’s life, and indeed our lives.
Then came all the really tough stuff, registering Dad’s death, sorting the funeral arrangements, all the financial bullshit, then emptying the bungalow of all of Pa’s clothes and belongings. Tom was fantastic, he held my hand(sometimes literally)through the incredibly difficult process of sorting Pa’s clothes. Which was going fine up until me finding a tie he’d bought, insisting to my Sister Helen he must buy it the previous Christmas. It was a big old bright red kipper tie, with a silly fluffy Santa on it, and when you hit Santa’s nose it played “We wish you a Merry Christmas”. At that point I just broke down, because it summarised Alfie in lots of ways: he loved Christmas, as I do, (and of course it reminded me of our last Christmas together) and he was always trying to put a smile on people’s faces, playing the fool, being the “Norman Wisdom” of the family. He loved people(especially women!)and was the last of a certain breed of adventurers, because when he “traversed the globe” the world was a much bigger place. From the inspiration he’d got from his Geography lessons as a young boy, and with a sharp mind and a kind of fearlessness unknown these days, he walked the path few dared to tread, and along the way loved many women, saw sights “Kings and Queens aint never seen”(Howling Wolf)earned and spent a small fortune, and certainly had few regrets. Except Australia that is!
I consider it a privilege to have had Alfie as my Dad, and every day I think about him and feel good, laugh, cry, but above all I know Alfie had a dozen people’s lives, loved a lot of people, and we will never see his like again.
“If I leave you it doesn’t mean I love you any less” – Warren Zevon
“Listening to you, I hear the music……” – The Who