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Vignettes of Life

Vignettes of life or more accurately of my life.

‘Hamlet’ is one of the most dangerous things ever set down on paper. All the big, unknowable questions like what it is to be a human being; the difference between sanity and insanity; the meaning of life and death; what’s real and not real. All these subjects can literally drive you mad. –  Michael Sheen

It was a stone built bungalow with a decent size front and back garden. The bungalow was on the edge of a Dorset village and one could look from the large front window and see nothing; save for fields, trees, larks rising and the chalky hills before they dropped down to the English Channel.

My parents lived there.

It never felt like home to me because my childhood home had been in Liverpool. Nevertheless, it was a home of sorts. I was welcome there and felt wanted, valued and loved.

I had been in Canada in August, 1986, trying to carve out a new career. I had been staying with my brother in Toronto when he opened a letter from our father. The joy in his countenance upon hurriedly opening the letter turned to a frown. I asked, “What’s wrong?”

“Dad has got lung cancer.”

It was sometime in late summer 1987 when I paid one of my regular visits to the home that wasn’t a home. My father had been through a few chemo treatments and was looking weary. Never the tallest of men, compared with me – his eldest, his thick-set frame seemed to have shrunk rapidly.

We went out to the back garden through the french doors. Doors he had paid a small fortune for because he liked the Everest double glazing salesman. Dad had fancied a breath of fresh air.

He had taken possibly three steps outside. He fell into a heap at my feet and started to cry because he did not have the strength to lift himself up from the ground.

This a stubborn man, a fiercely proud man, a self-made man, a man of iron. This was no longer the father that I knew at my feet. This was a child-like father who now needed a strong son just like I needed a strong father when I was seriously ill as a child.

I soothed him with calming words to impress upon him that embarrassment was an unwelcome guest at this party. I soothed him like he was my child.

Helping him to his feet, I felt the strength return to his hands. He gripped my forearms tightly, squeezed firmly. That was the nearest he ever came to saying, “I love you, son.” His eyes spoke to me. I could see the look of love through the teary veil. My father was frightened like a child. Scared by the notion of death that was knocking at the front gate.

This incident was a reversal of roles and a reminder to me, and I hope to all , of “what’s real and not real.”

‘Real’ is love whether experienced with family or not.

‘Real’ is the cherished memory. In my case memories of smiling faces in that home that wasn’t a home. I can see them now, departed but not forgotten, my father, mother, brother, grandmother. All of them smiling in that beautiful Dorset back garden where a man once fell.

Like father, like son. I’m not so sure. Death does not scare me. I would prefer it to come as in the words of an Irish priest I knew, “I’d like a quiet death. I’d like to wake up dead one morning.”




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  1. Tony Bushell Tony Bushell

    Losing a parent is a tough gig – losing a parent in such a way is very distressing. For a son to see his dad become weak, fragile and in a lot of cases – pathetic – is more than enough to cry a river of tears.
    I can pinpoint the moment when my heart broke and i realised there would be no turning back for dad. I was at my parents house, having just had a nice dinner we all sat in the living room to watch a bit of tv…have a chat and just be together like we had done since i was a child. Dad was in his chair – pretty quiet, just nodding when he heard something he agreed with, when he made moves to stand up, presumably to visit the bathroom. As he stood he broke wind and tried to shuffle to the toilet as quickly as he could. As he passed our legs as we were sat on the sofa he could not hold it and his face of embarrassment, fear at what was happening to him and a reluctance to accept our help showed me and my brother this would be the best it would get from now on. This is my dad…..the man we all looked to in every possible way even when we were married…picking up the phone to ask for his advise with plumbing, electrical help, running something past him to gauge how he would do things. Near the end he had to have personal care help because my mum couldn’t do it all and when he was telling me how two Polish female carers came and bathed him etc his resignation to his fate was absolutely heartbreaking.
    You are right Steve, i too often think about the times as a family we were all together but even though i am not very spiritual or a great believer in any form of life after death i do comfort myself by thinking of Mum and Dad together again.

    • Tony, you capture the essence of what I was trying to convey. Cancer, or any other ‘wasting’ illness is a terrible thing. To watch loved ones waste away is no fun. I sincerely hope I “wake up dead one morning” rather than have to endure the sufferings of folks like your and my Dad.I just hope it is not for some time yet!

  2. Maria Holm Maria Holm

    I too have seen both my parents’ declining health changing them into different persons. They died nine and eight years ago. But I now mostly remember them at the height of their lives instead of the last impression they gave at the end

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