Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Tightrope Walking Without a Net

My Dad died on Monday night. His care home phoned to tell me at about 11.30 - I knew though, even before I picked up the phone. It's the call I've been expecting for about six weeks (my Dad is WAS such a strong man; despite being riddled with cancer, only skin and bone and living on pineapple juice alone, he hung on for six weeks longer than the MacMillan nurses predicted). I hated that every time the phone would ring, my heart would beat hard and fast, and I would wonder if this was it. At the same time, of course, I dreaded the day the ring didn't terrify me, because it would mean he was dead.

So here I was. I phoned Mandy, my little sister in Germany, and we sat on the phone until gone 2am, talking about all sorts - mostly Dad. Then I sat up all night. Not intentionally, but I just wasn't able to even consider sleeping. I was the same when my brother died - it was impossible. Not even due to being distraught, but just a wakefulness.

Of course, the next day was a bit of a  Field cock-up. We'd decided not to tell anyone else that night, as my Mum has dementia and lives alone, and my older sister, Sue, would have been asleep, lives a good way away, and couldn't do anything. Mandy was going to phone everyone the next day, but not Mum. I had to go to work, because if not the other staff would have to cover any patients that couldn't be cancelled. However, I knew that I would be able to leave once my patients had been cancelled, so I would go to my mum's and tell her then. Now on a Tuesday Mum gets picked up by her friends, a couple who used to live next door, to go market shopping. But no problem, Mandy would ring them, tell them what had happened, and tell them to put mum off if she asked them to take her to visit Dad, using the excuse that they knew I was taking her later.

Just before I left for work, Mandy rang to say that they had been very upset about Dad dying, and they had said that they would like to tell Mum themselves. Which was fine, it was just something I wouldn't have put on anyone else.

So eventually I am on my way to Mum's when Mandy phoned again.

'OMG, OMG, you'll never guess what's happened! I just phoned Mum, and I'm going, 'how are you, are you feeling ok? Poor old Dad, eh, but at least he's out of pain' and eventually Mum goes, 'what do you mean?' and I said, 'Dad. Dad being dead.' And Mum sort of moaned and I asked her didn't she remember and she said no-one had told her. I asked her if she'd seen J and D and she said yes. So I thought maybe they'd told her and she'd forgotten. So I phoned J and she said, 'well we decided not to tell her because she was going to be left on her own.' So I said to her, 'well I've just told her, and she's on her own!'

So of course, after that I rushed over as fast as I could, dreading what I would find. I walked in, and there she was - eating her lunch and watching one of her antiques programmes.

'Are you ok mum?'

'Yes, love. Are you stopping?'

'For a little bit. I've got to go and pick up the cause of death certificate soon, but I wanted to see how you were taking the news about Dad.'

'Oh yes, that reminds me, you'll have to give me all his money now. And get his telly back from the home.'

I couldn't believe it. I know she's money-obsessed (as in she spends it on crap and is constantly badgering me about when I'm getting her pension, even though I get it every Wednesday), but I'd have thought she'd at least make a TINY effort to at least PRETEND to be upset. Especially since I've had to drive her to visit him every day near enough (not weekends cos Sue would take her on a Saturday). And bearing in mind I work, and live about half an hour away.

'No, mum, you aren't having that, because it's for paying bills. What did you think I was doing? Squirreling it away for myself?'

She pulled 'The Face' - a pursing of the lips with a frown that has her eyebrows meeting. 'Yes, actually.'

'Yeah, that's why I drive you around in a 14 year old Corsa - cos I'm rolling in Dad's cash. Where do you think the money for the gas and electric and phone and everything except food comes from?'

'Oh.' She was a bit put out. 'Well I can't do any of the organising for his funeral.'

'Yes, I know mum. Don't worry, I can do everything. All you'll need to do is sign the cheque.'

'WHAT!!!! What for???'

'Because the bill account doesn't have enough in it for the deposit with the funeral director.'

'Why??? How much does a funeral cost?'

'Just over three thousand pounds.'

'I don't believe you. You just want his money.'

FFS! Effing Freudian projection in technicolour or what?

Today has been packed full of registering the death and arranging the funeral. And the worst of all - picking up Dad's stuff from the care home.

I don't think there could be anything sadder than walking into his room and him not being there. Just an empty bed and his stuff in a big box. All the mini pineapple cartons he hadn't drunk. The Dairy Milk mum insisted on taking him, even though he kept refusing to eat it. His clothes - still smelling faintly of him despite being laundered. And of course the TV. I somehow kept it together until I was safely in my car, and then I cried my eyes out.

I'm not grown up enough to be doing this. I'm not the sort of person who is organised and sorts things out for herself - I've always had someone to prompt me and help me along, someone to consult to make sure I am doing things right, someone who can ultimately be responsible for things rather than the responsibility being solely mine. And most of the time that person has been my Dad.

I'm not one of those people who needs money from their parents or who runs home whenever things go wrong. Quite the opposite; I left home at 18 and (apart from holidays) never went back, and even paid for my own wedding. But Dad was always there if I wanted to know how to buy a car, what might be wrong with my central heating, how to apply for tax credits etc. I didn't always ask him, and latterly it has been me doing things for him (because they are so much easier to do online). But I knew he was there if I needed him. For anything. And like Dumbo's feather, that gave me confidence to do things.

Now I feel bereft. The most important adult in my life is gone. I feel like a tightrope walker whose net has been taken away. It doesn't matter that I've never fallen before - it's still a far more frightening experience.

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