Since the lockdown Dad has become less able to manage his own surroundings. He is 85 now and although talking to him is as if you are talking to him 30 years ago – albeit a bit louder- but moving around with him is a slow business. As a naturally fast person, this makes navigating days with him quite tricky, and as I have given up some days of my week to care for him, its presented me with a challenge.
I do it because there is no one else. And he doesn’t deserve well I am not sure what he deserves but he doesn’t deserve to be on his own. I guess that is frank.
Anyway Thursday was spent, doing the shopping and cleaning the bathroom and kitchen and then after we had lunch together I wondered if he would like to sort through his books of which , there are thousands. I refrained from saying literally as its fast becoming my most hated word in smallest growing vocabulary, but this is a literal statement. The walls of his flat are lined with full bookcases, books are stacked on tables, the floor, chairs, in the living room, hallway, bedrooms, and spare room which was converted after I left into a library.
It’s hard work, we are trying to slim down his collection in anticipation that he may have to move elsewhere in the not-so-distant future. It’s also quite painful – for him and for me.
Although for him its more the pain of loss and for me the pain of having to almost force him to face the loss.
“What about this one, I say, french cooking in the 1800s do you really need this- well I just don’t know splods, I mean I havnt seen it for years but you know- ok well lets put it in the maybe pile then.
“This one”? I say
– I quickly put it into the no pile- he stares at me – I raise my eyebrows ,”you took too long”, I say and look away a smidgen guilty but I am trying to firm here.
“Oh” he says
“Er what about this one?”, I say holding up the next in line.
“ah yes , now then that’s a holy text you can’t get rid of that one”. He folds his arms.
“Right Ok”, I say and I place it back on the shelf-
“this one?”, I say
“ah ha now there is a story behind that one” he smiles and waves his hands in that way that he does.
I settle back on my haunches and into a feeling that I recognise vaguely.
An hour later we have sifted through a shelf. I look around at the other 20 odd shelves that are left. In this one room.
I have become familiar with where in the house you can find books on poetry, literature, biography, history, etc etc so I am be to swiftly put away the books he decide he is keeping.
I take the recycling out, fold his trousers and put on my coat , ready to go.
Dad shuffles forwards and waggles his finger in the air,“Oh there’s one more thing Splods”, -his name for me which I don’t he doesn’t think twice about despite my 43 years.
It only becomes a thing in the presence of someone else. Every other time it is just normal, unlike the request, which follows. A last minute task before I embark on the 30 minute drive to the school to pick up smallest
Can you just file off the bottom of the bathroom door, his finger starts waggling again this time in the direction of the table which he reaches towards.
“Sorry??” I say
He hands me a metal file.
I look at it and then back at him
He continues, “ its sticking and I obviously can’t get down there- we probably need to take it off, he shuffles forward.
“What the door?” I say my eyebrows raised my mouth slightly ajar.
“Yes, yes”, he sounds slightly irked hat I am not as on point with this issue as he clearly is.
“but we don’t have time now”, he finishes and nudges past me
“No” I say, holding the file and looking from him to the door to somewhere else where a thought of “what!!!seriously you want me to file the door!!!!now????!!!!” is floating about
I crawl on the floor and push my knee on the edge of the open door to steady it and start to file the door in the way that I think I should ,asking if this is what he means because I have never filed the bottom of the door, so don’t know if this is what he wants.
But it turns out it is and in that moment of confirmation in my head I have become an expert
, a master of filing doors on a Thursday before the school run. I brandish my file and give it my all.
He says , “Oh its working”
I am quietly pleased and this fills me with a kind of buoyancy which takes me out the door to the car.
On the drive-realise I am bloody knackered
As if I had been teaching and I consider the day on the journey
The amount of deep breaths I take, the effort to slow down, reaching constantly into a pot of patience I didn’t even know I held . He wants to keep everything and getting him to let go is like prising a bottle from a hungry baby.
I want to stop thinking about it all , this situation with Dad but I know I cant because no one else will do it because there is no one else to do it. And it can’t just be ignored anymore. He is old and there is a reality that is starting to emerge that I have to face and so does he. It strikes me that that he is doing the same as me. He’s trying to ignore it- by delaying and procrastinating and I am kind of burying my head in the cleaning and the sorting out.
Because your parents getting old, is a little bit daunting, watching him creep towards the edge of his life and understanding just what isn’t possible there
I wonder what its like for him.
Of course, me being me , reflected on this with him last night; I told him how useful it is for me to know what all this stuff means to him
Other than the fact that he is able to fill me with interesting facts about the authors and history behind the books, through his chats he gives me insight into his life at the time.
He says that it is difficult for him to imagine himself outside of these books-That some people exist for themselves outside of objects -but it seems he locates himself inside them and so every item taken is like a piece of himself being lost.
He has not attached himself to anything other than the material he has
A bit like a second skin I guess
He says I have you but mostly its just me and them
That’s hard to hear
I feel like I am helping him to organise the end of his life and in doing so I am preparing myself by sorting things into something a bit more manageable because honestly when I look at it all, the only thing I can say is Oh My God.
And it comes to me, the feeling that I had earlier that day is a kind of despair- because I just don’t know what I’m doing.