A Dementia Carer’s Memoir

Re-friending Father

Preface

Father and Son

As father and son we had always been close, more like best friends than parent and child. From my earliest memory being dressed in similar suits when I was just five to enjoying the same sports which I have to admit I was better at watching than doing unlike dad who played football and was a boxer while serving his country in the Army during his National Service. My career path stalled before it even got started even though I got decent qualifications. For many years I was the bad man who banged on doors chasing people’s debt and selling to unscrupulously, but that all changed one day in 2012.

I remember dad as a fair and resolute kind of guy, he only punished me twice in my childhood that I remember and never turned to corporal punishment, always willing to sit me down and explain what I did wrong from his point of view. I never saw him get violent or swear, I did see him get angry, but always calm at the same time. Which I think was more scary than him using his hands to implement corporal punishment.

As I said, we were more like friends, enjoying spending time together playing indoor bowls and is why, rather than clubbing, I preferred a quiet drink in the local pub with dad by my side which was our time to chat and joke.

I remember the stories he would tell me about his childhood growing up with a strict Victorian father, losing his mother at four years old, being raised by a wicked stepmother and how he was classed as the villain out of the three brothers, him been the middle son.

The stories didn’t stop there, he beguiled me with his exploits as a child during the second world war, his first job guiding a blind man around town who used to sell matches to earn a living, then working for a local hardware shop who built coffins as a side business in the back, how his father stopped him from leaving home at fifteen after he left grammar school to start an apprenticeship as a jockey, his adventure leaving home at sixteen to act the part of a fool on the stages of London after talking to a dancer at the back door of the local theatre and his time in the army serving in both Egypt and Malaya where his unit had been redirected to, instead of into the Korean war where a ceasefire had just be called along the thirty eighth parallel. Also the family ancestry that he knew pricked my interest in genealogy trying to find where I came from.

All in all, my childhood was filled with love and friendship, but the greatest bond between us came when we worked together during each of my mother’s health scares. The first one was when she was suddenly paralysed and unable to speak with an illness to this day I still have no medical explanation to why it happened. During that long six months, so dad could concentrate on working and my mams health, at the age of fifteen I took on my first caring role which at the time wasn’t recognised as caring, it was just a son doing his duty to the family.

I kept the house running and aided in my mothers recovery which thankfully to say was a success only for me to step back in to the role again at twenty one when mam was diagnosed with cervical cancer meaning months of chemotherapy along with uncertainty, but once again thankfully the outcome was happy with a clean bill of health for thirteen years until during a scheduled mammogram she was diagnosed with breast cancer, underwent surgery and was scheduled for radiotherapy only to be told that the cancer had spread to her lungs meaning she would need to undergo chemotherapy once more and on the day she was to start treatment I checked on her before going to work, then later that morning my final words to her over the phone was “stop being a baby and get dressed”. The next thing to happen was to receive a call from my stepdaughter who was with mam and dad to tell me something was wrong with mam and by the time I got to the hospital she was gone.

So began my next stage as a carer looking after dad while taking care of all the funeral arrangements. Jumping ahead eight years to 2010 I went through a nasty breakup and I told dad I had to take a job offer to work away and he agreed, telling me he would be fine even though he had never really looked after himself before. He had jumped from his father’s home to a boarding house in London to the farm he worked on in Ripon to the army to making a home with my mam and finally living with me and my wife. So we rented him a little two bedroom flat, giving me somewhere to sleep on visits home. He had always told me he never wanted to be a burden on me, like his father and my mother’s father had been to him and my mother. That is why I thought he would be okay on his own for the first time in his life as he had the support of his friends and his companions in the ex-serviceman's association he belonged to.

Over the next year and a half, my visits home dwindled to zero and mid way through 2012 during one of our phone conversations he admitted to me he was struggling with rent and other things, but instead of getting me involved, he had gotten help from social services who found him a cheaper one bedroom flat miles from anyone he knew. I was furious because for months he had said everything was fine during our bi-weekly phone conversations. Those invisible threads that are known as DNA suddenly kicked in and my caring instinct re-emerged, this is where Re-Friending Father begins.

Father and Son

As father and son
We acted as one
A lifetime of solidarity
The bond of familiarity
He the father, my guiding sun
Me the son, in it for the long run
Listening to his stories
Of exploits and glories
Leaning on each other
A shoulder on each other
Through hardship and grief
However long or brief
Fifty years of companionship
All lost in a memory blip
I sat and held his hand
Through an illness unplanned
Watched as body and mind gave out
By his side without a doubt
Showing him I always cared
Always willing and prepared
To do what was needed
Day in, day out unimpeded
Then came the day
In which I had no say
With a simple kiss
And a little reminisce
I said a last goodnight
Watched as out went his light
Within my father of one
Always eternally his son.

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Poet, Author, Writer and Ex-Caregiver — Dementia and Caregiver advocate. Lone wolf who has found his voice.

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T.J. Hübner

T.J. Hübner

Poet, Author, Writer and Ex-Caregiver — Dementia and Caregiver advocate. Lone wolf who has found his voice.

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