Fathers Day

Yesterday was such a difficult day. I could no longer avoid the truth. Dad has dementia. Dad has made a miraculous recovery from where we could not understand a random word he was saying, and where he was unable to do anything for himself following a series of strokes.

He now sits before me in a nursing home chair, as a nicely dressed and clean man, with a lovely smile. Half the skeletal frame he once was and the oldest 72 year old you will ever see. A lifetime of ‘who wants to live forever’ and bluster against healthy eating and exercise have seriously taken their toll.

Dad resigned himself to a widowed life a decade ago and despite being prime suspect No.1 in his wife’s murder, before the ex-lover killer was apprehended and convicted, he never once felt sorry for himself. He just got on with his solitary life. I will always admire this quality in him.

A difficult man who never wanted friendship, Dad has always been better in his own company. Proud of ‘speaking as he finds’, his racist and homophobic rants have been hard for my gay sister and I to bare over the years and caused many a heated exchange.

Life was not easy with him; an often violent younger man with a terrible and quick temper, a cutting and vicious tongue. A father whose method to control his teenage daughters was to convince them they had no value to anyone therefore completely eroding self-esteem. When our Mother left him, and us, halfway through our teens he literally broke down. His mental health and dependence on prescription sleeping tablets exacerbated his anger and confusion. My sister and I were left picking up the pieces whilst coming to terms with our own abandonment.

Years of estrangement from him followed during which my Sister turned to drugs and alcohol for her solace and me to a long stream of misplaced love and marriages. We were replaced by his new Wife and her young girls. Both our parents have proved us easy to replace many times in their lives. Our scars run deep but are covered well enough.

But at the end of last year Dad needed us. My Sister, despite years of verbal abuse and contempt from him, has been utterly selfless in her efforts to move him from hospital to the Nursing Home near her home. Anyone who has yet to go through this with their parent, PLEASE get POA while you can, as Deputyship (in absence of mental capacity) is so much harder and expensive. She has borrowed money to enable this to happen and is stressed by the burden.

I continue to struggle with my feelings for him. Where my Sister had years of counselling and therapy to become the amazing woman she has and can be an awesome carer, I buried my feelings: life after my teenage-escape continued to deal me severely hard knocks. I find it almost impossible to confront my thoughts, except through writing, afraid of opening the box. My Father is now fragile and tiny, not the mean, vicious ogre he once was. He was ill and afraid during the early part of the year but a further stroke has left him in a happy but dementiad state.

He did not recognise me yesterday. Not one bit of recognition in his eyes. He thinks he is my age and I in my 30s. Being only 50 allows Dad total licence to flirt nauseously with his young Carers, one in particular he felt compelled to talk about during the whole visit .

“I am so lucky to have my girls” he told me yesterday, “they are so so good to me”. My heart melted, I smiled and said my sister and my name. Confused he replied with his carer’s, “they are so lovely”. He then proceeded to tell me Karen was after his money, I am Karen I reminded him, hurt and disappointment within me at his confused and ungrateful state. “I’m so lucky with my girls” he smiled, a beautiful and real smile.

Dad and his real girls.

Best Friends

I had a best friend once. She and I had so much in common at the age of 11. Her father was absent, I wished mine was. Her Mum was a resilient matriarch who made everyone feel welcome. Everyone was welcome at her small, damp and basic house; built before the freeway that roared traffic constantly passed the front room window.

No one was welcome at my home. My father once pronounced that you can count the number of friends you have on one hand, that no one I considered a friend really was. Neither my Dad or my Mum had friends. No one visited and no one was welcome. But my best friend and I snuck in during the school lunch break. We carried on writing physical letters to one another during the school holidays: her tales of Dreamland Margate and the rides and mine of spending the whole summer either locked indoors in our home, or sat in the car with my Sister while our Dad serviced customers TVs. My Mum at this point was a working Mum.

We went through life experiences, exams, first loves and first jobs together. Then we drifted apart, although never in spirit. I worked in the West End and was full of my own self importance whilst she worked locally and learned to drive, then became a body builder competitor. We lost touch for a couple of years during which time I had married, had babies prematurely and experienced the utter desperate pain of my firstborn son dying in my arms at two days old. As my first marriage fell apart I sought her out and we became awesome best friends as if no time had ever passed. She had not married yet and was a high flyer driving a top spec Mercedes, her own house, huge salary, incredibly sexually free and wow, how I envied her identity. She envied mine ironically, two beautiful and bright babies under three who loved their new ‘auntie’.

I introduced my best friend to her husband and it was me who suggested she might be pregnant when she came back from honeymoon, wondering why she felt sick and bloated. We shared so much. I could tell her anything and everything: a sister, a love, a friend, confidante, a beautiful spirit that enjoyed being with me and my family.

Change was inevitable. She moved in a much more flamboyant circle. I could not keep up financially with weekends away, holidays, nights out. I was going through a terrible break-up and had a final straw moment when I knew I had to move away and take control of mine and my children’s lives (three aged under 6).

Saying goodbye on the moving day was so painful. How we cried. Her husband amused at this outpouring of grief pointed out we would see each other again, I was only a motorway away. There are two times in my life that I have felt these tears: when I moved and said goodbye to her, and when my second Son, my only Son, went off to University. How I cried, I knew it was the last time he would ‘live’ at home. On both occasions I was totally bereft.

I was right to feel that way. Things were never the same. My Son never moved back home and she and I saw each other less and less. Then she had her news. Cancer. She had cancer. We cried together, we cried separately, we cried and cried.

Eventually her way of dealing with ‘it’ was to disconnect from me. At this period my own life was out of control, failing relationships after giving them my all. Desperate weight loss and upheaval, which my poor pre-teen children all experienced with me. Sad times. I had a cup full of woe while she dealt with the deathly cup with new friends who didn’t know her history. She could be who she needed to be I guess. My Son would often tell me to get back in touch when a month turned into several, and then into a year. We had time I always thought, completely oblivious to the severity of the cancer and its advancement.

I decided to google her name to see if she was on Facebook, as I didn’t have it. Her name brought up an “In Memoriam” page. I remember staring at my laptop and thinking, what the … , what the ???? Does this mean she had died. Tears flowed for days which turned into weeks. I could smell her perfume and hear her voice. I still can. I miss the smell of her pretty blond hair when we hugged. I miss her utterly and some days it takes me by surprise and it physically hurts. I never thought I would have another best friend, I didn’t deserve one.

But I do have a best friend. I have told him more than I ever got a chance to tell her. He is so good at reading my moods and needs that I feel totally blessed to have found this wonderful life partner. He knows me in the same way that she knew me. We laugh, we cry, we sit in silence (happily) and sometimes we talk incessantly.

So my own Father may well be right about how many friends we have in our lifetime. But I would rather have had the two best friends I have, than dozens of ‘friends’ who don’t drop in or ‘get me’ without me having to explain and justify. I have learnt a lesson in that we must truly value real friendship – real in the way that you utterly miss that person when they are doing something else. We must love and be loved in this life.

It is the Anniversary of her passing and today I am thinking about all the funny and painful moments we shared. She was a massive part of my life and I miss her terribly. To my best friend A, I truly loved you x