My Story: Thelma and Dad
He insisted that he had to put his jacket and shoes on to go to the airport. Someone was picking him up. He had to go to Burma. She talked him through it again –
“The war is over, you’re ninety five”
”Yes, ninety six next month, no need to get up. You’re in bed at home”.
The clock ticked on rhythmically, not quite matching his breathing. She wondered how long the battery would last. That’s the thing about clocks, fairy lights, torches, people – you never know when the power will fade and die.
She had looked at that tea towel on the wall so many times. Welsh love spoons. Joined love: Celtic knot, the largest love spoon, love heart. Security, key to the heart: lock and key. Marriage bells, number of children or years together in a case. Longest love spoon, Celtic cross, chains and links, vines and leaves symbolising loving and growing relationship.
“How’s your dad? I’ve never met your dad”
“You’re my dad, I’m your youngest daughter, Thelma”.
He laughs. A moment of recognition, then gone again, somewhere else.
“What year do you think it is dad?”
He pauses, looking at me through the eyes of a child hoping to get the right answer…
“No, try again”
He’s gone somewhere else and now combing his hair with an invisible comb, putting on an invisible shirt.
The challenge at this time on a Saturday is, of course, trying to stay awake. Time takes on a surreal sort of standing still nothingness. It could be seven in the morning or eight in the evening.
“Have you tried your new shoes on?”
Where did that come from.. 1945?
“Has your dad come up here before to bed?”
“You are my dad”
“Who was before me?”
“Umm I guess it was your father”
He looks deep into my eyes
“Dad, I’m sixty two and you’re ninety five!”
Here we go again.
As the light fades, she reaches over and taps the bedside lamp. All around the house are touches of her sisters. The bedside lamp, mum’s Christmas bedding, quotes, poetry, photos, drawings, instructions, lists. Even when they are not there, she can sense their touch; sense the love and the hurried moments. Little clues like a ‘Guess the mood they were in’ party game. Layers of thoughtfulness like a tiered cake and she felt like the thinly spread jam squashed in the middle. What had happened to her thoughtfulness? Doing her best but a constant effort; traces between the rich sponges of kindness surrounding her.
The more she is with him, the more she can see the familiar mannerisms; the way he folds his hands, touches his face, his expressions – the simile of recognition breaking through the external face of a dying man. And he eats, liberated from the torment just for a while…
We exchange wonderful eye contact, a knowing. A familiar feeling that he could tip over into distress and disorientation, but she knows how to approach him; direct, truthful communication, keep it real. No bullshit – he can smell that a mile away.
Now he can rest. He has allowed himself to be fed and comforted, maybe just for a while. She feels a surge of thankfulness for the love she can feel and still demonstrate, knowing it has come from a place beyond her which comforts them both.
Thelma Hugyens, writing about her Dad.
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