The Queen’s Speech

As children when the old fella kissed us goodnight the evening before our birthday he would deliver what became known in our family as the birthday speech, more eagerly anticipated than the Queen’s Christmas Day one. His speech started with the immortal line “now this is the last night you’ll ever be thirteen again because when you wake up in the morning you’ll be fourteen” and this fast became a family tradition

I’m pleased to say that as we got older this particular tradition stopped; think Dad recognised the teenage eye rolling and wisely decided to quit whilst he was ahead. However, it was resumed when my nieces were old enough to appreciate it and woe betide if granddad ever forgot as he would be curtly telephoned before bedtime by the intended recipient to remind him that he was late.

Another part of our family folklore was that as a small child my sister, used as a tactic to delay her bedtime, would always chant “don’t turn the light off, don’t shut the door & talk as you go down the stairs” when my parents went to kiss her goodnight and it comforted me to repeat it to the old fella every evening when I took my leave of him at the care home. So it somehow seemed appropriate when the vicar included that phrase during the service at the funeral reminding us that by leaving the door open he would always be with us.

Family traditions and rituals are the tapestry of our childhood memories and remind us of the love woven into our daily lives. What sometimes appears to be an insignificant word or gesture will frequently become an echo of time past which will often bring a smile or much-needed inspiration on an otherwise rainy day. By treasuring our family customs it enables us to hold on to those we love who are no longer with us but yet still guide and inspire us through turbulent and difficult times. Somehow I know that the old fella would think that that is the best legacy of all.

Love Is A Net That Catches Hearts Like Fish

Without doubt the old fella has left an enormous hole in our hearts but his legacy was living every moment in the joy of simple things and sharing laughter with those he loved. Often when I left my laptop open I used to find him surreptitiously reading your comments & chuckling in response to a story I had written about him as he was bemused that you all found the allotment exploits of an eccentric old pensioner amusing. He enjoyed your pictures of places he would never get to visit and was fascinated that we could connect with people living on the other side of the world. I will miss him more than I thought possible and the way he greeted me everyday with the words “hello sunshine”.  I also know in my heart that he would want you all to remember him with a smile as he did with you.

As some of you know Chloe Hellcat, the smallest of our cat family was rescued from the water by a kindly fisherman, which is how she came live with us and by which time as a waterside feral she had become an adept fisherman herself.

Sadly this is a trait we haven’t been able to remedy and unfortunately last summer she discovered an accommodating ornamental pond in the village spending a week trawling the pond to bring home wriggling Koi Carp larger than herself. Chloe always loses interest in her quarry after dumping it on the lawn so it was no surprise one Saturday morning when I found not one but two large golden carp flopping around on the grass. After the immediate shock wore off it was action stations as I frantically ran around the garden, filling a bucket and gingerly putting the slippery little suckers into it. Just as I had successfully installed both fish into the pail the little minx returned with yet another which I wasted no time in reuniting with its fishy friends.

As there is no ornamental pond within my garden the most obvious solution was to accommodate them temporarily in the old fella’s pride and joy until we could discover who they really belonged to. So after an anxious telephone call, Operation “Rescuing Nemo” was launched when my Dad called the local village hair salon to ask them to tell my mother to stop at my house on the way home after her regular shampoo & set.

My mother is no fan of any creature of the wriggling variety and I think it’s fair to say was pretty much horrified when I asked her to sit in the passenger seat of my cramped Renault Clio and grip a bucket of fish between her knees; no easy feat in a Jaeger skirt suit I assure you. However, as the journey to Dyson Abbey was only a two-minute journey she reluctantly agreed but I knew that Dad’s ears would be ringing once she got home.

As is always the case during the busiest time of the year, when holidaymakers flock to Devon to sample, amongst other things, our ‘andsome cream teas, frequent road works magically appear overnight. So it was no surprise on this Saturday morning that the short journey from my house to the old folks involved a longer detour through winding leafy country lanes. Whilst we whizzed past luscious green countryside, I was anxiously negotiating the meandering roads as my mother screamed at me to slow down each time water splashed her legs and I think she would have had apoplexy should any fish have escaped the bucket.

Additionally as it was so hot I had opened the windows so whilst squeezing right into the bramble covered hedgerows to avoid oncoming traffic my mother’s new “do” was completely windswept and speckled with leaves & the odd feather giving her the appearance of a manic “Miss Havisham”. I couldn’t help but feel she was going to be less than happy when we eventually got to our destination.

As luck would have it when I pulled up there was nowhere to park so we had to leave it on the main road which meant that the old dear was not going to be able to edge out of the car unnoticed. As I opened the passenger door for her, Dad was waiting on the other side of the low garden wall and the sight of a dishevelled Mum regally sat in the front seat with this bucket gripped between her knees reduced him to hysterics which I knew would cost him dear later.

When he recovered himself enough I passed the bucket to him so that he could liberate the fish into their new home. I have it on good authority that the old dear gave my Dad fish every evening for dinner that week, however, as I understand the old fella declined preferring instead the old faithful banana sandwich as he reckoned he wouldn’t be able to look his new lodgers in the eye if he devoured their cousins.

The old fella always wanted something positive to come out of something negative and in the spirit of all the rescues that we have carried out together as a family, if you’re on Facebook take five minutes to check out Jodie’s Cyprus Dogs Rehoming and if you can please share, as I think he’d kinda like that.

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To Lose Someone You Love Is To Alter Your Life Forever

This is a post that I never wanted to write and hoped that I wouldn’t have to for many a long year but sadly our time ran out last week and my dear old Dad passed away. As he has been the inspiration for so many of my stories it only seemed right that I pay tribute to my childhood hero the best way I know how.

So how do you say goodbye to someone who has been the constant light guiding your ship into harbour and the gentle wind that helps steer you across the sea onwards to new horizons; the honest truth is I don’t know that I can. My kind-hearted old Dad has always been the one that has been there for us like a solid anchor in a rough ocean.  He never yearned for a bigger house, a faster car or a fortune; in fact, he truly believed his fortune lay within the family he raised, the home he built and in the flowers he grew. Although he was a retired electrical engineer it was simple pleasures that brought joy to his day like tinkering in his shed or digging out the weeds. His loving legacy is evident in his garden, his granddaughters and the laughter that echoes around the walls of our family home.

You see the thing is I don’t think I would ever have been ready to have said goodbye so I am left bereft and lost; a broken heart can do that to you every time. So thank you for your kind messages and my heartfelt thoughts go out to all those out there who are also struggling with their own loss.

So in the coming grief-stricken months there’ll be memories, more precious than rubies, packed away in lavender-scented tissue paper like a favourite old sweater which will be brought out to console us on our loneliest days.

I could be mistaken but last night when I looked up I’m sure there was an extra star burning brightly in the midnight sky shining over us just as the old fella did every day of his life looking out for those he loved.

“The stars are not wanted now, put out every one;

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood. For nothing now can ever come to any good”

Goodnight sunshine x

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The Old Fella

 

You Think You Have Time

My darling daddy has just returned from his final hospital stay; there will be no more. My childhood hero who has fought the hardest bravest battle during the past six months and has been sent home for the last time with an end of life package.

His delight at leaving the hospital is all too evident and all we want is for him to happy, pain free and comfortable. So for the next few days or weeks we’re going to make them the bestest ever, filled with happy memories, no words left unspoken and absolutely no regrets for a joyous life lived.

You’ll forgive me if I’m away a while I’m sure but I want to leave you with these thoughts; buy the damn expensive shoes, leave the housework for a time, walk in the rain, laugh more, be kind, tell them you love them and on a summer’s evening “I hope you dance“.

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The Long Road Home

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the past six months people will carelessly break promises and at a time when you need them the most, callously let you down.  Maybe we’ve lived in a cosseted world where my Dad has been our family’s moral compass always leading by example and providing help where he can. So it has been an education for me that neighbours and those we have long considered family friends have fallen by the wayside apart from when they call to enquire what we’ll be doing with his lawnmower, power tools or car.

I’ve discovered that the care the elderly and infirmed receive is a direct reflection of how deep their pockets are and in many cases woefully inadequate or just plain sub-standard. There is no instruction booklet on navigating the stormy waters of the social care system and you better grasp the jargon pretty quickly because not doing so will cost you dear. Having been cut adrift to find my Dad a residential placement we had a crash course on just how difficult this road can be for novices. This journey has been a revelation with moments of sheer despair, frustration, overwhelming hopelessness and countless sleepless nights. We have met less compassionate souls that truly have no business working within sectors where they encounter traumatized families and occasionally individuals that have been like bottled sunshine on a very dark day have crossed our paths.

What advice would I give those forced into a heart breaking journey of their own? I would tell them to use every resource at their disposal and then some. To fight even on the days when you feel you have nothing left and to never give up. We were made to feel that we were “difficult & problematic” for insisting on an acceptable standard of care and on occasion bullied into enduring something which fell way below. There is no doubt that the social care system fails many and for those fortunate to have a family prepared to challenge procedures the outcome can sometimes be very different than for those that don’t. I feel very strongly that the elderly have a right to dignity with care and when you have to deal with a system where policy becomes more important than the welfare of the most vulnerable in society then it’s time you reviewed it.

Nothing is ever just one phone call or just one email and sometimes making, what for others would be a straightforward appointment, takes weeks but more often than not, months. We all know that when you call a service provider it’s a bit of a lottery in terms of who answers the phone so imagine speaking with yet another dismissive jobs worth concerning a loved one’s welfare. Trying to hold down a job and manage my father’s affairs leaves little time for much else; my hair hasn’t been cut since December and I am badly in need of a dental appointment but that has had to wait as there are more pressing things on my ever-increasing agenda. My phone bill is nearly equivalent to the cost of a small car and I can’t remember the last time I have had a night out with friends. There are days when the sheer enormity of the task in hand becomes just a little overwhelming but I have come to realise that sometimes you just have to put down your sword and leave slaying dragons for another day.

So what keeps you going despite the constant rejections and refusals? Without a doubt it’s that smile from your Dad; the one you thought you’d never see again. The smile that says he’s safe at long last surrounded by compassionate people and that the hard fought battle was truly worth it. And so on a sunny day here in Devon you shed a tear and say a silent prayer of thanks knowing that he will now have the best possible care for the remainder of his days which my friends, is truly priceless.

The old fella with two of his favourite carers

The old fella with two of his favourite fabulous carers

Change Is Never Easy; You Fight To Hold On & You Fight To Let Go

Do you remember the scene in “Great Exotic Marigold Hotel” where Judi Dench’s recently widowed character was speaking with her broadband service provider and the call centre representative insisted on speaking only with the account holder? I have lived that scripted conversation with so many utility providers over the past few weeks resulting in endless calls, form filling and emails.There is no flexibility within their scripted conversations which enable them to deal with people struggling with huge emotional loss

This journey has been a big learning curve for me in so many ways I never thought it would be as hard for many different reasons; the heart-breaking handwritten notes that my Dad had left for me amongst his jumpers many still unworn, preferring instead to live in his gardening clothes. insisting that when he’d gone that the local charity shop take his old clothes “but no pick & choosing mind you”. The many clippings torn carelessly from gardening magazines and newspapers to be stored for later use. The pocket diaries where he had meticulously recorded the weather and his gardening schedule every day.

Dementia or Alzheimer’s is a hateful creature which creeps in and suddenly steals your familiar and beloved relative away replacing them with a complete stranger who no longer has the same interests or in some cases preferences. An acquaintance of mine dismissively suggested that caring for an adult with reduced mental capacity is no different from looking after a small child. I disagree with that entirely; an adult has a lifetime of financial responsibilities, cupboards full of memories, and a devastated family who overnight have lost a beloved relative. I have met some amazing people on this journey who have been like bottled sunshine on the rainiest of days but many others not so much.

Having reluctantly spent the weekend sorting through the old man’s treasured possessions which are little more than tatty junk, I have been reduced to tears by the discovery of my first school note-book, his communion medal, my niece’s first crudely written & misspelled love letter. What price can you put on a pocketful of memories precious only to the one who saved them? In a rare moment of clarity when I told my Dad I had found them he said “I know they’re not much but they meant a lot to me though”.

Irrespective of what the future may hold and how many cavalier individuals touch our lives, my old Dad will always be right there with me in the scent of wild garlic and Queen Anne’s lace rustling on a gentle spring breeze, a warm hand in mine on a cold winter’s day, the smell of wet earth after a summer shower but above all he will always be my very first hero.

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A Piece Of Our Hearts Is At Rainbow Bridge

For the past thirteen years my Dad’s constant companion and shadow has been an old border collie called Sonny who was rescued by the old fella when he came across him being thrashed by an impatient farmer for failing to nip the heels of the sheep but clearly no amount of beatings was going to change this poor dog’s submissive behaviour. My Dad being a canny old fella knew there and then that the fate of this young pup lay in his hands as most failed sheepdogs are usually despatched with a bullet from the farmer’s gun so waving his walking stick in the air he approached the farmer saying “Now then fella m’lad, that’ll be enough of that” and promptly took the young dog off the farmer’s hands right there and then without any further argument from the farmer.

My mother was less than impressed when this fairly bedraggled and smelly dog was brought into her pristine kitchen but had become accustomed over the years to my father bringing home various waifs & strays so begrudgingly set about finding something to feed the poor animal. After an overly-enthusiastic bath and groom the bewildered animal settled at my father’s feet, which is more or less where he has been for the past thirteen years. We often joked that Dad probably loved the newly named Sonny more than the old dear. It took some time for Sonny to gain confidence even the cats knew he was a complete pushover and whilst the farmer had not appreciated his kind temperament everyone who met him was charmed. I am always amazed by the good nature of animals in spite of the poor treatment they receive from those that should know better. Sudden movements and loud noises still frightened him and the fact that he never barked were signs of his former abusive life but the old fella loved him dearly.

In fact they were seldom apart, every time I cycled up to the allotment Sonny would be contentedly laying on a blanket in the sunshine watching his master with adoring eyes, who would be toiling amongst his beloved dahlias.

The saddest thing is that as both old boys have fought their health own battles they have been separated when they when both needed each other’s comfort the most. It’s been hard watching them both deteriorate and I’ve come to terms with the fact that the old fella will never be coming home as the brain damage is just too severe for him to cope with the smallest of tasks. I’d also been in denial over Sonny so with a reluctant heavy heart made the decision to help him take the journey to Rainbow Bridge where he passed away in my arms as the person he loved the most on this earth could no longer remember his name.

I truly believe it’s possible to die of a broken heart but I am comforted that Sonny will be waiting just on the other side of the bridge to walk the old fella home when his time comes.

Sleep well bonny lad

Sadly the only pictures I have of Sonny and the old fella have been lost or damaged so I thought they’d both approve if instead I posted a picture of Handsome Benny who Blind Dog Rescue UK are trying to find a UK home for as regrettably his other one fell through. I sure would appreciate it if you could share beautiful Benny’s story so he can find his forever home just like the old fella’s boy.

 

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Just ‘Cos You’re Breathing Doesn’t Mean You’re Alive

I’m tired and fed up; fed up with being brave, fed up with pretending everything is going to be okay and honestly a little resentful at putting my life on hold again. The truth is that despite being in denial for some weeks, my lovely Dad will never be the same again and whilst he’s made a wonderful physical recovery he struggles most days to remember what day of the week it is and what he had for breakfast. Heart-breaking though it is, I have to admit that overnight we have lost my beloved Dad.

This is the post I have dreaded writing the most because by doing so I have to finally admit that my Dad will probably not be coming home and writing those words fills my heart with an unfathomable sadness. I know that my Dad’s no more special than any other dad but to me he’s been the anchor that has steadied our ship and his kindness has enveloped us in an embrace that warmed our hearts just like an old favourite sweater on a winter’s day, reassuring us that there was goodness in the world on even the darkest days.

The surgeon made him aware of the risks when he had his hip operation and we were told that they had a medical dilemma which meant that they couldn’t treat both the stroke & shattered hip simultaneously but he had been adamant that he wanted to pursue the operation. I remember someone telling me that the sooner you treat a stroke the more of the person you save and in my Dad’s case it was to be very little. When the old fella made the decision he was completely coherent, had been driving the “old folk” to the supermarket the day before for the weekly shop, read a broadsheet every day and was able to discuss current affairs almost as well as a foreign correspondent; now he struggles to operate a basic television remote.

The fact of the matter is no amount of sleep, medication or a different environment will alter that now. Our lives have changed dramatically, I go to work and visit him on the way home every day but when he thanks me for coming I realise he doesn’t remember that we had the same conversation the day before and the day before that. There will be no evening telephone calls to discuss our day & bid him goodnight because quite simply he is unable to concentrate on anything for very long. He still kisses my hand when I leave that’s on one of the rare occasions when he hasn’t fallen asleep mid conversation.

We’re not the only family who have been left devastated by the effects of a stroke and no doubt we won’t be the last but at this time and moment I am suffocated by black despair. There’s no quick fix this time around, no magic potion waiting to wake him from this deep slumber and regrettably we are just starting out on this journey of unchartered territory. Some days fragments of my old Dad appear and then just as quickly disappear again. There will be lots of dragons to slay along the road not the least being the callous and faceless bureaucrats with their senseless & often ridiculous form filling.

As he has always told me we never know what’s around the corner, I think I’m all out of wishes and I have frequently wondered during the past few weeks if my Dad really understood the decision he made exchanging physical well-being for mental coherence. I can’t help but feel that sometimes he made a deal with the devil and came up short-changed.

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The Bell Still Rings For All Those Who Truly Believe

Hello friends!

I know it’s been a while but for those that don’t already know my darling Dad had a fall last week whilst the old dear was away on a Turkey & Tinsel weekend with the Women’s Institute. No doubt getting up to go to the little boys’ room without putting the light on he fell and shattered his hip waiting there from 5.30 am until much later when he was discovered. Regrettably, because he had had been sat there for so long his blood pressure dropped and he had another stroke in the ambulance on the way to hospital.

I can’t deny it’s been a tense week with Dad critically ill where he hasn’t known any of us. However, I am delighted to say that we have turned a corner and he’s back on the road to recovery. Whilst it’s a road we’ve taken before it’s one he won’t be walking alone and with Ayesha’s Passing Out Parade in June, I rather think his stubborn determination and heart will have him waltzing along rehabilitation street.

So on Christmas Day we will be heading off to Burrator Ward in Derriford Hospital in Plymouth to bring some festive cheer to the old fella along with a trunk full of Tupperware boxes stuffed with Mum’s homemade seasonal buffet; that’s if he’s no longer a “Nil By Mouth” patient! Beverley Big Pants and I will be traditionally dressed in our Christmas Jumpers and rather splendid earrings bearing a strong resemblance to the the Ugly Sisters, the grande dames of pantomime; oh yes we will!

So I want to take this opportunity to wish all doctors and nurses a safe & happy Christmas and thank them for giving up their family holidays so that we can all still have time with ours.

I think as you grow older your Christmas list gets shorter because the things you want can’t be bought.

Decisions, decisions ...

Decisions, decisions …

Our Last Goodbye Was Never Said

Times had been hard for eight-year old Tammy and her mum since her Dad had died, even more so when her mum had been made redundant from her office job last month. With a sad Christmas looming without her Dad her mother said that they were going to have to be “careful” and asked her not to be too disappointed if Santa didn’t bring all the toys she’d scribbled on her Christmas list.

She was trying so hard to be good and never mentioned to her mum the doll she so badly wanted that walked and talked and was being advertised on the television all the time although she would gaze at it longingly through the toy shop window. Once she’d been brave enough to slip inside the door and finger the silky gauze of the doll’s dress.

They’d had to give the car up when her mum received her last pay cheque so now they walked into town but that wasn’t so bad as they played “I spy” and sang their favourite Christmas songs all the way which made the journey more fun. Mum had explained that she wouldn’t be able to give her any pocket-money for a while until she had found a new job but she didn’t mind as she knew her mummy was clever and would soon get another job.

On her way home from school every day she passed an elderly gentleman smartly dressed with medals on his chest like her daddy used to wear. She noticed he carried a tray of paper poppies and when he noticed her looking at him, he smiled back at her. “What are those for, mister?” she asked and he replied that he was selling the poppies so that people wouldn’t forget all the soldiers who had died. She checked each pocket of her tatty Disney purse which her mum had bought her last Christmas but unfortunately there were no pennies to give the man so she just smiled shyly and carried on walking past.

From then on he’d wave to her every day she walked past on her way to school when he told her that tomorrow was his last day selling poppies so he hoped he’d see her again. Tammy dashed home from school and shook her money-box to see whether she had any coins left. Right at the bottom was a shiny twenty pence piece which she proudly placed in her purse ready to give the old man because she just had to have one of those poppies.

The next day she was up early for the rainy walk into town with her mum on this gloomy autumn day and after carefully checking that she still had the twenty pence piece she made sure she’d put the purse into her pocket. When they reached the old man she stopped opened her purse and took out the coin which slipped out of her fingers and before she could catch it, rolled down a storm drain.

Tammy was distraught and began to cry, big huge racking sobs. In between the tears and howls she managed to breathlessly murmur “It’s really, really important that I buy one. I just gotta have one so my Daddy knows that I haven’t forgotten him”.

The old soldier was deeply moved by this small sobbing child and immediately bent down and looked her in the eye and said “It just so happens I have this special one left and I know that your Daddy would want you to have it”. Pinning it to the lapel of her coat, he stood up and saluted her.

The little girl wiped her nose and stood up straight and saluted the old soldier back just as she had the last time she had seen her daddy before he had been deployed to Afghanistan. For just a moment the sky cleared and a rainbow appeared. Tammy’s tear-stained face gazed up and blowing a kiss she whispered “I’ll never forget you, Daddy”.

Dedicated to all the families of those in the armed forces past and present serving our countries throughout the world; we are and always will be indebted to you for your bravery & sacrifice

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