Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Last Conversations with My Father

I can’t remember my last conversation with my father.   It’s been nearly four weeks now since he died and I hoped that it would come back to me, but it hasn’t.   It's probably because it was a mundane conversation, but I wish that I could remember it all the same.  I remember driving away from my parents’ house the last Sunday that I seen him and thinking to myself that he had barely spoken to me that weekend.  It wasn’t that he was in bad form, he was just unusually quiet in himself.  He probably shouted ‘G’luck’ to me, from his familiar resting place, the couch in the living room where he was stretched out after dinner. 

Since his death, I’ve spoken to lots of people that my father visited, or happened upon in the weeks before he died and great conversations were had.  He even had the ‘I want to die in my own home’ chat with my mother and aunt.  That he did.  I wonder what would have happened if he said that he would like to die in Australia ? 
He had a late night conversation with my sister-in-law in Bristol a few weeks before he died.  I had offered to drive and then travel by boat with my parents to Bristol that weekend, but it didn’t work out.  If it had, my father would have been a Back-Seat-Driver, except sitting in the front, his seat pushed back for his own comfort, leading to the discomfort of whoever was sitting behind him.  He would have opened and closed windows as he wanted, the same with the volume on the radio.  He would have lost patience with the children’s incessant questions and occasional quarrels and grumbled at them.  They would have thought that Granddad was joking and laughed at him, making him even more grumpy.  He would have become restless about the lack of nicotine and looked for an excuse to stop the car.  I would have been stressed out, but happy to make the trip as a Labour of Love.  It would have been identical to the Road Trip to my brother’s wedding in Kerry last year.  The children still laugh about Granddad squashing Mya’s little legs with his car seat.  I’m disappointed now that I didn’t make that road trip, but I guess that it wasn’t meant to be.

The last conversation with my father that I remember clearly was in late September.  I phoned home to tell my parents that the Irish Times were featuring an interview with me that day, a promotional piece, in advance of this year’s MS Readathon.  My father answered the phone and I told him about the interview. 

‘There’s a nice photo of myself and the kids’, I said.
‘I’ve already bought today’s paper’, he said in response. 

‘But that’s the Indo, Da.  I’m in the Times’.  
‘Well, too late.  I’ve bought it now’.

I felt slightly hurt.  ‘It’s not every day your daughter gets into a national newspaper’, I protested, but knew I was at nothing.  ‘Tell Mam anyway.  I’ll get a copy for you’.
‘Right so.  What’s the weather like there ?’ he said, changing the subject.  He always asked me about the weather.  Sometimes, I’d run to the window to see how the weather was that day and remind myself how that I should take a decent lunch break to experience the weather first hand.

That little exchange about the newspaper article between us said so much, that there is probably a Masters Psychology thesis in it :
Topic for Discussion A : My father was a man of principles and by God, he stood by them.  As far as he was concerned, a blue shirted Fine Gaeler farmer had no business reading, never mind buying the Irish Times, even if his daughter was in it.  It seems that he isn’t the only one of that opinion, as I have often found it hard to buy a copy of the Times in Kingscourt, my home town.

Topic for Discussion B :  He hated waste, so ‘why the fuck’ would you buy a newspaper when you already had one ?
Topic for Discussion C : Since my diagnosis with MS over four years ago, my father had barely spoken to me about it.  It’s not that he didn’t care.  It was just that he COULDN’T talk to me about it.  He was uncomfortable about me talking about it too.  Just as well he didn’t read my blogs.  It was hard for him to get his head around his only daughter being anything but healthy.  And then to hear soon afterwards that his son, my brother would also be diagnosed.  That’s news that no parent wants to hear.  I know that he felt helpless. 

His way of checking in on how I was, was to ask ‘Are you okay for money ?’.  On one occasion, soon after my diagnosis, he called me back as I was leaving Home one weekend and gave me some money.   ‘Don’t go wasting that on something stupid now.  Spend it on something that will make your life easier’, he said abruptly, walking away before I could react.  I phoned him later to thank him properly and he brushed it off as if it had never happened.
It’s just come back to me in the past few days that my father rarely called me by my name.  He mostly called me ‘gersha’.  ‘Get me a cup of tea, like a good gersha’.  Since his death, that funny little word keeps popping into my head, over and over, like a soft wind, a mantra of affection and reassurance.

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