Life is what it is and, of course, it touches every one of us. Even the royals go to the toilet. Every relationship has its ups and downs. We all fail upon any absolute standard of the ‘ideal’. We are all inconsistent, hypocritical, tell lies, fly off the handle and act irrationally at some point if not from time to time.
I guess these are some of the truisms that enable us all to carry on.
I recall once being advised – when facing the daunting prospect of an imminent difficult business meeting – “just imagine them naked as you walk into the room” which simultaneously amounted to far too much information but also helped enormously.
Death and the complications involved in growing old, or dealing first hand with someone who is, are understandably topics that tend to be somewhat taboo in some circles but I’d venture to suggest really shouldn’t be. They come to us all – well they do if those close to us (and indeed we ourselves) live long enough.
About a decade ago now, a pal I had met for a drink told me that recently his relationship with his elderly father had recently changed forever. How so, I wondered innocently and was then naturally both shocked but sympathetic when he revealed that his father had soiled himself and (with the nurse unavailable at the time for some reason) he had been obliged to take his afflicted parent to the lavatory to ‘sort him out’, including wiping his arse and so on.
Yesterday I made similar passage akin to a ‘crossing of the Rubicon’ (here I hope I’m using the correct analogy) in my relations with my own father, albeit that it was not quite so epoch-defining as that in the anecdote above.
I need to set the scene with some background. My father is ancient by any standard and, though mentally fit for his advanced age, has legs and balance issues that have progressed alarming swiftly in the past couple of years. Of course, when anyone says ‘mentally fit’ of someone in the cusp of his tenth decade it’s all relative – his capacity to repeat his stories, already well in evidence by the time he reached eighty, has now reached the tedious point where telling them constitutes about 70% of his entire conversation output. Furthermore, I should estimate it’s been at least five years since I last heard one that hadn’t had at least a dozen previous outings.
After my father had a fall in the early summer which necessitated a short stay in hospital, the family decided that enough was enough – we were no longer going to pussy-foot around. We sat him down and said that we could put off arranging him caring help at home no longer. He was reluctant – we had expected that and found it totally understandable – but he eventually agreed that it was inevitable, he just hadn’t expected it to be so soon. Thus my brother interviewed local care agencies and set up a deal whereby, initially, a carer would come twice (on Tuesdays and Thursdays) for a couple of hours around lunchtime and make him a meal, do other chores, ensure that he was okay and maybe run the odd errand for him. Over the course of time, this might extend into a more full-time arrangement.
A fortnight later the new regime began. On the Friday, immediately after the second visit of the first week, off his own bat my father then called the agency and cancelled the arrangement. His reasoning was that firstly, it was a waste of time (all the lady did was come and cook him a meal, which he could do for himself anyway) and above all meant that he was restricted in his capacity to go out and do things; and that secondly, he couldn’t afford it.
The contract for the arrangement contained a clause requiring a 28-day notice period of cancellation and this was the flash point for yesterday’s incident.
I returned from a shopping trip to discover that my father had received an invoice for a week’s two caring visits which – because he’d cancelled the arrangement – didn’t actually take place, together with a direct debit form. Given that he’d just cancelled the contract, he considered both to be total outrages and incontrovertible evidence that the whole deal was a scam whereby fraudulent operators fleeced unsuspecting oldies of their hard-earned pensions.
In response I had pointed out that in fact there was nothing out of order. The family was highly-disappointed that he’d cancelled the contract, but that was his right. However, the contract required the giving of 28 days’ notice (and payment therefore) and he was stuck with it.
The temperature and intensity of the conversation rose exponentially. My father began ranting that, whilst he acknowledged we were only trying to help, he didn’t need carers and frankly perhaps he ought to insist that we paid his cancellation charge.
The truth was, of course, that who paid the cancellation charge was an irrelevance, but his comment touched a nerve and I ‘lost it’, giving him both barrels straight between the eyes.
His physical state was already such that he couldn’t be left for long on his own. He’d also agreed to the deal that we should initially bring in carers on a two-times a week basis.
Also, he might like to know that his local pals had been badgering us for over a year now to get help in and, since we had, we’d received nothing but outpourings of relief and congratulations all round. Two had even commented “… and not before time, if we may say so”.
Furthermore, he might like to know that I’d told my brothers that in future, e.g. if none of us could (say) visit for say several days at a time – and he fell over or had a problem (he refuses to carry a mobile phone or wear his personal alarm, of course) – frankly, as far as I was concerned, from now on this was his own responsibility and, should he at any point be hospitalised as a result, or worse discovered lying dead upon the floor, I would now not feel the slightest pang of guilt about it.
I had no idea what his reaction would be, but I’d reached the point where I didn’t care. I guess it could have gone one of two ways, i.e. either shock him into reassessing his attitudes, or else cause a blazing argument. In the event he looked at me intently for a moment and then said “Noted”. I replied that I was sorry, but it had to be said.
It will be interesting to see how things go in the new few days. Hopefully, he might do some self-examination and reflection. But – for my part – I feel a certain epiphany quality. I’ve never ripped into my father to this extent ever before in my life (and I’m in my sixties) but now I feel confident enough that in future I’m going to ‘tell it like it is’ and hang the consequences.
Life’s too short to flaff about.