Thursday, 24 April 2008

Part 5 - The Catastrophic effect - A retrospective account

Want to read part 1?

Brandy slid down my throat, burning a path through my oesophagus on the way to my stomach. I shuddered at the hot harsh taste from a drink I was none too fond of. John had poured large measures and in the absence of anything else alcoholic, it would have to do for now. He raised his glass looked at Mark and me and said, “Cheers, here’s to the old man, God bless him, and to uncle Iain too. May God welcome them even though they were a pair of toerags from time to time!“. He threw back his head and gulped a large amount of the brandy before walking towards an armchair and flopping down like a rag doll. The last few weeks of misery were etched on his face; gaunt with dark circles beneath cheerless blue eyes. I felt his pain as I watched him struggle with his exhaustion and grief.

“How are you John?”, I asked, desperate to know how he was coping. He ran his hand through his dark brown hair before knocking back another large gulp of brandy. He looked past me staring vacantly into the distance. For a moment I thought he was going to cry but he stood up, strolled over to the brandy bottle and refilled his glass with a four finger deep measure. I wanted to caution care but this was no ordinary time for us, no run of the mill situation and “if you couldn’t have a drink now then when could you?”, I asked myself.

Leaning his arm on the mantelpiece, he turned towards me and finally held my gaze. “I feel like hell, Mob. It’s been a nightmarish two weeks, a real rollercoaster of emotions. Dad was still a grumpy old bugger but he was scared and that was hard to watch. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone to watch a parent die like that, no matter what they’d said or done in life".

“I’m sorry and I know this is still very raw for you, but how was it, how did he cope at the end?” Perhaps it was morbid of me, kind of like rubber-necking at a road accident but I felt it was important for me to know the details so I could empathise with him, get the complete picture of just how awful it must have been for him and dad.

John walked back to the armchair, placed his drink on a side table and sunk down into the drab and uncomfortable burgundy leatherette chair that had been my father’s favourite for twenty years or so. I’d only seen my father once in this apartment some two years before, sitting in the same chair that John now occupied. It had been a short and depressing visit made out of guilt that I hadn’t seen him in such a long time and made out of curiosity to see just how he had faired and if there were any changes, regrets, apologies. I’d been shocked and saddened to see him try to warm his hands by the side of a clothes iron that he would plug in for that very purpose for he couldn’t afford to have his gas fire fixed. So much of what I felt for him was a complex set of emotions that ranged from hatred to pity but never love. But that day I felt compassion for a man haunted by his addictions; a victim of his learned behaviour from his violent father before him and a victim of circumstances borne out of a rough Glaswegian culture that endorsed domestic violence as almost a right-of-passage for a generation born at the time of the First World War. I had his fire fixed and paid his quarterly heating bills thereafter; I didn’t love him but neither did I hate him anymore; I couldn’t walk away and leave the man to freeze for the rest of his life in a city that was on the same latitude as Canada and frequently published record low temperatures. He got practical help and money from me in lieu of love.

His appartment was alien to me; he’d moved here long after I had fled the family home at fifteen to go and stay with a friend so I could continue my studies in my attempt to make a better life for myself. The apartment smelled of neglect and I felt sorrow for a life not well lived that had ended in an alcoholic haze, in pain and isolation from his family. There was a hollow echo to our conversation as though there was nothing of substance, no warmth here to cushion the sound of our words. It had a forlorn and desolate atmosphere with threadbare rugs placed on the dusty floor that was covered in cheap cracked linoleum where grimy ancient floorboards peaked through. The bare light bulb hanging from the nicotine stained rose holder in the ceiling streamed out naked light and cast strange shadows on the grubby and torn wallpapered walls of the room. The thick aroma of stale beer and cigarettes hung heavily in the air, a testament to the lifestyle that had brought my father to his knees with lung cancer. Years of his own disregard for his comfort and welfare were evident everywhere you glanced. A quick inspection of his kitchen had left me breathless; it was so dirty it should have been condemned and if the cancer hadn’t carried him off then surely to God, Ecoli would have done for him instead. A swift examination of his cupboards found no food for his consumption but instead offered up a bizarre collection of empty scotch bottles, about a hundred in total. For why he had started this strange collection, I do not know. My rapid troll through his apartment told me all I needed to know of the man of late; squalidness, neglect and loneliness reeked from every aspect of his small home. I suddenly felt deeply ashamed and sorrowful that his life had come to this; living with no real pride or respect for himself, no apparent signs of care and attention by himself or from anyone else.

“John?”, I turned my face back towards my brother to prompt him to come back at me; to at least try to relate some of those two weeks with dad. That way I could spare him a bit and share his narrative with our brothers and sisters as they arrived to ask the same questions over and over.

“Sorry”, he apologised. “I was watching you scan the room; you’ve got the same shock and disgust on your face that I must have had when I saw it two weeks ago. That’s the reason I was here in the first place”, he offered, as the start of his narrative as to how it was he who happened to be here in Glasgow with our dying father when he usually lived down south like me.

“Christ John, the place is a dive, a bloody squat. I don’t remember it being this bad when I saw him two years ago”. I wondered if perhaps his death had suddenly made me look much more closely at everything; brought things into a stark reality that I couldn’t hide from.

“Exactly what I thought Mob. I couldn’t believe the deterioration in the flat and in him either. But there’d been a flooding from the apartment above and from what I can gather he’d just left it, didn’t bother to sort it out at all. That’s why the place smells so musty”, he offered, as an explanation for the shambolic environment we were sitting in. I nodded my head in agreement because the all engulfing smell made me feel I’d develop consumption if left to wallow in such surroundings for more than a day or two. It was no wonder why the doctors had diagnosed pleurisy when my father was first admitted to hospital.

“Dad called me out of the blue”, he continued, “asked me if I had a couple of weeks to spare to come up and help him decorate. As I was between jobs, I thought what the hell. A couple of weeks in the old homeland would be just what I needed to stave off the boredom until my next contract started. But I knew when I saw him, he was clearly very ill and that the decorating plea for help was his way of getting me here to help him. He never said it but I’m sure he knew it was serious, had probably been in pain for months and only decided to do something about it when it was too much for him to handle”.

“Oh dear god almighty John, what must he have gone through being isolated and scared like that for him to have finally sent out a distress call to you?”, I said, more out loud to myself. “It’s not as if you kept in touch that often is it?”, I asked, looking at him for confirmation or denial that he’d been a better child than I had been.

“No, you’re right. Our contact was sporadic at best so I was as surprised as you are that he made the call”.

Trying to imagine Dad’s last few weeks of loneliness and terror was like a bolt of lightening to my heart. I closed my eyes to steel myself because I was so deeply mortified that I had let my father’s life come to a close in such a way. The if’s the if’s the if’s......If only I had known, if only he had said earlier, if only I had cared.... They went on and on pounding my brain but it was futile to think what if? But you do it anyway.

“And so”, John carried on, “I got here albeit under false pretences, realised what was going on, got him into hospital and the rest is history. I called the family, let everyone know the regular updates and sat and waited, just waited because there was nothing else I could do. The old man was in and out of consciousness until the last few hours but at least the morphine kept the worst at bay. He was delusional from time to time but he was compos mentis for enough of the time he managed to spend with Alex", he said in conclusion.

“Alex, Alex is here? Where on earth is he then?", I asked in astonishment for I hadn’t even considered that any of my other siblings had made it home.

“Oh, Christ I thought I’d told you. He turned up yesterday afternoon. He’s off picking up dad’s clothes and other stuff from the hospital. They asked yesterday that someone come in and do that today. Thankfully Alex offered to do that for I have seen enough of that place to sicken me for the rest of my life”

I was relieved that John had not been alone when my father passed away and appreciative that Alex had made it home so dad could see another of his son’s in his final hours. With that thought, my brother Alex walked into the apartment. I stood up and we walked towards each other finally culminating in a tearful hug of brother and sister lamenting the loss of a parent.

Now there were enough of us present to start the planning of the funeral of a man, a father, who had been robbed of us in life by alcohol and now had robbed us again with his death.


Mopsa said...

Was there ever anything as complicated as the parent/child relationship?

Carolyn said...

I've been tired this week so I put off reading your posts until I was rested enough to truly enjoy them. So glad I waited. Your writing, as usual, is brilliant. The description of your father's apartment in the sixth paragraph was genius; swiftly transporting me there through your articulate description. Well done.

As mopsa said, what a complicated relationship. I've been pondering my own parental relationships recently so it's interesting to read about yours.

Thanks again for sharing a difficult story and for doing it so well!!

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Mopsa - Complicated and sad and funny too at times. It is the hardest thing to be a parent and to feel/kow that you are getting it right - I'm a step parent so that can be even more of a mine field. I guess we can only try our best and not repeat the mistakes of the past whilst probably making new mistakes.

Carolyn - I just knew you had to have Scottish ancestry! You have really touched me with your comments - thank you so much for that as I know what a great writer you are and how strapped you are for time lately.

Kitt said...

Like Carolyn, I've waited until I could read the whole series at once at my leisure. A powerful, difficult story, and you tell it so well. Bravo.

merry weather said...

I've just caught up on Parts 3, 4 & 5 MOB. This is so personal and well-told... I can almost see the looks on all your faces as you look round your dad's apartment, sense the feelings.

Tough times.

So you're from Glasgow - hence the spirit and the great humour!

It's strong of you to share these experiences - Take care - I'll be back sooner next time.

LittleBrownDog said...

Just been catching up with this. Wow - what a rollercoaster! So heart-wrenchingly sad, yet beautifully and humanly described. Lovely writing as ever.

Retiredandcrazy said...

There is an award waiting for you over at my place

auntiegwen said...

My utmost love I send to you, you've no idea how close this is to home for me.

as aye

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

At what stage do our parents become more like our children? In my case it started when I was 15, but is completely so now. It seems so against the natural order of the universe. How strong you must be to have gotten yourself away from your home life.

Mean Mom said...

Why do so many men turn to alcohol? I realise that some women do, too, but I get the impression that it is more of a 'man' thing. The effects are so short-lived, I don't understand why people bother with it. I have very unpopular opinions on this subject! I over-indulged a few times, as a youngster, and then 'moved on'. Maybe I was just lucky that I never got hooked!

Anyway, this was, for me, the best post in your current series. Couldn't fault it! 10 out of 10! I'm sorry that you had to go through it, though.

farming-frenchstyle said...

My daughter, Laura, lectured her friend about telling her parents she loves them. Laura always goes away or end her texts/conversations "luv u". I now do the same - just in case they don't know.

Manic Mother Of Five said...

I have a father who spent many, many years absent either in body or mind and frequently both. He has phoned a phone times recently and I screen his calls...... I just have more construction things to occupy my times. If he died tomorrow, would I regret this - I doubt it. I have a mother I adore and children who fill my life. My father chose his path and I chose mine, MOB, I suspect the same could be said for your father and you. Sad but inevitable and so not worth you feeling quilty about..

Stunning writing again.


aims said...

Gosh MOB - I could relate to so much of this. My own father died of cancer and I sat with him for those last few days - even tho he hadn't spoken to me in five years.

His brother was an alcoholic and lived in the kind of squalor you are talking about. And he lived alone - barely eating - just drinking. His last days in the hospital were horrible as well.

Why do we feel so guilty about death?

A Mother's Place is in the Wrong said...

Dear Mob, how terrible this was for you. I have been catching up on it all, and flinching at the bare emotions that have been exposed. Well written, and I'm sure desperately hard to do. I can remember that my Father was both angry and scared when he discovered he was dying. It was an awful experience for everyone involved. I feel for you. M xx

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Kitt - glad you stayed the course!

Nerry Weather - It's not so hard writing about it now at all really - well not this bit. Thanks for your feedback!

Littlebrowndog - thanks matey - your feedback is so welcome!

Retiredandcrazy - thank you my sweet and it is particularly thoughtful of you given what you are going through right now.

Auntiegwen - it's not so uncommon as I thought so hugs back!

WUASTC - I ran away more than anything. Legged it as fast as I could - survival mechanism morethan anything. When I look back I realise what a baby I was at fifteen. A bit scary really.

Mean Mom - gosh thanks so much forthe 10 out of 10. I am chuffed to bits hen!

Farming - yes I agree, tell people you love them even if it is just a text.

MMOF - how close to home you are with your comment. I used to call screen my father too ad wonder if I would feel guilt when he died. he would phone up drunk to call my mother every name ubder the starts - it was a continued form of abuse from four hundred miles away. I was furious that he still had the means and the power to verbally abuse in a way that took me back to my childhood. I eventually told him not to bother callimg if he couldn't just bring himself to tell me about his week and what was happening to him instead of being nasty about my mother. He got very nasty with me, I hung up on him and we never spoke or saw each other again before he died. I have no regrets over that.

AIMS - if anyone can understand his story then you certainly can. I have never felt bad about my father's death, only his life and how he wasted it but I am philosophical as it was his to do as he wished with it.

AMPIITW - Fear must produce so many conflicting emotions and I am sure I will be angry when my time comes too. Sad times watching a really loved one loose their battle for life. Hugs.

Anonymous said...

Your writing is so brilliant. I was deeply moved by this, on so many levels. So much of this I can relate to on a personal level.

It is so frustating how our parents can create such unhappiness for their children. I am so glad you got away, at 15 you must have felt very desperate.

So glad to have found your blog. What a gift to me.

Tina said...

MOB, I've been away too long, and I've come back to catch up with all my blog friends. You simply take my breath away with your writing.

I promise I'll not go away again, in case I miss more. Both reading & writing blogs has become strangely addictive...

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Eileen - thank you for such wonderful comments - you are much too generous as usual.

Tina - wey hey you are back! Glad to hear from you again. I'll be over for a visit - just got back from Glasgow today.

Casdok said...

I need to start at the begining! :)

Mean Mom said...

Congratulations on getting into the Best of Blogs top 10 funniest blogs! My vote has, of course, gone to you!

Carolyn said...

Hey!!! Congratulations! You made cut for funniest blog over at the Best of Blog awards and I made the cut for Best Mommy Blog. You're awesome. Thanks for nominating me! Now get on over there and vote!

aims said...

I voted for you MOB!! Of course!