9th July 2015.
If the night passed uneventfully, the following day does its utmost to make up for that.
Dad is cowed after the realisation that he will not be ‘zipping around on his zimmer’. He tells me, ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t discharge myself early to be naughty.’
I wrote in my diary the previous night that ‘looking after Dad is like looking after a toddler. I did not sit down all day.’ I look at him now, this little boy, trapped in an ageing man’s failing body, and at once feel remorse for those words and frustration that I can’t make things right.
I call the Hospice. They send a nurse who is another of those infinitely kind, caring and patient people I have come to recognise over the last year: a person who wants more than anything to be able to give more than ten minutes to Dad before shooting off to visit someone else equally, if not more, deserving. She listens as he cries and tells her how much he is missing his wife.
The phone rings. It is a social worker called Martin. Same name as my dad. Many Martins will come into our lives over the next few months. Some of them in the shape of the bird – the kingfisher – some of them human. They will all appear at times when they are most needed. At first I feel stupid noticing this – fanciful. Then I mention it to a friend who says, ‘Does it matter, as long as it helps?’
This Martin, like the Hospice nurse, is also kind, caring and patient. He is ringing to advise me that Mother has been assessed by the in-house psychiatrist at the general hospital where she is recovering from her fall. The hospital want to discharge her because she is ‘physically fit’ and she has expressed a desire to return home ‘to look after my husband’ – this while then crying out that she does not want to go home because the house is falling down and she has no food.
‘If your mum refuses to be transferred to a mental health unit of her own accord, we shall have to detain her under the Mental Health Act, 1983. Are you prepared to be her named as her “nearest relative“, bearing in mind your father’s prognosis?’ Martin asks.
I am sitting on the double bed in the front room where my parents slept together for over twenty years before my sister and I left home and they moved rooms. I force myself to concentrate on what Martin is saying. It is as though my world has shrunk to this one spot. I am here, on this island of bed, and Martin is talking to me from another world. Is this really happening? Am I, the eldest daughter, really about to give permission for my mother to be locked away while my father dies? It feels like the worst betrayal a daughter could commit.
I stare down at the flowery bedspread. This will always be ‘Mum and Dad’s room’ to me. It was the bed on to which we bounced on Christmas morning, the room we came into to watch in bewilderment as Dad performed his ‘Canadian Airforce’ workout routine in front of the mirror, the bed into which we snuggled for early morning cuddles or after a bad dream. Mum and Dad will never sleep together ever again. And I am about to make sure of that.
I listen to the social worker and feel as though he is reading out an arrest warrant. This is what I want, isn’t it? I should feel immense relief at the news that she will not be coming home and that Dad will be able to end his days peacefully, without Mum raving and pacing and crying out.
But when I think of Dad, sitting in front of the Hospice nurse, crying because of how much he misses her, I cannot allow myself to feel anything like relief.
‘Yes, I understand. I will be named as Mum’s “nearest relative”,’ I say.
And so I sign her warrant, feeling as though in many ways I have signed Dad’s as well.