My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night; but ah, my foes, and oh, my friends — it gives a lovely light! – Edna St Vincent Millay
My father’s candle has been alight for many years. It is expected that soon, there will be no wax left to burn. Is it, as the night, follows the day.
But I am in not in the wings for this performance. I am like others, living at distance from their ageing parents. I call and talk to care staff often, listening for hope that my father will rally and recover his will to rage on into the grainy dawn.
At 101 years of age, his protest is a quiet, polite one…simply refusing to eat much… to walk unaided….to talk on the telephone.
‘Tell my daughter, I am as fit as a fiddle’, he said. He is not.
Truly, there is nothing that has been left unsaid….I love him and he ‘loves me more than dearly’.
We are not into protracted goodbyes, and still here we are..in one.
I am managing it from a distance and it is not easy. It is not about control, it is about ensuring that he is treated with respect. We place such faith in carers to do so and for this we pay so little.
How did we get it so wrong? Our teachers, nurses, emergency services, armed forces and carers are paid less than they deserve. What did the recently resigned Australia Post CEO, Ahmed Fahour do to justify his 5.6 million salary? Sounds like the price for a commercial hit man’s wage to slash jobs, reduce services and implement software to replace human labour.
My once active father is now bed bound. Hoisted and cradled in a sling, like a slightly bruised overripe banana in a hammock.His humour has not quite dissipated, although the waves of pain medication, has dulled the flame.
Talking with his carer Andrew today, we laughed about my father’s idiosyncratic ways. I asked if he had a call button close by.
‘Oh he now knows how to use that’, he laughed. ‘Never heard a peep out of him for years, so independent, now he calls me whenever he needs me’. He calls it, ‘ The Communicator’.
On the rare occasion, that he has sat in his chair, he has asked for the ‘slippers with the zippers’, in a singsong voice, amused by the rhyme.
Andrew was able to mimic him, like many of us can. We do it out of respect for him, and because of his distinct use of language and his Cornish accent.
He does not have Alzheimers, or dementia, though he is forgetful. In my crowd of menopausal and post menopausal women that is a given.
My father, Reg and I have found ways to bridge the distance over the past fourteen years, since his beloved wife, Molly, my kind mother passed over. I have travelled to Tasmania, to many times to keep mentioning. We talked on the phone each week and wrote a flood of letters.
I have kept his ‘pearls of wisdom’. One year I constructed a book of his poetry with accompanying images and presented it to him.
A writer or perpetual ‘communicator’, lives to be published, self or otherwise. He offered me, his second edition, which I kindly refused on the last visit.
He is no Wordsworth. He has not been a lover of great narrative fiction, preferring autobiographies of war heroes and the occasional politician.
His is no Edna St Vincent Millay or e.e. cummings, my favourite two poets, but his poetry reflects his love of nature and the need to preserve the environment. ‘Oh wondrous Mother Nature..’
I confess in my twenties I stole, ‘The Collected Works of e.e.cummings’. There are worst things to do.
The poet’s defiance of using lower case resonated with my twenty something, middle-class socialist rhetoric of ‘rebellion’ and ‘free education’, so I released it from the university.
I didn’t factor in that a ‘future me’, might also enjoy reading it. I returned it over 10 years later and paid a whopping fine. My parents had royally screwed with my consciousness, early in my life.
When that dreaded phone call comes, and I race to see him for the last time, I will be deeply in grief. There is no better words, in my opinion, than these from e.e.cummings to describe the power of love.
i carry your heart with me
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
I fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart