It has been both a challenge and a privilege to bear witness to my father’s decent into the world of Parkinson’s disease and Lewy Body Syndrome – a degenerative disease similar to Alzheimer’s.
It has been three years now since my mother, me and my two sisters put my father, one of the most intelligent and proud men I have known, into a nursing home. His confusion was contained in the small retirement village unit that he lived in with my mother. It was contained enough that he understood that he could no longer live there. That his need for care now surpassed the ability of my mother to care for him. He agreed with us in a confused and concerned way that he needed to move to the nursing home. He knew the truth of what we were telling him, but he desperately didn’t want it to be. In that same desperation he searched for a solution that would allow him to stay at home. But like us, even in his addled mind of delusion and fairy tale, he could come up with nothing.
The first two weeks were horrendous. I stayed in the village with my mother and listened to the 2am phone calls, where my father would scream at the other end of the line about how they were trying to kill him and he was trapped, there was no escape. The last pieces of sanity that my father had clung to disappeared in the disorientation of this momentous move. My mother had to make the devastating decision after a week of this distress to not visit my father while he adapted to his new surroundings and rebuilt his fractured world.
Slowly, over time, my father settled into his new routines and my mother was able to visit him again without him raging and demanding she take him home. A new normal descended on him, a normal that was intertwined with grand hotels, important business meetings, rabid dogs, horse races and the occasional king goblin, but in amongst all this there still remained an underlying intrinsic core that always had been and still was my dad.
My father was a man of deep integrity. I don’t think I ever heard him say a bad word about anyone, he never bitched or whinged, never placed judgement on those around us. We grew up knowing that everyone was of the same worth as us, from the tea lady to the general manager, everyone was treated with the same respect by my dad. In an era when multiculturalism was frowned upon my father brought people from all around the world into our house, we were taught that cultural differences or the colour of your skin did not make you better or worse, but nearly always made life interesting.
I remember my father stopping to scoop up a bird that he’d hit on the road, placing it in a fruit box with a towel, its broken wing jutting out. I remember the time he went to help a man carry an awkward queen sized mattress into his house. It wasn’t anyone he knew, just someone he’d seen struggling as he walked past. His sense of fairness and justice was always well thought out, he was never, and I mean never, afraid to speak up.
A while after my father had been living at the nursing home my mum took him down to the café for lunch with a lifelong friend. Dad was slow with his walker, shuffling, looking at the ground, his steps drifting to the right. The three of them sat outside at a table in the sun, dad sucking on the straw of a caramel milkshake, his old friend opposite him. After a few sips of coffee his friend started to complain about the influx of Muslims in Australia, how there was going to be trouble if there wasn’t a change to our countries immigration policy. Dad, in all of his confusion, carefully and concisely pulled words and sentences together, slowly telling his friend how he was being racist, how the majority of Muslims were peace loving people like us, trying to have a simple normal life. It took Dad twenty minutes to get his point across, a point that in the past would have taken five. His friend had no choice but to sip on his coffee and wait it out.
My father would appear to be evidence of the fact that integrity resides in some people’s bones. You can take away the structure and the form, even much of the internal ability to function in a cohesive and acceptable way, both to yourself and those around you. But when the foundations of integrity have been laid so deep and set many generations ago, it appears integrity may well be one of the last things left standing when everything else has given up and gone home.
In the photo I have shared on this blog my Dad is walking with his youngest grandson, at the time of the photo my nephew was four. This little boy has inherited my dad’s bones, he loves his Pa dearly and doesn’t care if Pa makes sense or if he walks funny or talks funny. All that matters is that Pa gives him a high five and smiles whenever he comes in for a big Pa hug.