Family Planning

Losing Mum has made us think more about Dad too, about our loss, his death and his funeral. It feels more final this time as nobody needs the house anymore and when our father died, Mum handled everything and we simply supported her. We were a tight family unit who stayed by Dad’s hospital bed for almost 3 weeks as he was dying. This time, my sister and I did the weeks of hospital visiting and now we are the recipients of the kind sympathy cards and bouquets. My sister and I are the grown ups this time, we are in charge of funeral decision making, which feels more daunting. Our only concern right now, is to give Mum the funeral that she deserved, a real celebration of a life well-lived, everything else can wait.

We made good progress on the funeral arrangements this week : we have a date, venues and we have let mourners know. Mum was heavily involved in her local Methodist church, where she became responsible for room bookings, amongst other things. So as a tribute to her role there, we were keen to book a room in the church hall for  refreshments after the celebration service. It seems fitting and hopefully, as there is no travelling to be done, more mourners will be tempted to join us afterwards for a cup of tea and something to eat. The church became her social life and she went there everyday pretty much, so it should play a part in her send-off.

Her garden was another love and occupation of hers and the garden is looking beautiful at the moment. So we have extended a welcome to family to come back to the house afterwards, to have the opportunity to sit for a while in the peace of her garden. Since Mum was ill, she had organised a gardener to cut her grass and tidy up, as she was no longer able to manage it herself. On the day of her death,  when we went back to Mum’s house, we confirmed that we wanted him to continue to garden all summer; we could not allow her garden to become unkempt and uncared for, as that would be heartbreaking. We are also hoping that some of the flowers or foliage from her garden will be used to decorate the church and hall, to bring another piece of her to the service.

My sister and I share a clear vision of how we would like her funeral to go and we are laying plans in order for that to happen. As with last weekend however, we need our quiet weekends to restore our strength and to rest at our own family homes, ready to tackle more jobs together next week. So I was at home yesterday, and after what felt like a morning on the telephone, my husband and I took the dogs and Joshua for a walk in the park and then we had lunch in a cafe, which was the first half term activity that I have been able to do with Joshua, on the last day of his school holidays. It was restorative to just be us three together. The importance of family – our tight family unit and the wider extended family too – is brought into sharp focus in times like those we are living right now.

In Memory

Last week it was the fourth anniversary of when my fabulous father died and we all miss his calm, kind presence in our lives. Time plays tricks on us as it is hard to believe that it was really four years ago that my Mum, sister and I camped out in his hospital room, surrounding his bed, all wanting to be there when the end came. It was a very special time for our family as we each supported each other and oddly enough, we laughed together there as much as we cried. It was the longest time in his life that I have been apart from Joshua but there was nowhere else that I wanted to be at that time.

Joshua was born on my Dad’s 64th birthday and so they always shared a special link and we enjoyed many shared  brilliant birthday parties together. On the day that Joshua was born, my parents appeared to support us and stayed at home with my husband, while I stayed in Special Care with baby Joshua. Once we were discharged, My Dad went back home, leaving Mum to help out with our new arrival for a few more days. They both put thier own lives on hold to care for our new family. Dad was always in the background, often lending practical help and his love for his only grandson was never in doubt and there was nothing that he would not have done for Joshua.

Sadly, when Joshua was just five years old, Dad was diagnosed with vascular dementia and gradually we began to lose the man that we knew and loved. The disease began slowly at first and at one stage, Joshua and Dad were similar in their care needs. Throughout his illness Dad was fortunate enough to live at home and to be well cared for by my Mum, even when he was no longer mobile and so the front room downstairs was converted into his bedroom and she got equipment to make him comfortable and to make caring for him more manageable. Caring is a demanding and relentless role and Mum was incredible with how well she managed , for as long as she did. They developed a  rigid regular routine to daily life that worked for them both.

I enjoyed the few rare occasions when we persuaded Mum to go away for a break and between us we covered Mum’s role as I wanted to repay the care and support that Dad had given me for so many years. Early on in his disease he came and stayed at our house, while Mum went to the Lake District with her sisters. I tried to engage him in gardening tasks as that is what the old Dad would have enjoyed, but that interest and skill left him early on and he would dig up plants, rather than planting. In the end, I resorted to feeding him as eating made him happiest. Once he was housebound, I remember staying with him,  alternating with my sister and my Aunts, and we covered a few days between us, for Mum to enjoy a rare break and it was a special time when I talked to my father a lot, I read to him and shared family photo albums with him. Dad ate a bowl of oats every morning for breakfast and I decided that he might be bored of the same breakfast every day and so I thought that I would mix it up a bit, so I converted the same ingredients into porridge, but he was clearly not impressed.

There is a dad-shaped hole in our family although, of course, we are all carrying on without him in our lives. I am sad to think that he did not get to see how his two gorgeous grandchildren are turning out , but they were both very lucky to have him around when  they were younger and to spend quality time with them, so I am grateful for that.

The one where we love our pets

I have written before about the impact that Joshua’s pets have in his life and how much he loves our dogs in particular. But the main downside of having pets is the aching sadness that you feel when they die. Yesterday my sister’s family lost their 16 year old cat, Sooty, and they were all devastated. He had been unwell but even so, it was a shock and a real loss to their family. Much loved pets are indeed like members of the family and so their passing has to be mourned, as he had been in my niece’s life for most of her 22 years.

Joshua and I were already visiting his Aunt’s house, we had been invited for tea, but my sister gave me the sad news when I woke at 5.30. We agreed that we would still visit as we could empathize, having lost so many pets over the years, and also , oblivious Joshua would create a good distraction from the sad news. Joshua certainly played his part well as he was very giddy and excited to be at his Aunty’s house, he squealed with delighted and grinned constantly. We all sat in the conservatory and reminissed about Sooty’s exploits and Joshua kept touching his cousin’s  gently, trying to cheer her up perhaps and he gave out a lot of hugs too. He will not have understood what was going on but he will no doubt have picked up on the atmosphere and he did his best to reverse it.

Although we have both cats and dogs, Joshua is most definitely a dog-man , he is not that interested in cats and will only occasionally tolerate them sitting on his knee. He tends to pick them up by their heads, like a tennis ball I have always joked, and lift them off him! I am not sure if cats are too small for him to appreciate or too aloof for him, but he often cuddles and plays ball with the dogs and Joshua and Ruby, our cocker spaniel, have a very close bond. She does not seem to be able to predict Joshua’s seizures in advance, but she is very tuned into him during his seizures, she sits next to him as reassurance and will not leave his side, clearly sensing a problem and feeling a duty to protect him.

There was a fascinating TV programme on channel 4, where dog trainers find rescue dogs and train them to become assistance dogs for disabled people : I saw one episode last week when a dog was trained to wake up his owner with narcolepsy and to guard her if she were to collapse when out and about, until she came round again. The dog made her  feel safe enough to go out again and she re-gained her independence. It was a really uplifting programme and I am looking forward to seeing more episodes, possibly they will feature a dog that can forewarn its new owner of upcoming seizures or one that encourages an autistic child to speak and relate to others. I have no doubt that dogs are a good force in our lives.

I know that the pain of losing a long-standing pet is hard to bear, but they add so much to our lives that the positives certainly, in my view, outweigh the negatives and I certainly feel that a house is not a home unless it contains pets – but possibly three cats and 4 dogs could be considered over the top!