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A missing piece

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idea.nottingham.ac.uk image: Philadelphus Belle Etoile flower

It is a strange thing, the ups and downs of a long-distance carer’s life. When your visits or phone calls are frequent, or the paperwork overwhelming, you’d give anything for a break. But every so often there is a lull, a moment of calm when the care agency’s input is all that’s needed and the crisis alerts have gone quiet and, for a while, you can be ‘off duty’.

At the moment I am in a lull period and I am finding being ‘off duty’ surprisingly difficult. For once there are no emergencies or looming medical appointments. There isn’t even a planned visit for the next eight weeks. My sister is visiting next month which gives me a break and even allows me to go away on holiday with my friends.

But I sort of miss dad. Although I phone him every other day, he is not present in the same way as when you see him. On the phone it is hard to get any sense of how he is, or to find something meaningful to talk about. I know his diary well (we plan it and set everything in it up for him), but if I ask him what he did at the Probus Club that morning he will remember he went simply because I prompted him. He won’t remember what the speaker talked about or where they had lunch or any of the names of who was there. Now, I simply ask if he enjoyed it. Even subjects like the weather are risky because sometimes he seems unsure whether it has rained or been sunny. He sounds vague and slightly sad. The only safe topic is his little dog. ‘Guess who’s beside me?’ he’ll ask, with a big smile in his voice.

When I am with dad it is intense. Even when I am doing nice things with him like a mini break by the sea I am constantly on duty. I find the responsibility of arranging and overseeing every little thing very difficult. Dad may have a zizz (his afternoon sleep!) or a quiet cup of tea, but I will be washing the toilet mats, or shopping, or cooking, or sorting out a problem at the bank. But dad, himself, is there. His quirky sense of humour and his willingness to break into song as we travel: ‘Oh I do like to be beside the seaside’ we sing loudly as we head to the coast in the car. Even the difficult bits – his stubbornness and inflexibility – highlight his presence and determination to engage full-on with life.

So now I am back at home, trying to progress my writing and to reinstate a routine following two intensive visits to dad. My life feels kind of empty despite my multiple friends and activities. I am more inclined to focus on the agents’ rejection letters for my second novel than the positive feedback I have had about this blog.

On the plus side are the moments of joy such as meeting Mary the Beekeeper. Mary agreed to help me with the research for my novel and we spent a wonderful morning talking bees and allotments and gardening. I ate wonderful homemade oat and honey cookies (and of course got the recipe) and came away with a jar of honey and a sprig of the beautifully scented Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’ which I smell every time I pass the windowsill where I have placed it.

I still feel sad, though, and a little empty – as if part of my life is missing.

© Anne de Gruchy

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