His funeral was neatly planned, but that’s what my sister could always do well, plan something.
The church was full; the only space was the empty front pew, left for us “The Family”. There were people there I hadn’t seen in years, people he’d worked with decades ago. My sister must have invited everyone he had ever known. But all these people there didn’t offer me any comfort, nor did this funeral.
By the time the minister stood up to deliver his eulogy I felt so cut off from the whole service. The hymns and readings were my sister’s favourites, not my dad’s. The minister talked as if my dad had never been ill, living a “full” live until only recently – instead of being bed-bound for over two and a half years. None of it seemed to be about dad, but about some strange man I’d never met.
My dad had collapsed in the supermarket, three years ago, with a massive stroke. He was rushed to hospital where he stayed. His recovery was painfully slow, on my visits I hardly saw any difference in him. After six weeks in hospital there was barely any improvement, he could sit up in a chair but needed washing, dressing and feeding; and the hospital wanted to discharge him. The problem was it would be weeks before we could get him into a Nursing Home. Someone would have to look after him.
My mum died ten years ago from cancer, so that left my sister and me. My sister said she couldn’t do it because she has a husband and three children. I was his son, unmarried and a registered nurse; therefore I had to look after him. I had to agree.
I got unpaid leave from work and moved back home, returning after all those years away. Tam, my boyfriend, wasn’t happy about this but I told him it would only be a temporary thing, I would be back soon. My flatmates agreed to keep my room for me.
Weeks soon turned into months and soon I had been there four months looking after my dad, day and night. Then it all happened within a few days. The social worker said my dad’s funding had fallen through, there was no longer a Nursing Home place for him and he would have to stay at home, because I was looking after him – a registered nurse. My work told me they couldn’t hold my job for me any longer, my flatmates said they needed to let out my room because they needed the rent. At the end of the week, Tam telephoned me with an ultimatum. He wanted me to move back or else our relationship was over, he didn’t want a long-distance affair. When I told him what had happened he simply replied:
“That means we’re over then. We had some good times but I can’t go on like this, just waiting. I’m sorry.”
That was how my life turned back. I was back living at home and looking after my dad. I had to do everything for him and he could only be left alone for a few hours. My life went on hold. I had no time to myself, no chance of finding a relationship. During my down time, what there was, I watched television or surfed the web. My sister always found an excuse not to look after my dad, whenever I asked her to.
The minister finished his eulogy and, in his singsong voice, announced the next hymn. The Old Rugged Cross. One of my sister’s favourites but not one I ever remember my dad liking. All together, we all stood up to sing it.
I had gone out, that afternoon, just for a walk around the park. I was tired and needed a break. My dad had been really demanding that morning, calling me every two minutes. I had left him propped up in bed, watching television. I spent longer in the park then I’d meant to. I’d just sat on a bench and stared into space, I needed time to myself, I was enjoying just time to myself.
When I got home I found my dad slumped over in bed, his eyes staring lifelessly at the ceiling. His was turning cold, he must have died just after I left.
All I wanted was for this bloody funeral to be over. I had pulled my face down into a frown and kept my eyes looking down. I wanted everyone to think of me as the sad and grieving son. I didn’t want anyone to know the truth.
Inside I didn’t feel sad, all I felt was relief. Relief that I didn’t have to care for him anymore, day in and day out. Relief that I didn’t have to wash him, dress him, feed him and lift him up in bed anymore. Relief that I wouldn’t have to wipe food off his face or have to wash his arse anymore. Relief that I could sleep through the night without having to keep an ear open for him.
I didn’t feel any sorrow, not even here at his funeral, only relief that I had my life back. I could find a job again, earn some money and have some freedom. I could have a social-life again, even to try to have a relationship again. No longer was my life on hold, his death had released me.
I couldn’t tell anyone this, how would they understand, they would only call me hard and uncaring. They didn’t know how poor my life was, how tried and drained I was. They wouldn’t understand that it was only his death that could rescue me.
I bowed my head, with everyone else, as the minister lead us in prayer, but I didn’t pray. I looked forward to when this funeral was over and everyone else had finally left me alone. Then I could really rest.