When my dad was in a care centre, he had just lost his beloved wife of some 60 years. They had both moved into a lovely home in the retirement centre and my mum was so relieved that she didn’t have to cook meals anymore. They had been living in an apartment close to the city (Pretoria) and were glad to get out of the neighbourhood and happy to be among people of their own age. All their meals were provided. Huge smile from mum!
For them, it was a dream, come true. It also gave me peace of mind that they were out of the apartment block which was becoming home to all sorts of unsavoury characters. In fact, my dad was manhandled once in the elevator, and that’s when I decided it was really time for them to move out.
So, there they were in their lovely garden cottage. A huge sense of relief had descended on them (and me) and in just two days, it looked like they’d been there forever. Typical of my mum, everything was so neat and tidy, it was a perfect picture. They were so happy, until they weren’t.
Not even a week after they moved, mum woke up one morning with terrible stomach pain. It was so excruciating she couldn’t move. My dad called me in a panic, and I rushed over from Johannesburg, managed somehow to get her into my car and drove to a nearby hospital where she was immediately admitted.
They managed to get her pain under control and performed a myriad of tests, much of it done with her in a drug-induced daze. That night, she was allowed no food and just water to sip. The next day was much the same. At least she was free from pain. The doctor I spoke to told me that were problems in her gut (I could have told him that) and they were working on how to proceed.
That night, she died. I was devastated. I spoke to the doctor and he said casually “Oh, I’m not surprised.” What? I asked him why he hadn’t told me she was on the verge of death. “We don’t always know these things. At her age, it was very dangerous to operate.” I was disgusted with him. I guess you get doctors and doctors and he was one I wouldn’t recommend to my worst enemy. Useless. I even had to find out the cause of death myself. Peritonitis.
Anyway, my poor dad, who was beyond devastation, had to move again, this time to the frail care centre. He wasn’t allowed to stay on in the cottage on his own.
I visited most weekends. He had a nice enough room with a TV but missed his books. He used to have tons of books, like me. I don’t know what we did with his bookcases of books. I was in a daze too and when he asked me about two months later what had happened to his books, I couldn’t tell him. I couldn’t remember but I think we gave away most of the things that were left in the cottage.
Can you imagine what it must have been like for him? Having to move twice in two weeks, and now he didn’t have his wife to comfort him, or for them to comfort each other.
Depression set in. He didn’t want medication. My dad was always a fitness first man. He tried his best to be bright when I was there although I could see beyond his best efforts. My poor pops. He tried his best to fit in too and make the best of an awful situation.
My dad handled his depression thus: he used to walk up and down the staircase outside his room at least 50 times a day. He would walk around the centre. He arranged with a new friend a couple of rooms down to meet for a beer at midday on a Wednesday. This cheered him up until he arrived there one day, and the man exclaimed angrily that it wasn’t Wednesday!
What did that matter? The fact that it was, indeed, Wednesday made it all the more sad. My dad never went back. He became more depressed and began to spend more time in his little room. Luckily, when he ventured out for meals, he seemed to have a few nice folk at his table to chat to.
But that Wednesday incident had shaken him. He began to climb the stairs less. Depression seemed to have taken hold. I decided to get a mild antidepressant for him.
The next day, I got a call from the centre to tell me that they’d moved my dad into frail care. I dashed to Pretoria. The doctor there told me he had ben found incontinent in the shower. I was shocked as pops was always so fit, even at 90. It just was so sudden. The doc told me it was pneumonia and he had a drip for that. He asked me if I wanted him moved to a hospital but warned me they couldn’t do more than was being done for him at the centre. I shook my head.
“No, you’re doing just fine. Thank you,” I told him.
I sat with him as he slipped into a coma. I sat with him for almost a week. It was a Saturday and I had just gone to lie down for a bit in his room. About an hour later, a nurse knocked on the door and told me he had just passed. It was almost six months to the day after mum had died.
My dad just missed her too much. I firmly believe that people can let go when they want to. He had done just that.
I put that whole Wednesday incident, and the loneliness shock as triggers for a deep depression which led to pneumonia and his death.
Miss you mum and dad. But I know we’ll be together again.
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