Now my father is up in years — a babe from 1929 no less — I do try to give him more of my time. Even though I live in California, and he lives on the Isle of Man, a journey of several thousand miles not even counting the additional bonus trip across the Irish Sea, and we FaceTime twice a week, face to face is still so very important and, increasingly so, as time quickly evaporates, and tomorrows are not promised.
I’m averaging four to five trips a year these days and I am not bragging at all; I am just saying that you have to, somehow, make the time. There is no excuse, no room for regrets, where family is concerned. Every time I leave, I want to be able to tell him when I’m coming back. And it is not that he is lonely or lacking in stimulation, my sister lives right there and has organized everything for him, so he has company, help in the house, food he’d like to prepare, a garden he’d like to look at and even day outs every week with two lovely retired nurses.
But I do think that toward the end of your life, you likely want to come home to familiar faces, where possible. Dad and I look at old photo albums together and talk about loved ones who have passed. There is a comfort in that that just comes of being in the same room together with your shared history.
When I went over during the holidays, I had a nasty virus and wasn’t able to spend much time in his company — I was mostly in bed at my sister’s house, and I felt so very bad about that. Our time together was indeed shorted. So, I told sister, when I was leaving (hacking), to let me know if she thought he needed an additional visit in February or so and I would make it happen. Barely a day or so passed and she tells me he needs another visit, so off I went again.
I make it sound easy; it’s actually not. I have to organize my work life and make sure everything is straight there while I’m gone, and my work spouse is in charge — marvelous lady that she is. I must prep the husband/ranch manager for all that needs to be accomplished during my absence at home. I must buy flights, bus tickets to the airport, hotels for overnight stays and so on. But it’s a pretty well-oiled machine these days and, together, we all make it happen so dad can have his time.
And now his sister of 96 years young is going into a nursing home, and I think that has hit him quite hard. She has always been there for him, his big sister. When they were youngsters living in London at the beginning of the Second World War, he and his sister were among thousands of children sent away from the city and their parents by train to be safer in the countryside.
It must have been such a fearful time for them, being sent away to the unknown at such a young age, but he always had his sister by his side with her practical big sister head and calm nature to take care of things. She is now blind and deaf and seems to be fading — a fact that he recognizes, but that will hit very hard when the day comes. This generation that were Second World War babies are so resilient — oftentimes stubborn and difficult and opiniated, with guarded emotions, but they are tough as nails. Many of my friends still have their parents and it is a uniform thread.
My next visit — all being well — will be to celebrate his 94th birthday with him. And what do you get a 94-year-old as a present? Whatever he wants, I’d say, which in father’s case is normally lovely Cali treats he can’t find on the Isle of Man for less than a second mortgage … like apricots, walnuts, almonds, pistachios. The last time I traveled, my case was filled with kilos of the stuff, and I imagine there will be further requests forthcoming before I leave. And I don’t mind, I don’t mind at all. At this stage in his life, he should have whatever he wants.
I know he’d love to win a game of Scrabble against me, but I seem to get so very lucky with my letters when we play, so that has not happened for a little while. Maybe it can be a bonus birthday present for him while I am over there. He loves a game of Scrabble! We argue over English and American spellings and rotate, for spell checking, an American Webster with an English Collins online dictionary in order to keep things fair. I get flashbacks of when he and mother would play together years ago — they were so fiercely competitive and both great players.
And now I’m going to try to digitally archive our family photo albums that are still in his possession, though many of the old color prints are fading fast and are not of great quality. We must scan and save diligently for the photographic history of our family to be preserved for upcoming generations.
Dad found an old Kodachrome film in a camera he believed to belong to either his father or stepmother. He estimates the film to be around 50 to 60 years old, and I am entrusted to the care of this film to schlep along to some camera professionals and see if they can print anything from it. What an exciting prospect that is for some hidden family history to come to the fore.
I see people taking photos all the time with their phones and wonder how many folk actually print out or preserve these moments in time. I have shelves of albums myself that should be preserved in a better way than just gathering up dust and decaying on bookcases, but who has the time truly?
I know the answer to that — you have to make the time. You must take the trips, take the pix, frame and preserve the memories. For my part, I do my best. Knowing what I now do about how precious snapshots in time will always be, especially when that person has passed, I endeavor to frame, preserve, enhance whatever I can for the generations to come.
I think that’s the best any of us can do.