Looking Back In Sadness

Written by Polly Fielding

Polly's Father
Alzheimer's disease slowly, relentlessly and cruelly destroyed my father's brain.

"Are you all right daddy?"

He slumps forward, his head resting on his hand, sighs then mutters quietly to himself as I place what I hope is a comforting arm around those broad shoulders that once lifted me high above the crowds to watch the Lord Mayor's procession.

Slowly he raises his head to stare directly at my face without seeing me, bewilderment filling his eyes. He nods acceptance to my offer of a cup of tea.

When I come back into the room he is pacing about, frowning, searching through the contents of his pockets.

'What have you lost daddy?' He does not answer.

When I was little I went to my father if I lost something. He always found it for me. "Here you are," he would say, "It was there all the time."

When I take my father a cup of tea he gazes at it then looks at me. His face lights up for a moment. "Hello," he greets me as though unaware of the hours I have already been there. "Hello daddy." I hug him warmly. "I love you so much." He doesn't answer.

He drinks his tea then makes his way upstairs to the bedroom, where he stands at the window singing the same snatch of tune unnaturally loudly, over and over, until the sound grates painfully on my nerves. Years ago I was proud of his resonant rendering of the hymns we sang in church.

When my mother finally persuades him to come down for lunch he eats without speaking. My father never viewed meals as a social occasion so, for a while, I can pretend that nothing has changed. We are simple enjoying a quiet family meal. He appears well; he has a healthy colour, no longer smokes and his appetite is good.

As I clear away the dishes he smiles at me. I hug him. Perhaps he is the old self again. Stop playing this horrible game, I plead inwardly.

He begins talking disjointedly about some incident in his past that I cannot relate to, drifting inexorably away from me even as I hold him close.

My mother is coaxing him to take his medicine. He swears at her, pushing her arm away roughly.

This change in his personality frightens me. My father never swore at anyone. Most of the time he was an extremely, reserved man, rarely showing any emotion.

I am confused, I want to cry.

"You see how he is," my mother tells me over tea in the kitchen. "Sometimes he won't let me dress or shave him. The ambulance men just put his coat on top of his pyjamas to take him to the Day Centre."

My father always dressed smartly to face the world, a greatcoat covering his suit with trilby and umbrella collected from the hallstand on his way out.

Now the door is locked to prevent him wandering the familiar streets, unable to find his way home. I think of the times my father took me to London; an expert at finding his way round the city, he would laugh as I made for the wrong exit out of a tube station.

Time to go. It hurts to leave, for while I am with him we might stumble upon that rare, lucid moment when we seem to make contact.

I button up my coat. Daddy offers to accompany me. He looks so sad. I ask him if he would like to visit me for a holiday. "No," he says in the tone he reserved for my childhood naughtiness.

"How much money do you want?" he asks, fumbling in his pocket. Maybe to him I am a child again, needing money for the journey. Before I can answer, he is grumbling about something, his slippers I think.

As I embrace the shell of the great man I knew I whisper in his ear. "I do love you daddy." I walk away quickly so that he does not see the tears running down my cheeks; it might upset him.

I will come again soon to comfort my mother, who copes daily with confusion and aggression, and try to convey the love and affection I have for my father.

As I close the door I leave behind a stranger in place of the father I remember, someone with whom I cannot communicate properly, however hard I try.

Nothing, no-one can bring my father back now.

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