I looked after my dad this weekend.
He is 90 years old. And a miraculous achievement especially after: a rural childhood in extreme weather conditions, combat in a world war, a refugee camp, repatriation, a mining career handling dynamite, a burst stomach ulcer, a new career in a cotton mill, 3 kids including a toddler in his mid fifties, a removed gallbladder, a lot of fatty meats, most veg as a garnish, almost no fruit (the odd grape), fluid intake only coffee, beer and red wine, a 78-year smoking habit.
Not having a car probably helped, we walked everywhere.
He now moves very, very slowly. He has a stick.
He stayed over at our place. Our place has 4 floors and many stairs including a tripping hazard consisting of 2 cats.
His body a marvel, I look at it and think that that is where I came from and where I am going.
He needs a lot of help to get into bed. And stand up. His frailness contradicts his immense physical heaviness.
His skin is amazing. Kind of paper thin and almost see through and covered with marks from a long life. Age spots, coal seems under his skin, impressive scars. He lets me cover him in Dr Haushka body lotion.
He uses a thing called a nebuliser. This, I think, relaxes his lungs and calms down his hacking smokers cough. It looks a bit like the oxygen masks that drop from the airplane ceiling when you are about to crash land.
I hope I have his smile-y demeanor at that age. He is cheeky.
He is not cantankerous and never complains. He laughs easily.
Conversation is tricky due to a combination of his deafness, forgetfulness (although he did remember his childhood horses names, Zono and Bobby, which is approx an 82 year old memory) and slurring of words.
He doesn’t say much, never did anyway, and his deafness can be strangely selective. Ask him about what he thinks about something and he just smiles and pretends he didn’t hear. Whisper into a bucket in the far corner of the next room “do you want a glass of wine?” and a resounding “yes please” will come booming forth.
At times I wonder what on earth is going on in his head.
He can sit all day long looking at the birds and the cats and generally napping, coughing, smiling, breathing, sipping, watching – god I think he must be really bored. So I think of entertainment. I rig him up to my laptop so he can watch a couple of movies wearing little earphones and the volume up max. For once he could hear the dialogue and the music.
He watched ‘The Sting’ and ‘Raging Bull’ whilst eating fried egg sandwiches.
We are close. A closeness not of words or conversation, but of an immense comfortable-ness in the company of each other whilst walking or moving or doing nothing.
So my tips on ageing are:
Believe me, it’s not that brilliant to be ancient and not in good shape. The body and mind does tend to deteriorate if you don’t look after it so:
Stay healthy physically. Always, always exercise and don’t eat shit.
Develop a passion for reading and the art of conversation. Especially develop a love for talking about abstract ideas and concepts.
Keep yourself perpetually in education or making things so you don’t get bored.
Nice lotion still counts when you are 90.
Pets are good.
So are bungalows.
As for me, I’d better get a move on so that those cells that make up my father’s body, the genetic heritage of him and my mother, and their fathers and mothers from way, way back in time, don’t completely reach the end of the line. God, all that way, all those thousands of years, for those cells to end their days in ……… Huddersfield?
I am the only one left in my family who can do this, keep these cells going I mean.
I am 40 this year.