I started writing these on Facebook but am now wondering if I should retrieve these little conversations for the blog. Anthony is beginning to lose his ability to speak, but the other day he whispered:
Anthony: You are so big and strong, Jules.
Me: Are you calling me fat?
Me: How DARE you!
Anthony: I am small and weak now, Jules.
Me: No, Ants, NO! Do you want some of my mother’s Christmas cake?
I wish now that I had written down every single word Anthony spoke in the prelude to this impending silence. He keeps trying to speak, but he seems to have lost the ability to speak. Ming saw his father today and came home to tell me he was out-of-it.
Tomorrow, I will go in and try to comfort him. I think Ants will live for a long time so I have to figure out how to cope.
Lately Anthony has been more asleep than awake and yesterday was one of those days. I arrived in the afternoon to find him slumbering peacefully in his armchair, so I shook him awake and growled, “Wake up, Ants!” His eyes snapped open – wide and glazed, then closed again as if to say, oh it’s only you.
One of the carers dropped in to tell me he had been too sleepy to eat lunch so she heated it up and brought it in. I proceeded to feed Ants; he seemed incapable of keeping his eyes open, but his mouth opened automatically at the touch of the spoon. “Open your eyes, Ants!” I admonished from time to time and, eventually, having eaten an entire meal with his eyes closed, he did.
Me: Yes, it’s me. Don’t get too excited!
Two hours, two words – but when I gave him my hand, he clutched it, then stroked it as if it were a cat – two hands.
When I left to come home, Ants was falling asleep again.
At nearly 80, Anthony’s Parkinson’s symptoms have reached a new dimension. He is uneasy with certain people/animals/things: sometimes it is a new carer; sometimes it is with the unruliness of a rogue calf that he remembers naming ‘Reject’; mostly it is to do with his slightly younger brother.
Advanced Parkinson’s disease – accompanied by dementia, and the medications -often leads to delusions, paranoia, hallucinations, nightmares. I can still remember Ants yelling in his sleep in the night-years prior to his admittance to the nursing home four year ago.
I have tried, tactfully, personally, and publicly, to stop all visits to Anthony from the younger brother. These visit aren’t often anyway but, apart from being awkward, they always leave Ants with anxiety.
His nearly 80-year-old perspective, his paranoia, his tolerance …. Bravo, Ants.
During the many years in which the dairy farmer kept the young girl at arm’s length with brotherly bear-hugs, she somehow managed to finish her nursing studies and then an arts degree.
She had lots of adventures, jobs, friends – even boyfriends – all of which she would tell the dairy farmer about, much to his amusement. She would turn up at the dairy farm unexpectedly and be greeted by his yell of welcome … “JULES!”
The dairy farmer had been swept into a convenient relationship with a woman more his age, a situation that frequently broke the young girl’s platonic stance into slivers of absolute misery. Twice she bumped into the dairy farmer’s ‘girlfriend’ as the ‘girlfriend’ was leaving to go back to the city. These awkward situations were tempered by the guffaws the young girl and the dairy farmer shared in the wake of the departure of the ‘girlfriend’.
It was at about the time the young girl embarked on her postgraduate studies that the dairy farmer finally realised that she was now a young woman; that the age difference was now diminished by time. He let the ‘girlfriend’ go and rang the young woman, asking for a date.
After a couple of days of intense sleepiness, Ants was wide awake and alert today due to a visit from some favourite family members. It was magic!
Later, when it was just Ants and me, he mumbled something resembling “marriageable” and this was our conversation:
Me: What do you mean by marriageable?
Anthony: Well you know….
Me: So do you want to get married?
Me: But we ARE married!
[At this point Ants gave me one of his half-smiles]
Anthony: Yes, I know that.
Me: So do you want get married again?
Anthony: Not sure about the hundreds.
Me: Hundreds of what?
Me: What? [I show him the TV remote]
Anthony: Yes, that’s it … for the wedding … hundreds ….
Me: So let me get this right: you want another wedding?
Anthony: Well, I have thought of it from time to time.
[So anyway I cracked up laughing at this typically Anthonyesque punch-line which of course got him smiling too.]
Me: I am not going through all of that rigmarole again, Ants – I hate wearing a skirt!
Okay, so recently I have begun to get a bit lazy with my visits to the nursing home to see Ants and other residents who I have become fond of. But, even a single day’s reprieve takes its toll in terms of guilt. Yes, I can do my own thing and not go into town, and be fine with that. But, after two days, it’s a bit like a ‘cold turkey’ situation. I miss Ants too much; I ring up when I can’t come in, to make sure he is okay. Most of the carers know now to tell him I will be in later.
In the past, Ants and I never had a hand-holding, smoochie-whoochie relationship; we were always quite restrained. Now, he holds my hand tightly (and the other day when he was unwakeable, he gripped my mothers’ hand when he was asleep – yes, I am a teensy bit jealous haha!)
Of course I will marry him again but only in a let’s pretend way. Why do I visit this man of mine so often, despite his illnesses? Because I love the way he loves me and vice-versa; pretty simple really.
During the two years that the young girl worked for the dairy farmer’s mother, she learned how to cook, and salmon mornay was a favourite dish. Melting the butter, whisking in the flour with a fork, adding the milk, getting the bones out of the tinned salmon … it was all rather magical for the young girl.
Eventually, she became quite adventurous in the kitchen and one afternoon, while the dairy farmer’s mother was having her afternoon nap, she cooked fish cakes for their dinner. It was the first time she had cooked anything without the dairy farmer’s mother’s supervision and she was very excited as she followed the instructions of a recipe book found in a secret drawer in the kitchen table.
It was a disaster! The fish cakes were thin and charcoaly instead of being plump and crispy. The dairy farmer didn’t say anything as his mother rose from her chair and declared that the meal was “DIABOLICAL!”
The young girl fled to the back veranda bathroom to cry out her humiliation, the dairy farmer put his mother to bed, and that was that … until the young girl accidentally allowed the simmering grapefruit marmalade to boil over the pot and into the precious Aga. But that’s another story.
Note: Not everything is funny in retrospect, but a lot is! I haven’t lit the Aga for the four years since Ants has been in the nursing home, but it is, nevertheless, a constant reminder of the various mishappinesses of the beginning of our relationship. I reminded Ants today and he gave me his slow half-smile: gold!
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but Anthony often asks about his mother. He either asks me where she is or how she is. It’s a difficult question to answer because Anthony’s mother died over 30 years ago. Sometimes I just say that she is fine; other times, especially when Ants wants to visit her, I have to gently tell him the truth.
Me: Ants, she died a long time ago … remember?
Anthony: Sorry, Jules, I got stuck.
Me: It’s okay, Ants – it’s just the Parkinson’s disease affecting your memory. Don’t worry about it.
Anthony: Parkinson’s disease, yes.
Me: Do you remember your mother’s salmon mornay?
Anthony: Yes – beautiful.
Me: And how I couldn’t make it as well as she did?
Anthony: Yes you could!
Me: She is definitely one of my heroes.
When a son, who is nearly 80, remembers his mother with such incredible affection and concern, it makes me pause, look up at the sky …