Not long after Hughie died, Alan wrote me a sad note. He had come home from University, where he is studying (and excelling in) math and economic geography, to the flat he had his Dad had shared. As usual, he called out, “Pops, I’m home,” and of course, there was no answer. Nor was there the full-course meal Alan was accustomed to. And the extended family, the clan, had packed up and left.
Alan was understandably bereft.
When I read this, I went into panic mode. What to do? I dashed off an encouraging letter, plus some poetry and “inspiration.” Then I hit upon an idea: Why not ask Alan to write something original for us about his experiences with his Dad’s illness? It would be potentially therapeutic for him and enlightening for us.
I had read many testimonials from middle-aged woman who were caregivers for elderly fathers, but never anything from a teenage son. I wondered:
*What was it like for Alan, at 17 years old, to find out that his Dad had an incurable disease? *And why did he decide to move in with Hughie at that time? (His parents had been divorced for about 10 years, and Alan had been living with his mom.) *What lifestyle changes did this choice involve for Alan? *And what was it like for him to be the primary caregiver for his father in his latter days (and to have his father care for him, as best he could)?
I would like to share this edited version with you.
“Caring for Pops: Trying To Be a Friend And a Son at the Same Time”
By Alan Kearnley, © Glasgow, Scotland, 2007.
I used to live with my Mom, had done for many years since she and my Pops were divorced. I wanted away from her and her new husband who was most disrespectful of me and called me nasty names. Let’s get it right –- I’m a homosexual –- something he, the big “He-Man,” detested.
When I found out that my Pops had Prostate Cancer, apart from the shock and dismay, it gave me the excuse I needed to get away from my Mom. As soon as I could pack my things, I went to live with Pops.
Oh –- Pops was my dad, best guy I ever knew, just in case the word Pops confounds you. I adored the guy –- we all did -– that is, his kids, even though he had his “Shouting Times” when his voice got to be fearsomely threatening. THAT was when we learned to OBEY or be sent to our room.
Not once did Pops ever lift his huge hands to us, except one time when he smacked the head of one of my brothers for getting his girlfriend pregnant, and that just turned into a comic wrestling match until the offender promised to get married.
When I moved back to our “old” family house, I had to choose between three bedrooms. I took the one farthest away from Pops’ –- he snored for Scotland, and the racket was unbelievable! But Pops didn’t snore that night. In fact, I never heard him snore while I was with him in the latter days of his life.
The first day –- I had moved in in the afternoon and my friend Jack had helped me –- I was pretty tired, and after the big hug from Pops, I just went to bed.
The next morning we had breakfast of Pink Grapefruits and a Papaya, then a weird omelette made from egg-whites with Onions, Chilies and Parsley. It was OK I suppose, but I asked for the reasons for no yolks.
I then got a rundown on what was and what was not allowed as comestibles. I began to have second thoughts about moving in with Pops. Could I live with this diet? I didn’t think so –- to start with. My cup of tea had an unusual but not unpleasant taste – Soya milk! Eeek! What IS this?
Another long explanation about Pop’s diet now adapted to take account of his body and his Cancer. I took it in and decided that Yes, I could adapt, as he had to.
That night, I came home to find Pops crying into his crossed arms sitting at the kitchen breakfast bar. That upset me. I ended up crying too when he started to explain his love for me and the rest of my brothers and sisters, and how he had hoped to be with us for a lot longer, but that the Lord had decided otherwise. Pops wanted to see more babies, his great delight in life.
I stayed with him, and after a few drinks, I got him to bed, wrapping my arms round him until he finally slept. This was hurting ME –- so the Lord only knows how much it was hurting my dad.
His heart must have been so terribly heavy.