Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The door was always

open at your house.
I met your Dad first. He was out walking the dog. I had to be careful whenever I passed the house because it would jump the fence and run after me for a pat and a cuddle. It had no road sense at all. Your Dad walked the district with that dog. He knew almost everyone. It wasn't long before he knew us, the newcomers.
Your Dad grew older and worried about your Mum who kept having those TIAs - the little mini-strokes that seemed to make her even quieter.  The dog grew older too. The front door stayed open. 
Then your brother died. Suicide. That made your parents seem old very suddenly. The front door stayed open though. It was a way of letting the rest of us know you were there and up and about.
Then your Dad became ill. It was cancer. All that pipe tobacco on the back porch did it for him - he never smoked inside.
He stopped me as I pedalled past one morning and said,
"Cat, have you got a moment?"
Yes of course I had.
"I'm buggered," he told me, "I'm not going to last. Will you keep an eye on her for me?"
He meant your Mum of course. You were still living up north with your husband and the two children.
He left us a few weeks later but I kept the promise I had made. I checked every day. If the door was open in the morning I knew your Mum was up and around. She would slowly walk the dog around the block. He was getting very old. It was as far as her heart would take her. I would call in several times a week, do her shopping and take the prescriptions to the chemist.
If the front door was not open and she did not answer the bell then I would let myself in with the key your Dad had given me. Once I found her sitting, frozen, at the kitchen table. She had had one of those TIAs. The ambulance men were very kind and she spent the night in hospital. I looked after the dog and the boys next door took him for a walk. It was one of his last walks. He left us too.
Your Mum moved into a small unit and the house stayed empty. We knew you and your family were coming down at the end of the year. I went backwards and forwards to the unit instead but, in a way, the door was still open.
When you arrived your Mum said, "You'll watch out for her won't you?"
And yes, because of your epilepsy, I did. You would often sleep late because of the medication but your Mum and your family knew that I would check to see you had opened the front door. If your Mum could not get you on the phone later in the morning she would ask me to check. I would let myself in with the key your family had asked me to keep.
I found you on the floor once. You were sitting there not quite sure where you were. It was the aftermath of yet another seizure. Fortunately you had not hurt yourself that time. We sorted things out together. I rang your Mum and lied. You were fine. You were under the shower. Why worry her if you were going to be fine?
I don't think most people realised how debilitating your type of epilepsy can be. You could not go anywhere unless you went with someone. Being at home alone was not really safe. Your Mum rang to check. I looked to see the door was open. Your husband rang to check at lunchtime - and rang me if you did not answer. Your kids came straight home from school - to check.
Your Mum moved into a nursing home and we all went to visit.
"You will watch out for her won't you?" your Mum asked again three days before she died. I promised, just as I had promised your Dad.
And so it went on. You were ill of course. There was that first lot of thyroid cancer and all the follow up treatment. Then your seizures became so severe that they eventually operated to try and stop them. And, they found the cancer had spread when they did the scans. It was why you were having a problem swallowing. They operated and you lost the ability to speak. We knew the prognosis was not good. The front door kept opening.
Through it all you somehow managed to smile. You simply loved to be hugged. We did a lot of hugging. You had a sign for it. We would hug when I arrived and hug when I left - and sometimes we would hug in between.
I couldn't always be there but I would make sure the front door was open and, if your husband phoned me, I would drop everything and rush around to the house. Yes, a couple of times it was urgent. You were choking once. We had it sorted before the ambulance arrived but you really scared me that time.
I admit it was a relief when you went into hospital for the last time and then into the hospice. It was a relief when your husband took leave to be with you for the last few weeks. I pedalled back and forth to the hospice each day so we could hug because you wanted the hugs and because I had promised your Mum I would watch out for you.
You asked me, "You will watch out for them won't you?"
And then you left us. I know some people will say you have gone to be with your Mum. I don't know what I think but I think you live on in your two children. They are teens now and they hugged me yesterday and her daughter said very softly,
        "Cat, the front door is still open. You will look after us won't you?"

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