Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Some Notes On My Father

My father was sick for 35 years and one day he just didn’t wake up. His skin in the funeral home is the coldest thing I’ve ever touched.

The rest of what I write will fill in the gaps between those two points but those two points are all that remain once you take everything else away.

My father, an immigrant from England (strange, I know) to South Africa, met my mother, from South West Africa (now Namibia) more than 40 years ago, at the church where we had his funeral service. She pointed out the gate where they first spoke.

At the age of 32, my father was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. A year later, I was born. I can remember him walking with crutches but I’m not sure if the memories are real anymore or just memories of memories. Now I mostly remember him in his wheelchair or, more recently, in his bed.

My father, as he got worse, was given the option of early retirement due to disability but opted not to take it so that he could better support my mother, my brother and me. So for the rest of his working life, as the disease took more and more from him, my mother and him would wake up earlier and earlier, so she could help him get ready in time to go to work.

The engineers at the car factory where he worked built a machine that fitted on the roof of his car, that lifted the wheelchair up off the ground when he left home and put it back down again when he got to work.

I watched him drown in his own body, slowly, over decades and I have never loved or respected a greater or stronger man.

My father would force waiters and ushers and my brother and me to carry him into restaurants and movie theatres if there were steps in the way because he would be damned if he was going to let his disability get in the way of a good meal or a half-decent movie.

Most, if not all of the restaurants and movie theatres in my hometown have wheelchair ramps, because of my father.

And he taught me to laugh at the world. Laugh at anything that hurts, laugh at anything that tries to bring you down, just fucking laugh at it. My father taught me all the crudest jokes I know when I was still a child.

He never wanted any pity, just the laughter and happiness of his family.

His voice started getting softer each time I visited and I started clenching my fist and my jaw at the thought of him trapped in his own body, unable to talk. But it never got to that. He left before it could take anymore.

When I touched his skin in the funeral home, it felt like the cold became a part of my fingers but I couldn’t stop because whenever I used to see him, I’d move his hair and touch his face because he couldn’t do it himself and now this was the last chance I’d ever have to do it and so I let the cold become a part of me because I owed him that much at least.

For showing me where real, true strength comes from. For loving me and teaching me to love others, regardless of their circumstance.

So I’ll be back, properly, soon. Otherwise I wouldn’t be his son.


Perla said...

This really hit home. My father has been sick for over 15 years, diagnosed with a benign tumor in his head, in his early thirtys. And I have watched him sicken all these years. And alike your father he has taught me to just laugh at the world.

Thank you for this post. I forget others get a glimpse of my world.


Sam said...

I'm sorry.
And thank you.

Anonymous said...

This is beautiful and so are you and so was your father. Stay strong Iain. We are here for you.

Hazel said...

I think that you find a beautiful way to return this tragedy into a beautiful way. Because of your writing. Your way of wrinting is so beautiful.

I think that your father was I warrior. I don't say this because he is dead. I say this because I really think he was. The way you described him, was so beautiful.

Stay strong.

Anonymous said...

You are so strong.

Kathryn said...

Tears formed as I read your post and I could feel the chill of the cold. Thinking of you and your family, your father sounds like he was an incredible guy.

klara said...

There is such strength in your words, from what I read about your father I can see where you get this from, how wisely you can look at things even after such a terrible event. Talk about laughing at the world, when your father just died. Just as you admired your father I know many people are already admiring you for passing on this strength.

(My mother is also sick. She was diagnosed with cancer 3 years ago ; I don´t know when it will take her, but I hope I can have the same strength when it does, although I doubt it.)

Anonymous said...

May his soul rest in peace. I can relate to how you feel. I miss my dad. And your dad was brave enough to fight all these years ..

Anonymous said...

I love you. Take care

Anonymous said...

You know, the famous Stephen King said,"The most important things are the hardest to say". I used to think this was true. However, you made me realize that sometimes the hardest things to say just flow out. You have a talent for it. Never stop the flow.

Dawn Stietz said...

Thank you Iain for share this with me, with us. I truly feel & understand your pain. As of late, I myself have experienced great loss of too many of my loved ones. I express my love to them as though they were still alive, by touching or kissing them to tell them goodbye. It's so difficult to face the true reality of death. But in that moment the haunting chill of their skin makes it all final. I know with all my heart they have gone to a better place, it's just so hard to not be selfish. When all I ask for is just one more moment to share all my emotions with you, before you're gone forever because I love you with all my heart. Please come back home, to me because my life isn't the same without you in it, I miss you!

Tears are words our hearts can't express.

As you help in wiping my tears from my eyes may I kindly do the same? My thoughts & prayers are with you always. I love you! You're a true blessing to the world.
I would like to thank your Father & Mother for the gift of you.

mnovash said...

Thank you for everything, Iain. Thank you for learning strength from a strong man, so that you could teach it to me. It seems I owe a debt of thanks to that man, as well. Just as you have reached out to us in our troubled times and our hours of darkness, know that there are thousands of hands outstretched, reaching back, should you ever need to take them. After all the years of coming back here, all the words that strengthened me, cradled me, struck me like a ton of lead or held me like a broken child, I will say this: I love you like a stranger. I love you like a part of myself.

Anonymous said...

Your post has shamed me.

I am a 35 year old woman, disabled, in a wheelchair, with a 13 year old son. I rarely leave my bed, though I could, because it hurts, because I am tired, because the depression has consumed me. How I wish I had been the kind of mother to my son, as your father was to you.

I just pray it's not too late to change it.

Me said...

Love your son. That's all my father did. When it became too painful for him to leave his bed, he didn't but he did try to find meaning in the world around him and sometimes, I think that inspired him to get up and move around the house, as little as he could in those final days.

You're only two years older than me and I can't imagine a) Having a child, let alone having one that's 13 years old and b) dealing with that while being disabled, especially after the experience I've had with my father. You have a right to be depressed every now and again, it's not fair and that should make you angry. But you also owe it to your son to show him that the things that happen to you do not define you. It's only how you deal with it that matters in the end.

It is never too late.

My best wishes to you and your son.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

This was so beautiful, he sounds like a great man.
Thank you.

Enchantress said...

I am sorry

But Agreed You are a great son of a a very great soul :)

Candice said...

...on behalf of everything that must hurt so much right now, I say sorry...

You painted a very vivid picture of your father. A formidable man.

I lost my mother to an unidentified muscle wasting disease at 22 - she was my anchor in life but somehow I was not left adrift without her but thrived.

Saffas are strong. We hurt, we heal we move on. The memories are always there.

I still don't know what love means said...

Thank you so much for posting this. I am so sorry for your loss Iain, but so grateful for your courage and vulnerability. I was diagnosed with MS 11.5 years ago (on my 20th birthday actually), and although I hate what it has taken from me- ironically it has given me more than I thought it would. It has been, perhaps, the only thing that has forced me to allow others to take care of me... and please believe me when I say this- that knowledge has show me what love really means.. possibly the only thing that forced me to actually let others take care of me, and, in turn- teach me what love really means. I would like to believe that your father ironically learned the same thing from his diagnosis. This is a beautiful post, and means so much to the MS community (and to me). xoxo, erin

Anonymous said...

that was beautiful