My father’s birthday was both sweet and sad. I had wondered what to get him and struggled to come up with anything; previously I had always given experiences or indulgences, such as dinner out or cases of good wine. He has enough possessions and doesn’t want any more. But now he can’t really eat or drink properly, can’t focus enough to read (a huge pleasure): it was very hard.
So, instead, I gave him a photograph of my daughters, dressed in the 1920s and 30s gowns that I still own, passed down from their great grandmother. Trying to get their schedules co-ordinated enough to arrange a photoshoot was a nightmare. The dresses had to be brought out of storage and lovingly cared for; the girls had to delicately handle them. The result was lovely and my father was so pleased when I gave it to him. He asked me to put it on his bureau so that he could see it from the bed and I know he will insist on showing everybody who visits.
I stayed for an hour, just sitting by him. We talked frankly about some of his medical procedures and I reassured him that I didn’t find his current condition at all repugnant. Of course I don’t; it’s my father and I have no problem dealing with necessary care if asked. Currently my stepmama deals with most of it and a nurse comes in daily to check as well. He is under the care of a palliative team, who try to make him as comfortable as possible, but he is still losing weight. I don’t know if that is unchecked cancer or because the results of his resection mean that nutrients aren’t being absorbed. Even the doctors don’t know if they got all of the current tumour out but I doubt it.
He is so amazingly stoical about it and never, never complains. He has changed, though. He is not the vital force he used to be and I am learning to accept this shaded version of the father I once knew. It feels strange to be the stronger presence in our relationship.
My aunt and uncle sent me a lovely letter, talking about the time they knew him, and it made me cry. You see, I always thought my father somebody very special and it warms me to know that other people think so, too.