I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad today. He’s still in hospital recovering from a recent series of small but troublesome strokes, and it may be a while before he gets home again. Always assuming he doesn’t have yet another stroke, of course – and at 81, with his health having been noticably deteriorating over the last few months, sadly nothing is certain any more. He is getting old, and the realities of age are causing him to fail almost in front of our eyes: A diagnosis of vascular dementia is adding a cognitive element to his physical limitations.
I’m thinking about the last time I saw him at home, not even a month ago, standing watching out the kitchen window and waving at my train as it passed the house. The thing is, the train to London from Inverness doesn’t usually pass by that way, but on that particular occasion due to engineering works we were diverted via Aberdeen, which meant travelling along the railway line next to my mum and dad’s house.
Dad had said beforehand that he would watch out for the train and wave, so I was looking out for him. Even in the dark and after all these years living elsewhere I still remember the area like the back of my hand so I knew we would go through a short deep cutting, pass under a road bridge, and immediately after we would rush past four houses in a row, with mum and dad’s house being the last to see.
I know it takes only a few precious seconds for the train to pass and it was dark outside, so I decided not to try to take a photograph of the house as we rattled by but just to see how much I could see at that time of the evening. I just didn’t want to risk missing anything by concentrating too hard on my camera instead of looking out and maybe not even getting a shot in focus, so I left my camera off.
As it happened, it was actually the darkness that helped me see him so clearly, a solid dark figure reassuringly framed squarely in the centre of the brightly lit window, waving slowly and steadily with both arms, a familiar gesture I’d seen a million times before. Every time we had visitors I remember dad standing in the road waving them off in just the same way, keeping waving until the car had disappeared over the top of the hill.
So I simply kept watching for as long as I could, tears blurring my vision, as dad and the window grew smaller, flickered, and in an instant vanished from sight. I felt overwhelmed with love and longing for those happy family memories, and a sudden flash of fear that I might not ever see him stand there again. Five days later, he had the stroke that took him off to hospital and has kept him there so far. It seems that train diversion was meant to be.
I do have a photograph I took a bare month ago of my dad sitting in his front porch, snoozing in his usual armchair in his well-worn jeans, old navy blue heavy-knit jumper and workboots – his everyday garb for being at home and messing about outdoors. He had come in supposedly to read the paper, but after only a page or two had dropped off – having forty winks, as he would often say, although forty minutes was more usual these days. I snapped him snoozing from through the grubby rain-spotted window so as not to disturb him, and the ordinariness of that candid shot touches my heart.
I also have a photograph of him in hospital, only a week or so later, taken on the ward with my not-so-great phone camera. He had just had his hair trimmed by a nurse so was looking very smart, and in that moment he looked directly at me and smiled just as I clicked the silent shutter button. In contrast to the previous photo there is nothing ordinary about that image, a clean-shaven spruced-up dad sitting in a dress shirt (well, his version of a dress shirt) in a high-backed hospital chair, but somehow in that split second he looks more like dad than he has in months.
His brilliant blue eyes are sparkling and bright, with no hint of the dull bewildered confusion that has been plaguing him on and off since these little vascular incidents have been challenging his brain. That lucid look of complete clarity didn’t last long, but I’m so pleased I managed to capture it while it was there…
Love you, Dad, I wish you could get well soon… ❤