Thursday, 29 September 2016

Exit Through The Rest Home

It’s pretty safe to say that when you qualify for secure-dementia-rest-home-care – you’re on a one-way ticket. You will not pass go. You will not collect two hundred …

You may have the odd game of Scrabble.

‘Is FOSH a word?’ asked Dad, placing it on the board.

‘It is now,’ I said.


It all is.

I hadn’t seen my Dad for a while. Not that he’d remember. But I did. A sad kind of guilt had been gnawing away at me. Another kind of mess had been keeping me away.

I knew it would happen one day ... I stopped my rental beside him on the driveway. He’d snuck out for his postprandial. His mop of white hair stood slightly wild in the wind - an Andy Warhol comb-over. His brown brogues wallpapered with different walks of clay. His black four pocketed bomber jacket zipped tight to the 16 degree day.

‘Hello Dad!’ I said, lifting my sunglasses and poking my face into the sun.

He looked. He looked hard. His brow furrowed. His face said it wanted to make the right reply but was damned if it could. He had no idea who I was.

‘Hello,’ he said, politely.

I parked and walked back to greet him with a daughterly kiss. I offered him my arm. He declined. It was good to see him out in the spring sun. Exercising.

‘Did you knot all that flax, Dad?’ I asked.

‘Yes! It grows too wide. Get’s in the way of the cars.’

I liked to think of the action of his hands twisting and knotting endless long flax fronds around the top fence wire. There aren’t many dexterous tasks when you move into a rest home. Everything is done for you. No teabags to get out of a box and place in a cup, or spoonful’s of coffee to scoop into a Bodum. Breakfast was always dad’s chore. All those carefully nurtured fine-motor-skills heading back to base zero, along with everything else.

 At the end of the drive, Dad halted. He looked up and down the road. And at each passing cars.

‘You going to hitch a ride to Auckland?’ I jested.

‘No,’ he said, staring quizzically at his rest home signage. ‘I’m sure it’s very nice. But I wouldn’t want to live there.’

We walked back up the drive and took up chairs in the dayroom. In a heady stench of urine. No one else seemed to notice. I checked my chair for dampness. Snores rattled nearby. Heads hung. Dad tapped his long fingers in time to Ravel’s Bolero blasting out from a TV, on the grubbied arm of his lazy boy.

Suzanne (name changed) appeared. She’d pounced on Dad earlier when we’d returned through the key padded door. ‘Hello YOU,’ she’d said. ‘I’m going to give you a kiss.’

‘That would be nice,’ Dad replied.

She’d promptly slapped one firmly behind his ear. A peck. A pucker. Bloody hell. I’d heard about rest home couples. Replacing the absent spouse. With someone new. Dad is still snowy-haired handsome.

‘She’s got the hots for you, Dad,’ I said. Hoping it was just was a random act of affection, but now Suzanne had plans to sit with dad. On his chair.

‘Move over or I’ll have to sit on your bush,’ Suzanne fussed.

Oh hell.

Luckily a carer appeared and got her settled. In another chair. Then leapt onto the balcony to prevent another resident taking a slash on the wooden deck. Dad took a Turkish Delight and struggled with its wrapper. The mulleted TV composer heralded in a Johann Strauss waltz.

I snuck out for supplies. And later took Dad back to my cabin at the motor camp for microwaved tomato, basil pesto and cream soup.

Dad commented on its spiciness and ate thin slices of brie and nibbles of ciabatta bread. He didn't mention my abode. We could have been anywhere.

We hoofed it to Brigit Jones’ Baby. Dad chose hockey pokey. He normally has chocolate. The cinema soon filled with elderly couples clutching parsnip crisps and glasses of pinot gris. Friday night at the flicks. Dad held my hand. We have similar paws. Lean. Veiny. Long fingers with deep nail beds. His hand was warm and smooth. Resting with mine on the seat between us. His grip didn’t change over the full two hours three minutes. My hand almost cramped. But I held on tight. In the dark.

Dad’s always been a hand holder. I thought to periods in my life I felt shy to hold his in public. In my twenties mostly. Thought we’d look like some sort of pervy older man with his young mistress. Dumb really. To shun that fatherly affection. I felt evil about it. Wished I could erase it. Now.

BJB is full of f’ing and blinding. And shafting. Dad laughed in all the right places. Along with all the couples around us. They probably got some later.

Dad got reheated dinner, a glass of Syrah and a pottle of pills.

I asked, ‘What are they all for?’

‘No idea,’ he replied and downed them in one. ‘I’ll go upstairs soon ... I'd like to move that painting in the corner.’ He pointed across the room. 'Put my ships there.'

It was 8.45pm. Someone had been in Dad’s bed. Maybe it was Suzanne. To kiss him goodnight. His biscuit tin was open and telltale Tim-Tam-Dark crumbs peppered his pillow. I brushed them off, put an escaped biscuit sitting like a frightened mouse on his nightstand, alongside his electric razor on recharge and his permanently-in-transit-navy-blue-toilet-bag, back in its Tupperware container and back on the tray table with its raffia basket of white seedless grapes, monogrammed Economists and an empty plastic water jug.

I changed the wall calendar from an appointment-less June to September. Wrote: Jane visited!!! Smiley face, love heart, smiling kiwi xxx on the correct squares. And kissed him goodnight.

Night night. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite …

The next day it was wall-to-wall rain. I made ham and brie sandwiches, looking past the pink and beige caravans to the Whangateau estuary. The tide was in. Neat sets of four, crusts on, wrapped in creased brown paper. His and hers.

We set out for Goat Island in between showers. Escaping  Frida, whose glass eye was wonky. A sightless orb pointing. Up. She’d plopped it out into her hanky. A pirate polishing a cannonball. Ready. Aim. Fire.

Suzanne was quiet. She did not follow dad into the toilet and refuse to vacate as he peed like she’d done the night before. Thank FOSH.

We couldn’t even get out of the car. An impressive swell surged between the island and the headland. A shag managed to land in a cross-wind onto its woody basket of a nest.

‘Do you miss the sea?’ I asked Dad.

‘Ooh yes,’ he replied.

The salty old sea dog. Ex-naval commander. Lover of ships. The wild blue ocean. And the officers’ mess. Now rheumy-eyed and often wiping thick tears with a licked finger.

Back at Leigh harbour fishing boats sat in relative calm. No one fished off the wharf. A gannet dived, a hungry arrow. On to Matheson’s Bay. Perfect in any tide. We ate our sandwiches with the window down. Rain speckling the plastic door frame. Dad took a bite out of each one, rewrapped them and stuffed them in the glove box.

‘They’ll do for later.’

I fed mine to the seagulls. They put on an impressive show.

Dad read the road sign when we drove out. ‘So that was Matheson’s Bay.’

‘Yep. Perfect in any tide.’

Back at the ranch, it was lunchtime. We sat and chatted with Tim. About dogs. Tim’s canine companion was shut in his room. On a meatless diet. Geoffrey the white terrier has a skin condition.

Tim advised, ‘He’s my favourite person ... He is like a person to me …’ Then Tim unfolded his paper napkin on the window side of his plate, and with the stealth of a boarding school pupil on golden-syrup-steam-pudding-day he deftly arranged forkfuls of crusty gravy-oozing meaty pie into a neat square. Wrapped it swiftly and plunged it into the (quite fitting) left-hand pocket of his chinos.

I worried for seepage. Tim downed his bowlful of garish green jelly with soft orange sliced peaches, and announced, ‘Time for Geoffrey’s meat,’ and trotted out of the dining room.

I thought of dad's sandwiches, safely placed in the glove box … and wondered if I’d just leave them there.

For later.

(NB. All names have been changed for privacy reasons. The staff at Dad’s home are truly wonderful human beings. I thank them all).


  1. Whew. So exquisitely observed, Jane! Kate would be proud of your "minutiae"

    1. Thanks Yvette! It is all pretty heartbreaking. I could've written about 5,000 words of all the goings on. I keep telling my children they have my permission to 'leave me out on a frosty night'.

  2. Hi Jane, i saw your article in the NZ herald yesterday-what a wonderful article and sooo brave of you to share-well done!My Grandad is 87 and he has Alzhiermers-he has had it for about 7 years but was "officially" diagnosed almost 2 1/2 years ago and has really declined since. The first 4 years were mild declines each year and didn't affect our lives that bad but once he turned 84 he has really degenerated rapidly in the last 3 years and it is heart breaking seeing him deteriate. He is still at home-my Dad's support is absolutely wonderful but sadly my Aunty does nothing to support him-takes advantage of him and won't even speak to him now-it breaks my heart seeing her not speak to him. It's so devastating how people take advantage of people with Dementia-i always say "you never know, you could get Dementia yourself so don't be mean to them". My Grandad is at stage 6 Alzhiermers(there are seven stages)so he is on the severe spectrum. Sadly, my Grandma doesnt walk with him-he can only walk a certain distance and walks very slowly and leaves him at home by himself-that is really scary. As a family, we all think he should be in care(even my godmother does and my Mum's parents think he should when ive told them about how much he has deteriated and how stressful and strentuos it is for my Grandma)but she refuses too as going into care is her worst nightmare(as i'm sure it is for most people who have a spouse unwell). They have home help where a man comes 5 days a week for about 40 minutes in the morning to get him ready and dressed and to give my Grandma a break and he has a lovely lady called Coco who comes on Mondays and takes him out for lunch and a drive-Coco has made a wonderful yet enormous difference in our lifes and we are very grateful for that and feel very blessed. Every year, Grandad goes into respite care at Remuera Gardens retirement village in Remuera/ellerslie and that staff and lovely and very friendly and the residents and there families are lovely and there is a real sense of community there. From Grandads journey i have learnt so much and am writing a book about it as i don't want people to go through some of the things we went through during his journey with Alzhiermers. E.G Letting him drive when he got "officially" diagnosed with Alzhiermers but thankfully he doesn't drive now. Awareness is so important and i'm going to share my story about Alzhiermers and i'm going to volunteer at the memory shop when i'm older and be an ambassador for Alzhiermers and do volunteer things for Alzhiermers. Alzhiermers/Dementia is a cruel disease that robs the lifes of there families. My love, thoughts and prayers are with you and your family but especially your Dad and i hope your Dad is happy enough and enjoying life. I feel for you and your family reading this. Take care, many blessing and best wishes to you and your family-Sam

    1. Hi Sam, you sound like a great human being. You are so right, awareness is key in the acceptance of so many things. Alzheimers is just one of them. Good luck with writing your book! And thanks for all your comments! Merry Christmas to you and your family. Jane

  3. Hi Jane, thanks so much for your reply-so true awareness is key to acceptance of many things in life-your most welcome for all the comments-merry christmas to you and your family too and have a wonderful 2018!

  4. Forgot to say i hope your Dad is happy enough-the best xmas present for me this year is having my Grandad alive and being able to attend christmas-next christmas will depend on where Grandad is at and if he is still alive or passed away sadly-enjoy your christmas with your Dad-these moments with your loved one are sooo precious especially when you dont know how long they have left-thinking of you and your Dad this christmas and throughout his battle-take care

    1. Hi Sam, my Dad actually died on 30th November, 2017. I wrote about it here: No need to reply. All the best. Jane

  5. Oh Jane-i'm sorry to hear that-at least he is at peace and his battle with that awful disease is now over-take care


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