My Dad’s a Goldfish – Looking for the step-monster?

The plan was for me to manage on my own for two weeks so I could see exactly how much care we required, what sort of care and when it was most needed. When I moved in I think I was in a state of shock, not quite believing this was really happening, nor comprehending just how different my life was about to become.

None of us were sure about how such an enormous change in his circumstances would affect the Goldfish. What I found myself coping with was not his usual behavior but his greatly increased confusion about his wife not being around and his daughter suddenly sleeping in the spare room and always being around. Although for the first few days he didn’t specifically ask where the step-monster had gone, it was pretty clear he was looking for her, especially during his night-time wandering through the house.

What should we tell him? Wee-sis was horrified when I suggested we tell the Goldfish the step-monster had died. She pointed out he would grieve for her then forget and ask again where she was so there would be a continuous cycle of him grieving each time he was told his wife had died. “And wouldn’t he ask about a funeral?”

“Well,” I said, “we could take him to a funeral. He wouldn’t know it wasn’t hers.”

“What if we bump into her in the street or the supermarket? How would he react if he thought she’d died and she suddenly popped up in Tesco?”

I asked how he would feel if we told him the truth – that she’d left him to live on her own, in her own house because she couldn’t cope with his dementia. I felt learning his wife had deserted him would be much, much harder to bear than news of her death. None of us could tell him the truth. We finally decided that, when asked, we’d say she had gone to visit her sister for a holiday. I’ve never lied to the Goldfish in my life. And now, the Step-monster was making me become a liar – and I’m sure he knew it.

In the evenings, if we weren’t actively engaged in playing dominoes or painting or doing a jigsaw the Goldfish was restless, getting up and walking towards the bathroom and back. When I asked if he needed to go to the bathroom, he said, as he set off again: “It’s the only place I can go.” He just wanted to move. He insisted at one point on going out and opened the back door. It was bitterly cold and he came straight back inside. It did remind me I needed to switch on the door sensors when we went to bed. On that particular evening he finally sat down and amused himself by taking all his sweets out of a bag, lining them up on the arm of the chair, putting them back in the bag, taking them out again, eating some then putting the remainder back in the bag. I was sitting next to him, laptop on my knee trying to finish a magazine article. I take my hat off to anyone who could concentrate on work under these circumstances!

My Dad’s a Goldfish – Looking back

Well, it’s already over two months since the Goldfish died and it feels like it only happened last week. Sometimes, it feels like it can’t even be true – it’s something Wee-sis and I have imagined in a shared dream or something. Somehow, the anticipated sense of relief – it’s all over, he isn’t ‘suffering’ any longer and I can get my life back – hasn’t happened, either.

The quote marks around the word suffering are because I’m not convinced the Goldfish suffered in the way it is meant when people tell me he is no longer suffering. He had dementia, he lost his short-term memory, became confused, he lost his words and, towards the end, he had no resistance to infections but the way he fought back each time makes me believe he still enjoyed life. But, we’ll never know.

I’ve been trying to type up my diary notes from the when I moved in with the Goldfish after the Step-monster left. It is not an easy task – emotions are still raw. Anger and despair mix with a strange sense of joy and satisfaction and heartbreak.

When I first moved in anger was the driving force. Anger at the Step-monster’s desertion of the Goldfish at a time when he most needed her and the stability and continuity she represented in his life. I was angry she refused the additional support offered by Social Services. I was angry at the disgusting state in which she left the house.

The first task was to have the stinking, sodden carpet in the bedroom replaced with a vinyl floor covering. When they guy came to measure the floor he asked if we would remove the worst of the carpet before his men came to lay the new flooring as he didn’t want to ask them to do it. Mortifying! At least, though, he knew the situation and was arranging for the work to be done immediately.

Around 10pm on the first night I suggested to the Goldfish it was bed time. He said it was too early. At 11pm I started yawning. He said he was quite tired, too, and thought he’d go to bed soon. He didn’t. He continued to comment on the golf on television, get up and wander about, sit down again. At midnight, I was yawning harder and he was joining in but still made no move to go to bed, despite saying it was bedtime. Finally, it dawned on me. He didn’t know what to do; couldn’t remember how to get ready for bed.

“Right,” I said, standing up, “let’s get ourselves to bed.” He came through to his bedroom with me and I helped remove his jumper and shirt, get his pajama jacket on. The bottom half was a bit more problematic. He wasn’t going to let his daughter take his trousers and underpants off. Well, trousers yes, but definitely not the underwear. I handed him his pajama trousers and left him for a few minutes but when I returned he was still sitting on the bed holding them. Eventually, with lots of exaggerated ‘discreetly looking the other way’ we managed and he slipped into bed.

I didn’t sleep much as I was constantly listening out for him getting out of bed but he was only up twice in the night, wandering into his study and back to the living room, rather confused. I suspect he was looking for the step-monster but he didn’t ask about her so I didn’t say anything and he went back to bed okay each time. In the morning, a puddle beside the commode indicated he had been up another time without me hearing him. It was so easy to mop the floor

For the first two days, the Goldfish didn’t ask about the Step-monster’s whereabouts and seemed happy to have me, DH and Wee-sis around. We had fun playing dominoes and Snakes and Ladders. He would have played all night; he enjoyed it so much, especially Snakes and Ladders, chuckling with delight whenever one of landed on a snake and slid back down the board. He won about three games out of every four.

Unfortunately, despite the fun we introduced into his life, it wasn’t long before he started to become increasingly anxious about his missing wife. When the games stopped, DH and Wee-sis went home and it was time for bed things became difficult.