My Dad’s a Goldfish – our last Christmas with him

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Christmas 2013

 

I suppose the approach of Christmas will always now be tinged with sadness. Our last Christmas together was 2013. From time to time during 2014 we thought he’d make it to the next one – and he almost did, dying three weeks before.

Christmas 2013 was unforgettable for several reasons. For one thing, Wee-sis and I felt it might be the last Christmas in which the Goldfish would be able to participate and enjoy it all – how right we were. However, at one point it looked as though we wouldn’t even see the Goldfish over Christmas because the step-monster’s daughter decided her mother and the Goldfish should come to her on Christmas Day. As they always go to the step-monster’s son on Boxing Day we were not going to see him other than a quick visit.

Much discussion and gnashing of teeth followed this announcement and Wee-sis (because she is so much more diplomatic than I am) was sent to negotiate with step-monster’s daughter. It was agreed Christmas dinner would be at my house. The step-monster decided to go to her daughter’s house instead, which rather pleased us. She would only spend the time moaning about how she hates Christmas and how glad she’ll be when it’s over.

Then, two days before Christmas the step-monster dropped a bombshell by announcing she was leaving the Goldfish and going to live in her own house. She’d inherited it from her mother and had been letting out for many years. She wasn’t going to say anything to the Goldfish! Nor was she going to move out until the end of January because she needed to get it decorated.

Throughout the last minute organisation for Christmas – the wrapping of gifts (nothing for the step-monster this year), shopping for food, planning the day – the worry of what was going to happen kept intruding. However, we put our fears for the future to the back of our minds and planned a lovely Christmas Day for the Goldfish.

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The much-loved Yorkshire terrier – with her head balanced very precariously!

 

He had a wonderful time opening his gifts. His favourite was a toy Yorkshire terrier we’d seen in the garden centre. The previous year he had admired it but in those days my ignorance of dementia was limitless and I had dismissed the idea of buying it for him. The following year on our regular pre-Christmas jaunts to the garden centre there were piles of toy dogs – but only one Yorkshire terrier. I didn’t hesitate. It went into the basket along with the Guinness chocolate he (and I) loved.

All through the day, he petted and talked to that dog as it sat on the arm of his chair. When we took him home, we put the dog beside him. Next day, it had been moved out of reach. I put it back on the arm of his chair. Next day, it had been moved out of reach. The step-monster couldn’t bear to see him stroking it as if it were a real dog, couldn’t bear to see the Goldfish behave like a child. I still have the dog. He sits on the back of the sofa. His head his hanging off now but he was hugely loved by the Goldfish for many months.

The Goldfish had a really happy day, surrounded by people who talked to him, grandchildren, nephews and nieces and partners came to visit him and he thoroughly enjoyed his Christmas dinner (with wine) – and had two puddings – and a couple of drams of malt whisky to finish the evening.

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I, along with Wee-sis and my son, watch with pleasure – and some amazement –  as the Goldfish tucks into his last Christmas dinner.

Now, with Christmas rapidly approaching I am so glad we made the last one we had together something really special to remember.

My Dad’s A Goldfish – why the long interval from the last post

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The Goldfish – despite appearances – enjoying an afternoon out with best-support-worker in the world on the left and daughter on the right.

Every night for the last two weeks and more I wrote ‘Goldfish post’ on my to-do list for the following day. At the end of every day I transferred it to the next day’s list – sometimes underlining it several times, sometimes adding a row of exclamation marks. Other things always ‘cropped up’ to take precedence.

I had not forgotten December 3rd was the anniversary of his death. Wee-sis and I talked about it on the day. It wasn’t until I was in the garden centre the other day (anniversary of his funeral though I hadn’t been conscious of it being that particular date) and found myself suddenly welling up that I understood my inability to write anything for the blog.

The Goldfish loved going round the garden centre, especially at this time of year when all the Christmas displays are on full dazzle. As well as trees and lights and tinsel, this garden centre has various tableaux – one with full size reindeer, another winter scene with igloo and snow and ice and – his favourite – a St Bernard dog, complete with brandy barrel around his neck, which nods and turns his head. The Goldfish always liked me to stop the wheelchair so he could have a word with the dog. “Hello,” he’d say, “You’re a fine big fellow, aren’t you.” The dog would nod in agreement and we’d head for the coffee shop, via the book shelves, for banoffee pie.

On the way out, we’d stop to drool over the displays of Christmas treats – chocolates, truffles, cakes, fancy drinks. I usually bought the Goldfish a bar of Guinness chocolate. I didn’t buy a bar this time. It’s embarrassing enough being all weepy in front of a nodding St Bernard, I think if I broke down while clutching a bar of chocolate – even if it did have real Guinness in it – staff and customers would be seriously concerned. We really don’t do crying in public, do we? I didn’t howl properly until back in the car.

I’m sure my inability to write a post was connected with the subconscious knowledge the anniversary of the Goldfish’s death was approaching. And although I felt sad on the day itself it was a self-conscious sadness. Standing in the garden centre, which is awash with memories – happy, funny, embarrassing (a place, even, where I learned not to be embarrassed about things which happen when out with a person with dementia – stuffing his wet underpants in my handbag for example) caused an emotional unravelling I had not expected.

I will go back to the garden centre again – and I’ll buy a bar of Guinness chocolate which I will enjoy eating in memory of the Goldfish.

My Dad’s a Goldfish – First Christmas without him

[This is a very long post. I make no apologies. I had to spit it all out. I will go back and fill in the year with the Goldfish after his wife left him and I moved in, but for now I needed to write about the time immediately after his death]

DSCF0427We have survived our first Christmas without the Goldfish. It felt strange, but life has been totally strange since he died and we entered that weird bereavement bubble in which nothing seems real. Something truly momentous has happened – that crossing of a very thin line between being alive and not being alive: gone. And outside the bubble everyone else is going about their lives as if nothing out of the ordinary has taken place.

At least Christmas gave us the chance to pause and catch our breath after the non-stop busyness following the Goldfish’s death. I found the bureaucracy surrounding death quite staggering. The hospital gave us a booklet on what to do. I read bits out to DH, Wee-sis and her son and daughter while we sat round the Goldfish in the hospital the night he died and had been ‘tidied up’ – then I put it in my handbag and we talked of more cheerful things and drank coffee and laughed and finally, watery-eyed, we left him.

In the morning the DH went to tell the step-monster. No one answered his knock so he searched around the streets and local shops but didn’t see her anywhere. I was getting a bit frantic as I’d already told the CC at social services and contacted the Funeral Director (FD) and we really didn’t want the step-monster to hear the news from someone else. Finally DH went to where her son works and he phoned his sister to ask where her mother was. Turns out she doesn’t get up before 11am these days. Several phone calls and DH finally was admitted to deliver the news – which, of course, she must already have known.

She agreed Wee-sis and I could make the funeral arrangements. DH offered to go and register the death. It took about two hours and I am so glad he went because I think if I had gone I’d have been sitting in a police cell charged with assault. As it was I took several phone calls from him – what was my mother’s maiden name? The Goldfish’s national insurance number? That was my bad because I forgot to put it with the other documents they required, according to the helpful NHS booklet. However, I did send his birth certificate as requested. It states the Goldfish’s father was a ploughman. Jobs-worth wanted to know if he had been a ploughman all his life and if not, what other jobs he had done. DH didn’t know – he never met my grandfather.

The Goldfish was an AI man but that wouldn’t do according to the jobs-worth because someone might think he worked on humans. DH pointed out he had worked for Scottish Milk Marketing Board but no, she had to go and consult her superior. Eventually it was decided to put him down as an Agricultural Artificial Inseminator. I think it would have been at this point I’d have hit her. Agricultural does not only cover cows and I know the Goldfish never inseminated a sheep.

Financial papers had to be sorted for the solicitor and meetings arranged. The FD visited with his little brochure of pictures of the most popular caskets and the question about how Wee-sis and I felt about the Goldfish being buried in a plot the step-monster owns. We were not happy but said we wouldn’t make an issue of it – after all it’s only his body that goes in there. “That’s true,” he said, “but it means you would have no control over what might be put on a headstone when she goes in there.” With visions of ‘dearly beloved wife’ floating in our minds we decided to buy a plot for the Goldfish. It has room for our ashes to be added if we want.

Both Wee-sis and I felt he’d have wanted a traditional Church of Scotland funeral service The Minister is new to the parish and hadn’t met the Goldfish. He came to see us and he listened, really listened, as we talked about the Goldfish and what he’d meant to us. We asked that he avoid mentioning marriage and wives. The funeral was arranged for the 10th December. The Step-monster’s daughter was going on holiday that day and her brother asked if the funeral couldn’t be brought forward. This was the date which suited both the Minister and the FD so it couldn’t be changed to suit someone’s holiday plans.

All during those seven days since the Goldfish’s death and his funeral I felt I had scarcely a moment to simply stop and remember him. I dreaded the funeral and equally longed for it to be over. It was much better than I feared. Of course, the step-monster was there, along with her son and d-i-l and her daughter’s bidie-in. They came into the church and walked past us without so much as looking at us let alone saying anything (there’s a sort of receiving line of immediate family and it’s customary to offer condolences). The d-i-l was heard to say, “We’ll go down to the front.” The Minister, Wee-sis and I looked at each other in some alarm but the FD had the matter in hand and was already ‘down the front’ to ensure there was no embarrassment if the step-monster’s family inadvertently tried to sit in the front row.

It was a lovely, all-inclusive service. The man the minister talked about was exactly as we’d described him (the minister would make a really good journalist – he listens properly) and there were tears when he read part of one of my poems, and laughter when he told us the Goldfish had achieved the remarkable record of 186,000 successful inseminations.

After the burial everyone was invited for refreshments at a local pub, where the first drinks were on the Goldfish. For the first time ever I actually understood what is meant by a jaw-dropping moment when the Step-monster arrived with her entourage. We knew she’d be at the funeral and probably at the cemetery for the interment but had truly not expected her at the post-funeral event. Some people will do anything for a free bowl of soup and a sandwich.

She was all weepy in the church and all sort of bowed over and distraught at the lunch yet two days later I saw her practically skipping up the street as though she hadn’t a care in the world – or maybe she was reckoning up in her head how much she’ll get once the legal stuff is done.

On the 21st December, the shortest day of the year, my son came home from university, we bought our Christmas tree, decorated it and I took down all the sympathy cards, replacing them with Christmas cards. We made fudge, biscuits and cakes and played the part of happy Christmas. And we relaxed and enjoyed being together. And remembered last Christmas.DSCF0431

Writing this up, I feel the focus should be on the Goldfish as it has been for so long but somehow the focus has shifted. I don’t like that. I want him still to be the centre of my life and it is now, after Christmas is over, I can finally stop and think about how much I miss him.

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