Friday, November 5, 2010

Be it ever so humble.

There is no place like home. Especially so if you are elderly and you have lived in it for 47 years.

Arthur set sail from England in January 1963 for Australia with his first wife (who died just 18 years later) and two kids. One daughter is long gone on her way and his son, who has profound Downs Syndrome, now lives in a community-based supported care home. Arthur moved into this house and has stayed here ever since.

Arthur left England saying goodbye to his Mum and Dad, and only sibling, an older brother. Travel then was not the easy and relatively cheap thing it is today. I am sure his Mother wept many tears for the loss of her youngest and probably favourite son, not knowing if she would see him again, and that his Father, who being English would rather have chewed off his own toes than be seen to cry, would've silently dispaired at his son's decision. As much as they knew that the move to the warm climate of Australia was the best for Arthur's constant chest problems (and the doctors turned out to be so right about that!) it would have hurt. I know the silent screaming heartache of giving your kid the last hug before they set off overseas, and wondering when or if you will hug them again.

Arthur's parents were not far wrong, they died in their old age never seeing their son again. Nor did they ever again lay eyes on their daughter-in-law or grandchildren  (And the same for the parents of his wife, too.) There lies a hidden human cost of immigration.

My mother experienced a similiar fate, although she never left Australia. She certainly left her home state with my step-father but her separation was courtesy of his controlling, bullying ways. He forbade her to contact her family and as she could not read or write, he was able to prevent from her sending even birthday or Christmas cards. Her parents lived in a remote rural Australian town and had no phone in the house. When I was in my teens my Mum found out her parents had died. They never knew what happened to their daughter or their grand-daughter (me) or ever saw my siblings. The most touching thing is that they must have hoped and prayed we were alive as they left a bequest in their wills for each of us. I was a teenager then but my step-father took both 100 pound cheques from the solicitor, got our signatures on them and used the money on himself. (He probably spent it on drink.)

Both my Mum and Arthur did not see their parents age. Arthur's plans to take his wife to England for their first visit back to the UK never happened as she died of a heart attack just a week or so before the departure date. Arthur did get to England in the next year, only to learn that his brother had just months left to live.

Arthur told me that never seeing his parents age meant he did not know what was in store for him. My mother remembers her familiy and friends as she last knew them in her twenties. Both Arthur and my Mum  have no role models for ageing. They have not seen a person they love become weak and frail or watched them relinquish the extremities of life until only the core things they love and care for matter, much like discarding the layers of wrapping on a gift until all you have is that one cherished item.

I grieved with Arthur for the loss of his lifestyle, his dispair at not being able to do the things he always did, like walking down the street, getting into a car and driving to a football match, just being the man he used to be. There is not much of that grief left now as it is all about what he has left, not what is gone.

I have not the ignorance of bliss. I know what is in store for me. I see it in Arthur. I see it in my Mum.

I too, lost contact with my Mother. I broke contact with all the family for fifteen years until I learned that my step-father had died.Then I found my Mother, reunited, and built a strong relationship with her. Now when I watch her age I see me in the years to come.

Arthur is home at last and so my active caring role starts again. I too have had my life stripped to the basics.  I cling to the core elements, the things we both share for now.

That is the gift for me, under the wrapping.