Thursday, January 13, 2005


My parents and I had our Christmas dinner together - just us three, this year. Both of my sisters had decided to spend Christmas with their partners' families (my nieces in tow, naturally), and my wife, three months pregnant, was in Germany with her own Mum and Dad. Realising that all future Christmases are likely to be spent together with our child - either here in England, where we are based, or in Germany - my wife had suggested at the end of November that we spend this last Christmas apart, celebrating with our respective parents.

After having tugged on the losing end of a cracker, I watched my Dad delve into the cardboard tube and pull out a charming little writing pad, which he immediately handed to me, before donning his orange paper crown. The pad had a Winnie the Pooh illustration on the front, and I rocked back on my chair to put it next to the fruit bowl on the Welsh dresser behind me. I didn't want it to be accidentally discarded following our meal, along with all the wrapping paper and the used napkins and the shreds of Christmas cracker tissue. "I might use that pad, sometime", I said, pouring my Mum a second glass of champagne, imagining myself, improbably, as a dashing passenger in a horse-drawn carriage, laughing wryly and then, with courtly deportment, pulling the Winnie the Pooh pad out of my jacket's ticket pocket. Notwithstanding this one droll, unrestrainedly vain secret thought, Christmas dinner with my parents - the last one I could spend with them alone - was lovely; warm, cheery, peaceful, happy. I was unaware of how the pad's emergence from the cracker would connect with the emergency soon to befall our family.

Me: “TUTTY?”
Dad: “Yes.”
Me: “What does it mean, Dad?”
Dad, showing annoyance: “It's ... there!!”
Mum: "Hold your hand behind the pad, Rogan, so your Dad can rest on it."
Me: "To us that says TUTTY, Dad."
Dad: "Yes."
Me: "TUTTY's not a word."
Dad: "Yess ... is ... it's there!!!"
I take my Dad's paralysed right hand in mine: "I know it's frustrating, Dad, but we will get there. I know you must be frightened, but we're all here for you. I love you, Dad."
My Mum and I look at each other, as once again my Dad writes with his left, unaffected hand. My Mum (my Dad's wife of 43 years) looks more sad and lost than I have ever seen her. I gently rub her shoulder. Halfway down the first page in the Winnie the Pooh pad, my Dad writes: "FOSTER".
Mum: "Foster - is that a person?"
Dad: "Yess!" Nodding his head enthusiastically, like we have finally started to close in on the message he wants to get over, my Dad taps the top of the pen on the letters in the word he has just written.
Me: "Mr. Foster?"
Dad: "Yess!"
My Sister, Kathryn: "Is that someone you know?"
Dad: "Yess!"
Norma (my wife): "Do you want us to contact him?"
Mum: "He doesn't know a Mr. Foster."
Dad: "Yes ... you can't ... Why say that?! Why?"

My Dad had his stroke on a blustery day: Thursday 6th January, 2005 - six days after my wife’s return home from Germany, and the morning after Norma and I had been for our first ultrasound scan at the local hospital. The picture of our baby in the womb, which I had sent off as an attachment the previous evening, is still in my Dad's email inbox, waiting to be opened. Although, indeed, on the afternoon of the stroke, while my Dad was lying, bewildered and frightened, in the bed allocated to him after leaving the Accident and Emergency unit, we did in fact show him and my Mum the hard copy picture of our unborn baby. My Dad looked at it for a short time, trying to focus without his glasses on. Shortly after, as I heard my wife behind me, describing the contours of our baby to my Mum in the background, I was looking at my Dad, asleep. "Look, there're the hands. And its eyes. They're shut. He has Rogan's lips. He has Rogan's hands." My Dad looked beautiful. He looked like me. My wife and my Mum left the Assessment Ward for an hour, heading back home to tend to the dog, which had been on its own since my Mum had left with the ambulance that morning. I sat with my poor Dad, terrified the stroke might deepen. At one point, I decided to hurry to the toilet in order to tear off some paper, so I could wipe the dribble away from my Dad's chin, but the nurse intercepted me, handing me a urine bottle matter-of-factly. "Could you put your Dad's willy in this, if he needs to go." I froze, and started to say "Me and my Dad don't have that kind of relationship", but I stopped: that, I realised, would be a truly idiotic thing to say - who the hell does have that kind of relationship with their father?! Well, carers do, I suppose. Am I a carer now, then, I wondered ... The nurse ruffled my hair. I am 33 years old, and the nurse ruffled my hair, but it somehow felt entirely appropriate, and I almost wept with the succour it brought. Feeling galvanised, I came back to his bedside, showing my Dad the urine bottle, and for the first time that day, my Dad laughed. He couldn't go.

Me: "The Doctor is hopeful that Dad will make a good recovery. Most people who lose their speech get it back, and, remember, it's only been five days and Dad can walk already. The doctor says he'll be back with you at home in the next couple of weeks. When Dad is back, I'll stay with you both for a while, then I'll go back to my house. After that, if anything needs doing round the garden, I'll be able to drive over to help out."
Mum: "Your place is with your pregnant wife - she needs you now."
Me: "My place is with my family."
Mum: "I just don't want you making commitments, and then feeling bad if you can't keep them."
Me: "You have always been there for me, and I want to be there for you and Dad."
Mum: "We might move nearer you and Norma."
Me: "You're better off moving near Kathryn - Norma and I are planning to move up North in a few years."

Why did I say that? Why?! That night, I sobbed. I sobbed till I sat upright. I sobbed so hard, I slid from underneath the bedclothes into a standing position. With one shoulder raised, touching my ear, and with my head down, my sobbing firmly putted me forward into my slippers, and then, like a fairground waltzer, I was swung by my sobbing into the corner of the bedroom, where I sobbed some more.

I am a useless eater,
Flittering like a scotoma
On the eye,
The onset of a migraine.