Two Poems by Scott Manley Hadley
One of the many adults I spoke to while my nan was dying, and I honestly can’t remember who it was, said that when a person gets cancer, it is not just the person who has it but their whole family. It’s a family disease, she said, Not an individual’s.
My nan spent her dying weeks receiving visitors from the length of the country. One particular exchange from this period stuck with me, when my uncle’s ex got in touch with my mother to ask if she could come and say goodbye.
My uncle does not get on with his ex, but because she is the mother of his daughter – and my cousin is only three months older than me – she and my mum bonded when pregnant at the same time in the late eighties.
My mother took my grandfather aside and said, Maria’s just text and asked if she can come and visit. Is that OK?
My grandfather, avoiding my mother’s eyes as he avoided everyone’s that summer, said, Of course she can, Sue, of course.
I just worried, my mother replied, Because mum’s so unwell now you said we should only have family visit.
My grandfather made eye contact then, and though he didn’t smile (his wife was dying on the other side of the wall he stood against), there was warmth in his voice.
She gave birth to my granddaughter, he said, If that doesn’t make her family, I don’t know what does.
My grandfather was proud that people cared. He was happy when reminded how important his wife was, not just to him, but to many people whose lives she had touched. She was this woman’s ex-mother-in-law, and she wanted to see her and say goodbye.
But the happiness was fleeting, as it was when he saw the more than two hundred people who turned up for her funeral: I’m happy so many people want to honour and remember her, he said, but his posture and his eyes spoke of a different emotion.
If a thousand people had attended the funeral, ten thousand, more, it wouldn’t have made him happy. Though it was good so many people cared, it was terrible that she was dead.
My grandfather is energetic, my grandfather is charming, my grandfather has a nice car and a big house and can afford foreign holidays. He is – for his age bracket, certainly – quite a catch. He could, I’m sure, find himself a feisty widow if he were so inclined, he could maybe even stretch to a sexy, younger, divorcee if he put the effort in. But he doesn’t want that. I don’t think he’ll ever want that. He doesn’t think of himself as free, because he never saw himself as “trapped” when my nan was alive.
I read a eulogy at the funeral. People cried. People laughed, too, when I told them my nan made a point of reading the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy during the final year of her life.
She was a real person. And now she is dead.
I think my grandfather would like to know
That she hasn’t been
I always thought the first time I bought nappies would be to joyfully swaddle a baby I’d made with a woman I loved or – at worst – a baby I’d made with a woman I hated.
But the first time I bought nappies was to awkwardly swaddle my incontinent father so he’d stop dribbling piss on the carpet.
I am watching my father’s decline more closely this year because I am happy enough in the rest of my life to cope.
Or, at least, I tell myself I am.
I like my work, I’m no longer drunk every night, I have a wonderful partner, a beautiful dog, a competent therapist, lots of medication and I’m avoiding the meanest people I know.
But even with everything else improved, my father’s decline remains too hard.
After a few weeks spent mostly with him, I’m drinking heavily again, and I’m crying heavily again.
Being close to him is too close and I know I need to leave.
I perform, in that closeness, intimate acts of care.
I do not want to become my father’s carer, and spending so much time with him it becomes clearer that he needs one.
No one else wants to be his carer either
And he doesn’t have
When I am old
People love me
Like no one
Because I doubt
I have wept and broken down and sweated and shaken and thrown up in horror.
I have passed out and had panic attacks and I have screamed and
I punched through a bannister in rage.
I feel feelings
I feel feelings
I do not know
And have never known
What my father feels.
I do not want to have worked so hard to be happy to end up spending a decade caring for someone who has never made me feel loved.
Sometimes I worry that I am demanding too much of myself in aiming for a life that is content, because until a year ago I hadn’t believed that was possible for me.
Caring for my father doesn’t make me feel good, and not feeling good when doing good makes me feel bad.
My medication performs the same function as my father’s nappies:
They allow us
To go outside
About the Author:
Scott Manley Hadley is Satire Editor at Queen Mob’s Teahouse and editor/publisher at TRUTHER PRESS. He was ‘Highly Commended’ in the Forward Prizes for Poetry 2019 and he blogs at Triumphofthenow.com.
Image: Zenaida macroura (Mourning dove) from Birds and nature, v. 2 June-Dec 1905.