“Disaster has struck!” says Mum in all her British-accented glory when I answer the phone.
Dad wants to call the police because he thinks Nicol is stealing the silverware.
But, change is in the air and with change comes uncertainty and uncertainty inspires anxiety, which experience has taught me can lead to conspiracy theories. Mental illness or dementia only adds to the creativity of those possibilities.
I take the week off work, catch the ferry to the island and spend it watching Murdock Mysteries beside Dad, hoping my presence will reassure him. Throughout the days, he turns to me and asks,
“What’s happening with the grandchildren?”
“Seth, Delean and Taeja are going treeplanting,” I say, “And Kai has moved into John’s place in town with Seth.”
“Oh, that’s right,” he says petting Nigel on his lap and turning back to the TV.
The chicks have flown the coop.
Back on the mainland, I get word that Dad called the man who pocketed a cheque for $20,000 while I was at work and is subsequently banned from the farm, to come over to fix a leak in the kitchen sink. A friend doing a favour, he charged Dad more than a certified plumber would have. Apparently, the 20 grand didn’t cover it.
“But Dad, don’t you see that inviting Ken over when I’ve told him he’s no longer welcome here puts us in conflict? He’s my Roy Err, Dad, my Judas.”
Dad goes silent before he explodes and hangs up on me. The silence is the moment he understands my point of view. The explosion is his apology, and the hang up is a promise not to call Ken for maintenance help again. At least, that’s how I interpret it.
Feeling guilty for upsetting Dad, I warn Nicol to keep an eye on him.
“Your dad is fine. I know how sensitive you are about those things. Your dad knows that you are always doing what you feel is best for him – even when he disagrees with it. He has told me this often. He loves you deeply and appreciates what you do for him. I believe your dad is very happy with his life at the moment, and it’s primarily because of what you have done for him.”
“What else is exciting?” Dad asks me every few minutes the next time I’m in town. He’s full of jokes to make me laugh because jokes make everything better.
“I bought a new dishwasher,” I tell him, running out of exciting things to say. The other one is old and broken, so he agrees with my decision. But then, he turns to me with terror in his eyes.
“I better be careful about what I say about what to do with things when they get old!” His hands cover his mouth.
“Have you thought about putting him in a nursing home?” asks another friend.
It’s not that I’m against nursing homes that I keep Dad at home. In fact, without a biological child to burden with my own old age, I hope to be able to afford such a place for myself, somewhere that doesn’t remind me of the smell of urine or the memory of wheeling Granny into a closet of a room and lighting her a cigarette with a plastic bib hanging around her neck. I’m hoping for comfy couches and singalongs of all my favourite songs, a clean, private room with a window, a cat and a view, and where the caregivers are kind to my fear, gentle to my embarrassment and ever ready and quick to laugh in spite of my pain.
Dad is different though. He’s happy and confident in the home he built when he was young and strong, where he walks down the hill to get his paper and falls asleep to his favourite records each night with three dogs and a cat snoring on the bed. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think he’d live long if we were to move him now.
“The first one comes anytime, but after that, it takes nine months,” says Dad, making jokes about illegitimate babies.
After every ending comes a new beginning.
“That’s it! She’s staying here with us,” says Dad on the first weekend Lynn and my honeymoon baby, a Mexican rescue, came to spend at the farm. Already up on his bed with the other dogs and cat, Dad can think of nothing better than adding another dog to his pack.
“The Goat Lady’s here,” says Dad, nicknaming our new tenant who moved in with two dogs and cats and five goats on the farm.
John died a year ago, and now two of Kristin’s children live in his house, the beginning of a new era. The farm has shifted too and is now home to a whole world of new: new tenants, new love, a newborn baby, and six new baby-goat kids (yes, eleven goats in all).
Change often feels like disaster, and death an ending without reward, but when disaster hits, I must try to remember that every ending brings a new beginning.
And due to my morbid nature, I can’t help but think about the ending of my own life’s song. May my life leave behind it a fertile soil for a new story for someone else to tell.