When life throws the letters ‘MS’ into the equation, certainty disappears.
I really want to tell you the truth about my father and mother.
As life in Northern Ireland spiralled into a chasm of terror and uncertainty, an inexplicable diagnosis of what might be ailing my father resulted in silence. MS. My father didn’t accept it. We never talked about it as a possibility. When my dad used to work two jobs to keep his family. He was our hero. I used to travel, with my dad, to VG Stores in Cooktown, every Saturday, to collect the groceries that needed delivered. We used to deliver, all over the town. Magical moments. That exact same smell, as we ducked through into the stores, would greet me when I worked at Netta’s Drumshambo. My dad would let me carry this and that box to the locals who were waiting on their delivery. He was the original Tesco man! He had a curious walk, as he delivered to all and sundry, with his classic touch of charm. I didn’t understand his walk. He was our hero. It just never mattered. He was amazingly charming. I guess that is how he met my mother. My dad took years to accept the diagnosis that was following him, inexorably and indefatigably. As a child, I took it really hard when people made fun of his walk. Sadly, it did happen. They were different times.
There were a few hospitalisations in my youth, but we never discussed the letters that chased us. Life would continue. We would wave at the Maze Prison, as we journeyed to see my Grandmother in East Belfast. My dad would bowl at me to make me a better batsman. Unfortunately, he failed. We would enjoy the best holidays ever in Portstewart, even despite losing all of our board games on the road. ‘Do you see the sea?’ The age-old, who spotted the sea first game. ‘I see the sea and the sea sees me!’ I am not entirely sure that I ever won that game? There were a lot of cheats in my family.
My brother died and my father failed. My dad always loved, cared and felt every disturbance in the family chain. He couldn’t walk anymore when he lost his son. Amazingly, he got up and conquered again. Life continued for a while, but every part of his family who he has lost since, has visibly diminished his spirit. He misses them all. I can see the sadness in his eyes. He still wants to talk to them. He talks about them all the time.
MS has continued to catch up on us all. My mother has had to deal with the impossible. The initial diagnosis. The denials. The hospitalisations. Family life and the bouts of deterioration. Hospital trips, care packages and the never-ending uncertainty of an undying love that is complicated by not knowing what tomorrow will bring. Caring for someone, 24 hours a day, resigned to the fact that you can’t change today or tomorrow, no matter how hard you try. It is really hard for her.
What has really worried me recently is my incapacity to remember things beyond today? As I have watched the progressive deterioration of my father in recent years, inevitably, I have lapsed into denial. As the deterioration has gathered pace recently, I suddenly felt that I had lost my true memory of my dad. Mercifully, I haven’t.
When the world was lost to me, my dad gave me the keys to a car and told me to succeed. He told me to keep going. When he lost his legs, we built a new house. Every Tuesday was curry day, despite the fact that he has always been slightly indifferent to the spices involved. Curries make him sneeze uncontrollably. As MS has caught up with him, he has demonstrated the dignity, control and drive that he has always had. He has continued to amaze us.
I really want to empathise with all of you who are going through similar circumstances. I fully understand the uncertainties that the dance of life may bring. My father and mother have showed me how we can all support each other and depend on our lasting memories to sustain us.
My father and mother will always be my heroes.