I draw the line at saying murdered, though that’s what my mother thought.
After he – my father, her husband – died, she began telling strangers that my sister and I had abandoned her. I know this because a friend of the family heard her and – of course – told me.
But the accusation of murder was mine, all mine.
Sorry. My fingers stopped. Like my legs do when I’m looking down from a high place.
I’m finding it hard. I feel guilty. Have felt guilty for a very long time.
Not that it’s actually true, I hasten to add. I neither killed nor murdered my father – though he did die within hours of leaving my house and going home on a train.
My mother was furious, wanted me to drive them home.
He wasn’t well. I was full of the importance of a new job. Full of the feeling of duty –binding me to something that, in the end, really didn’t matter.
A feeling that leaves you the instant something like this happens.
But I’m writing this now because of something my brother-in-law is going through, thousands of miles away across the sea.
My father-in-law, his father, is in a nursing home. A strong father to five children and husband to a strikingly beautiful wife, he’s over 90 now.
He’s been clinging on to life through pacemakers and pneumonia and infected wounds and … well, he’s tenacious.
And like his other son, my husband, he’s driven to learn, to know, to find out.
I suspect he’s also afraid of dying.
Afraid of whether there really is something else beyond the grave, after all.
His own father was an evangelist and, as happens with parents and children, that caused him to rebel. He’s never been a church goer in all the time I’ve known him – though in recent years he did approach a pastor to do his funeral.
That’s all I’ll say about the man inside the withered frame, bent almost double with scoliosis, breathing through tubes that carry oxygen to lungs crushed by his contorted bones. It’s not my place to presume to know him well.
But even at this distance, I can feel what happens as the world begins to shrug a reluctant human off.
Some people are ready and waiting.
Some fight tooth and nail.
And sometimes they and their beloved lash out at the nearest – and should be next-dearest – in their hurt. In their fear.
Accuse sons and daughters of neglect, of cruelty, of torture – and in my case, of murder.
I won’t say I was lucky – but my father died instantly of a stroke as he was just beginning to need a wheelchair, had succumbed to diabetes, was needing more and more help.
And the years my mother remained were only five after her husband died. It was a tough time, but by comparison with the daily drives of many miles that my brother-in-law – and his wife and children – endure, it was nothing.
I had no children, will have no grandchildren. I have been left to spend my time as I choose as I grow older, unlike my brother-in-law.
He probably won’t like this so I’ll leave it at that. But I hope he realises that what he has been doing is admirable, whether his demanding father and fearful mother know it or not.
I always feel an inner cringe when people say ‘well, after all, he’s family,’ and ‘blood is thicker than water’.
There are times when parents need to leave their children alone, too.
My father, whatever his faults, knew that the best way to encourage this child to return home was not to whine, not to beg, not to plead, just to be there when needed, and welcome her.
My mother did not understand that, but then, she had a different nature.
Do you wonder why she thought I murdered my father?
I had to tell him he was no longer wanted at a place that had become his raison d’être. A former headmaster, but a historian at heart, in his retirement he worked as a volunteer at an outstanding National Trust property. He catalogued its contents, knew every bit of its history by heart, probably bored people to death who asked him questions.
His leg began to fail.
He used a stick.
A man, ex-army, took over as manager and the two did not rub along very well. One day, as my mother and I ate lunch in the restaurant there, he sidled over and told me my father had to go.
A health and safety risk.
Too slow to evacuate in case of fire.
I was younger, less questioning of authority then – ‘why should I tell him, that’s your job,’ I would have said now. Or something stronger.
But no. So I told him. The night before he died.
He lay in bed all day, until it was time to eat lunch and make ready for that train. Sad. Probably desolate. Grasping my hand as I walked impatiently by.
That’s how I murdered my father.
And I will never forgive myself for putting him on that train.