Aeternam Memoria

Owen’s emotional and cathartic masterpiece of a song about his grandad’s decline under the effects of vascular dementia. Ex olympic standard athlete, ex army engineer, ex sailor, my dad is/was a lovely man, but the more we see him, the more we miss him…

Aeternam Memoria –  Owen Wilson 2012
Owen wrote this in January, and, a few weeks later, drove back from university for the weekend to record it in our back room. He added a truly haunting cello part to the guitar and vocals, enlisting Rachael Monaghan (their band’s drummer’s girlfriend…) to create yet more feeling.

The video is me –  my attempt at a tribute to my dad and a creative displacement activity to help me cope with having too much time to think as we wear a groove up and down the M3 to visit him.

That was my dad, Brian. The word “was” is becoming an increasingly meaningful form of the verb.

Dad is 84 and has VD. Sadly that stands for vascular dementia caused by lack of blood flow to parts of the brain. And 5 months ago he passed his driving test. Physically he’s fine. 2 – 3 mile walk, escape from the care home – not a problem – he used to be an Olympic class athlete. Mentally he’s now about 85% gone but still with sparks of humour. Took him to look at a new care home and he asked if it was a brothel…

The first care home couldn’t handle his physical competence – he used to escape. Ex-army – he wanted out and something to do, dropping from windows and making off into the bushes and thence into town. He just wanted to go home to see his wife, the love of his life who was in the process of yet another hip replacement. He enjoyed the challenge, it made him feel alive and gave him a sense of at least some control over his life. The care home and other services insisted he be moved somewhere more secure – like Colditz. “For you, the care is over…”. My brother and I felt there is an opportunity here –  set up care homes with escape committees, dummy tunnels and zip wires. In the end, we were forced to find “somewhere more secure”.

Drugs: his morning ritual was to go downstairs into the hall and kick the front door. Then go and have breakfast. He did let off a fire extinguisher. One of the staff felt that was fun and funny, but her’s was definitely a minority view. Now he’s chemically coshed for much of the time to make him more manageable, making him a shuffling, staggering zombie for the first half of the day. Let’s get the inmates on feeding tubes as soon as possible to save on washing up…

That’s a bit unfair! Absolutely that’s unfair, but there is no “fair” here, just the least worst of a set of shitty options. The warders – sorry, carers, do their best within the system and are very professional. At some stage however, I, my brother and other family members will know that he’s completely gone and will then have to decide what to do about it. At this point, a sizeable minority of our society go “Wahhh!!!”, oft-time reaching for religious totems. In their view, all human life under all conditions is always sacrosanct. That’s total gnoights –  unless you’re a strict budhist – or a god (according to the holy books, gods have been allowed to kill people since time immemorial).

Tour a few care homes and view the old people. Then view those that have become vegetables. “He’s calling people vegetables, they aren’t vegetables”. Good point. They’re not vegetables, but neither are they people. They’re meat in manned graves. A body with no mind in a bed or a chair is not a person. Human bean bags. Loll, loll. No mind, no volition, no point.

But, we look at them. They still look like people. We remember the way they were, we feel –  we anthropomorphise.

But keeping them alive is not the moral high ground. Using the full panoply of medical science in this way is ethically and morally indefensible. It’s a selfish act in the emotional interests of the perpetrator. It provides the perpetrator with some emotional or moral comfort – or perhaps sometimes a little less guilt about how they were treated when they were alive. Perpe-traitor”. But the care home meat doesn’t care. It doesn’t have a mind to care with. You are not doing it for them, they are already dead –  and keeping them alive is a choice that adds others to the toll.

You choose to spend limited resources on this and not that. Where “this” is stored meat and “that” is babies, cancer victims, starving children, pets and, for some people, shampoo.  And you force your choice on the rest of us. Ah! But I’m now trapped by the “if you eat pork, then you should be prepared to kill a pork yourself” decision.

The question is whether I, or we, can find a way, or if I can even steel myself to find a way to do the right thing instead of succumbing to the “get someone else to kill your pork” hypocrisy. Perhaps we’ll just have to help him escape again –  and then encourage him to try to swim to the Isle of Wight…. Or perhaps this is just me railing against the passing of the light.

I miss my dad. We drive down to see him and take him out nearly every weekend. Sadly, the more I see him, the more I miss him.