Black Country Memoir: Letters to Myself, by Dan Causer

I sat in the hospital waiting room and stared up at the time, tapping my leg to the tick and tock rhythm. It was the beginning of life against the clock.

I thought how this building was both the start of life and also the place where you say goodbye… anxiety ate me up waiting for the news, and it did what it does best, planting the worst thoughts in my mind.
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I am on the way back from hospital with my mother. The rain tips and taps on the car gently, and with the radio playing low it coalesces into an atmosphere of melancholy.

The doctor has just informed us that my dad has cancer, and I’m looking for any form of comfort. We stay silent on the long drive home. At times, we glance at each other, a glance in which we feel comfort for a split second, knowing we still have each other.

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The bell rang for home time. School had become my escape route to some sort of freedom, a place where death wasn’t lingering. I used to love the walk home on my own.

Stowe pool was my favourite part. As a breeze blew in from the top of the water, the ducks would bob, the fisherman would cast, and the reflection of the cathedral would drift along the calm surface.

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It’s Sunday, rugby day for me. My father would never want me to stop, whether he was pitch side or not. I start to play for him, in his honour, his name and presence on the side line. Warm sunshine touches my skin gently and brings forth a grin. I inhale the fresh air. I inhale life.

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My father continued to deteriorate, quicker than expected. It started to make sense, all the deliveries of equipment you’d normally find in hospitals and care homes.

I remember the hospital bed that was wheeled around to the front door. It became the centre of attention in the living room, because of its sheer size as much as anything else. Along with that came wheelchairs, commodes, walking frames, and a hoist which dad would use to pull himself up.

Everything was white, the irony being that none of this symbolised my father’s situation; he was closer to hell than heaven.
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I am called out of class for my counselling session. I know I am supposed to appreciate the support from teachers and counsellors but deep down, I despise these sessions. They make me feel like I’m going insane.

The ‘Close your eyes and think of an air balloon,’ or the ‘Imagine you’re on a quiet beach on your own…’ I don’t want to think of these things. As soon as I open my eyes from these make-believe places, I am back to the real world. There is no escape from the reality at home.

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Another Sunday, another rugby day. We won, but for me, the jubilation only lasted so long because I returned home to an ambulance parked on the driveway. I even wondered for a second whether it was for Dad or not, but deep down I knew.

The walk around to my front door was the longest I had taken; with every step I feared the worst. As soon as I entered, I saw Dad lying in a crumpled mess with blood seeping from his mouth. My mother stood in distress,  watching as the paramedics did their work; my job was to console, be strong and keep her fighting.

He’d had a fit – the best news we’d heard since he was diagnosed as terminally ill. He was still alive.

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It is Christmas Day, 2009. I wake up early to assist my mother with the usual routine; ensuring he has the right pills and something to eat, comforting and talking to him because I never know when it will be the last time.

I lift the ominous atmosphere with music. The sound of The Pogues’ ‘Fairy-tale of New York’ drifts through our home and for once we feel like this terminal burden has been lifted. With the song playing, we stand either side of him and with a simultaneous struggle get him into his wheelchair, ready for the day. The tree is in the corner of the living room, next to his bed.

I wheel my Dad through to the kitchen where the ingredients to make mince pies are laid out. I watch him reach for the mincemeat and I know now he is happy. He loves cooking. I help my mother with the dinner preparations. The smells of turkey, clementines and an open bottle of sherry mingle with the sound of Slade’s ‘Merry Christmas’.
It feels normal again.
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I woke to the alarm of my father’s needs. It was a cold Saturday morning yet the sun shone on my face like a wandering angel ready to escort him away.

I lay for a while and reminisced. I remembered all the good times, the holidays, the fishing trips and the love my father gave to me when he was fit and healthy. I remembered the four o’clock starts in the height of the fishing season. With my fishing tackle in the car already, my clothes would be ready at the foot of my bed. A cup of tea would be waiting for me downstairs to get me warmed up and ready to go. I’d watch my father make a lunch box for each of us; ham sandwiches on the freshest white bread, a packet of cheese and onion crisps, a cherry bakewell.

Wellies sat ready to be worn on the outside doormat, smeared in mud from the fishing banks before. With a push and a struggle they’d finally be on, and off we’d go.   

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Another school day finishes and I arrive home. I often ask myself is it home? Is it where I feel safe? Is this my place of security and belonging? No, is the real answer. I know every time I arrive, this isn’t home, it is four walls keeping my father enclosed, lying in his hospital bed, deteriorating, weakening, dying.

There’s sellotape on the front door… it used to anchor birthday balloons during happier times. The smell of medication and inevitable death is now my welcome.

The sound of the television mingles with a stranger’s voice as I go in to find doctor this or nurse that. My mother is at my father’s side and I am too. The comfort and love we give during this terminal fight keeps us going.

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It was the morning of the 27th February 2010 when I woke to the sound of the death rattle. I lay there. I knew. My soul arose and drifted to my father’s side.

I went downstairs. I could smell the dance of death as I calmly walked to his bedside. An aura shadowed the atmosphere. I wished I could feel his hot breath against my cheek. The nurse informed me he had gone, and it was comforting, relieving and strangely calming. He was free of this cancerous curse. She insisted I wore the stethoscope and listened. Time froze as I hunted for any noise, anything to give me hope and give life back.

We left the house, fatherless and widowed. The same fresh air that embraced me on rugby day eased my grief as I felt my dad’s soul follow behind me. We decided to go to Fradley Junction. Just off the marina was a large fishing pool, our next fishing destination, but it wasn’t to be.

The weather was the same as the evening we found out he was terminally ill. A wet cacophony, drowned in seconds. Maybe pathetic fallacy is true.
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Biography

Dan Causer is in his final year at the University of Wolverhampton studying English Language and Creative Professional Writing. This is his first published piece, and he feels it is an honour for this particular work to be the first one to be read widely. Dan is developing an interest in life-writing and wants to continue exploring memoir as a genre.

Banner image: Stowe Pool, Paul Woolrich