When my father was dying our family nursed him at home. He was 75 and had terminal cancer tearing through him rapidly. His skin was like tissue paper, and we had a rubber sponge to put between his two knees to stop the bones breaking through. He had trouble eating so my mother liquidised his food.
He was also in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s having been diagnosed with the disease fifteen years earlier. Often he didn’t recognise us, or would plead with us to ‘take him home’ when he got distressed.
One day as I was changing his pyjama top he looked me straight in the face and said –There’s love in them there eyes.’ He was right. I still remember being arrested by the insight that according to the calculus of our modern culture, my father was useless. He couldn’t look after himself or anybody else. He was totally dependent. He couldn’t work. The Docker’s muscled arms, that heaved shovelfuls of coal from the hold a boat in Derry Quay, were totally emaciated. The mind that regularly quoted Shakespeare to us, was totally confused. Yet to me he was precious. Not just for who he had been, but for who he was even as he was dying.
Disease had ravaged his mind and body but in gifted moments when I looked into his eyes I saw the same light and love he saw in mine. I saw his spirit, bright, beautiful, and unlike his body and mind – indestructible.