Earlier in the year my 83-year-old father joined Facebook. My slightly younger aunts both commented with a welcome and Finally! but, in truth, it was my brother who had set up the account for him simply so he could use Messenger to stay in touch with family during the Covid lockdown. Dad loves that he can still see his great-grandchildren even when they can’t visit, and says it really brightens my day when they get in touch.
My dad is totally old school. Before I left England I transferred my old computer to my parents’ house and wrote copious notes about how to use email so it was easier for them to stay in touch. Mum used it but when she died it was the first thing that was chucked; Dad has little interest in learning anything new. The other morning, on our family group chat, we were all having a laugh at the fact that Dad ‘added to his story’ on FB. Clearly it’s something he’s done without realising (the photo is one I posted last year in France). Cue much hilarity at the thought that he has somehow managed to do what none of the rest of us has the first clue how to, namely nick a picture and post it as his own. Followed by a slight worry that he may inadvertently take a dodgy photo and post it, then get banned from Facebook for posting an inappropriate image. I can see it going viral on social media as we all try and explain.
Communicating with family (and friends, for that matter) is much easier since the advent of various internet-based messaging services, although the nature of our family means that it’s almost impossible to hear what anyone says as we all talk at the same time, generally quite loudly. Neil copes for about five minutes before he has to leave the room (and he’s not the only one – my niece’s husband wants a t-shirt that says ‘married into the family’ to avoid anyone thinking he’s actually blood-related).
When I turn on my phone in a morning and see there are 60+ messages waiting to be read I know that it will involve Dad and it probably won’t be good news. Recently he was admitted to HDU (High Dependency Unit) in hospital in Sheffield as his blood pressure was high. Tests revealed that he has an enlarged aorta. Our latest group chat was for my brother to reveal that they won’t operate as Dad is considered high risk, basically too old and his health isn’t that good, an alarming development as it’s only eighteen months since he had major heart surgery. With his blood pressure high the artery could rupture at any time and that, as my brother said, is curtains. It’s a hard thing to hear. My sister started crying and my other brother disappeared from the screen; they’re the emotional ones. I could feel tears but I cry alone.
We shouldn’t be surprised – he’s spent so many hours in A&E in the last few years they have a chair with his name on it – but, irascible old sod that he can be, we will all miss him when he is gone. He is the patriarch of the family, the glue that holds us all together (I refer you to the 60+ messages). It’s nearly two decades since Mum left us so when he goes we will be orphans. We are all in our fifties (or nearly – the youngest still has a year to go) so that’s a good age to get to before you are orphaned, but it’s still something none of us wants to think about too much.
Living halfway around the world I have to accept that every time I visit it may be the last time I see someone, and I may not get a chance to say goodbye. Given that the chance to do so usually means a long period of suffering, which we all watched Mum go through, it really is a choice I’d hate to have to make. It’s even harder at the moment – previously I’ve only been a day’s flight away, but currently international flights are few and far between. Not to mention the quarantine issue at either end. In these Covid times it’s not so easy to jump on a plane.
Dad is now out of hospital, another bottle of pills on the kitchen benchtop. I’ve spoken to him and he sounds in good spirits, happy to be back home, settled in his chair with the TV remote close by. Like many things as we age, it’s a stark reminder that life is finite and we should all appreciate what we have whilst we have it. Long may he keep entertaining us with his social media presence. And hopefully not getting banned.
(In case you wondered, these pictures were taken at a family wedding, hence the bad light, dodgy backgrounds and ties, not to mention the obvious consumption of alcohol by both photographers and subjects! Sadly I don’t have one of my sister with Dad.)