Daddy, dementia and me: ‘He knew me long before I knew him’

If he said that once, he said it hundreds of times – ‘I just want to be in my home, Áine’

George had a lifelong love of Patrick Kavanagh’s poetry and had met him on a couple of occasions.

George had a lifelong love of Patrick Kavanagh’s poetry and had met him on a couple of occasions.

 

Minutes before Daddy died I sang him a verse of Raglan Road down the phone. Even though I was snottering and wailing I could hear him breathe so strongly, just like he used to when he was having an afternoon nap when we were kids.

He’d lock his bedroom door so we weren’t sneaking in and out robbing the small change from the tiny pocket within a pocket in his sports jacket.

After I sang those sad lyrics, immortalised by Luke Kelly, I told him how much I loved him and reminded him how he would always say, “he knew me long before I knew him”. It was among his dozen or so mantras whenever I visited him in his nursing home here in Westport over the last five years.

When Pauline Mulroy, the nursing home’s co-owner, phoned on the morning of April 21st and suggested I have a little chat with Daddy, because the end was coming near, I categorically said no and told her I didn’t want to upset him by crying and, anyway, I’d had a very good last visit with him before the restrictions were imposed.

In some sort of denial that Daddy was about to leave this world, I started talking about his first weeks in the Pilgrims’ Rest during the spring of 2015 and how rebellious he had been.

George had quickly become like a Houdini, secreting lighters or boxes of matches he conjured from nowhere and, like the bold schoolboy he was, sneaking off to the loo for a smoke. Of course, Pauline and the staff were ever vigilant, and on one of these occasions when the wafts of nicotine were meandering down the corridor, she deliberately turned on the smoke alarm, waited a moment and then called out to him in an angelic voice.

“You’d never be in there having a cigarette now, George, would you? “

“Well, f**k it anyway.”

His little apartment in Inchicore

Over the following months he tried every ruse and strategy to escape, to find the car he no longer owned and drive back to his little apartment in Inchicore.

“I just want to be in my home, Áine.”

If he said that once, he said it hundreds of times. There he could smoke to his heart’s delight, go down to the chipper and buy deep fried onions and soggy chips, collect his Irish Times in the newsagents, maybe duck into the Oblate’s church on Tyrconnell Road for a prayer that was said so fast there was no way God could hear it.

‘You’ve sent him on his way, Áine. He’s gone.’
‘You’ve sent him on his way, Áine. He’s gone.’

Now, here he was breathing his last as I talked on the phone 6km away but unable to be at his side, hold his hand.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like to have a little word with him?” Pauline’s voice was gentle and coaxing. “Why not think about it and phone me back in a few minutes?”

“Okay,” I could hear myself suddenly saying through my sobbing and wailing. It’s weird but I knew in that moment it would be too late if I waited to ring back. I’m going to sing him a verse of Raglan Road.”

Daddy had a lifelong love of Kavanagh’s poetry and had met him on a couple of occasions.

We regularly read his poems to each other over the years, George’s flat Dundalk accent somewhat echoing the notes of Kavanagh’s Inniskeen beat. You could hear “the music of milking”, almost see Cassiopeia “over Cassidy’s hanging hill”, feel the harrow break the soft earth.

Less than five minutes after I sang to Daddy, the nursing home number came up again on my phone.

It was Pauline Mulroy. Her voice was so gentle, sympathetic.

“You’ve sent him on his way, Áine. He’s gone.”

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