It felt like the end of an era today. I finally handed over my dad’s place in Easington. There was a tug of finality as I signed the receipt to say I’d handed the keys back, and then pulled slowly away from the house for the last time, bathed in spring morning sunshine. As I came down Lythe Bank, Sandend was bathed in mist, with the Abbey in the distance just poking over the tops of the clouds. I wish I’d had a chance to stop and grab a quick picture because it was rather pretty, as it happens. But reality bites, and I had to get home for a meeting as I was back at work this morning after a week of house clearing.
It’s been coming for a while, though. Since Dad went into care in October last year, following a spell in hospital, it was increasingly evident that he wasn’t going to be able to come home. Last month it was confirmed that he would be staying in permanent long-term residential care as a result of the progress of his dementia, so it was time to formally surrender the tenancy to the house. As a result, the last few weeks have felt more than a little strange, sifting through my dad’s possessions, trying to work out what could go, and keeping the important stuff (like photos, documents, and the odd little bits and bobs that mean things).
My parents moved to Easington in October 2003. After thirty years living in Easterside in Middlesbrough. In the end Easterside became just too much for them, and they decided to move on. There were a couple of reasons: Easterside wasn’t really the place they’d first moved into in April 1973 - it was certainly a more stressful environment than they wanted to be in, and Dad was in pain as a result of problems with his spine. A move was in order. They looked at a couple of places, but it was Easington appealed most of all. They worried that things would be too quiet, and at first they found the tranquility strange. But they soon settled, and started to really love the place, and the people. Mam & Dad being who they were, people found it easy to like them too. After hardly any time at all they were a fixture. They went out walking, and there were gardens to look after. It was perfect.
Soon after they arrived, their granddaughter was born, and they loved her visits. Of course I spent quite a lot of time there too. That even continued after Mam died in October 2012. Though Dad found that very tough, he got through, and still loved his home and his friends. Even then, apart from my own home, there was always a second, where Dad was.
Even when he started showing the more obvious signs of dementia, those same friends were a support network, and a source of comfort to him (and me). They managed, I think, to keep him there for as long as he managed to stay in the end. They watched out for him when I couldn’t, and showed care and concern even when I could. He was very lucky that way.
But then last autumn Dad came down with a chest infection, which developed into pneumonia. Even in the midst of a lockdown he had to go into hospital, quarantined on the ward so I couldn’t even see him. He was there for a fortnight before going into care. So the last he saw of his own home, though we didn’t quite know it at the time, was as he was being carried out, delerious, to the ambulance.
As it is now, my dad is in physically good shape, though his grasp on who people are is becoming increasingly tenuous as time passes. The lockdown and the time I spent not being able to see that much of him didn’t help, but when I saw him late last week he was in good spirits. He knows I’m family, but beyond that, it’s all a bit sketchy.
At least he’s safe and mostly content. His neighbours will miss him, and I’ll miss him being there: it was a lovely place to be. Going there each night over the last year of lockdowns has been a bit of a godsend, whether he was there or (latterly) not. It broke up the day, and has given COVID life a rhythm that I think I really needed. But from tonight, for the first time in a year or more, I’ll be at home in my own bed.