Just after my middle brother, that is the brother between me and my eldest brother, passed away his widow gave me a small suitcase containing his socks and shoes. Socks are largely universal and generally, one size fits all.
Shoes are a bit more personal.
There is no escaping that if you are a size nine shoe then a nine and a half or an eight and a half just will not do. My middle brother, Brian, was taller than me, a lot heavier than me and in fact was just bigger than me. Despite these differences we wore the same size shoes. I either had big feet for my size or he had small feet for his size.
A couple of pairs of shoes were for casual wear. Another couple of pairs were more formal and for work. I have been wearing all of them at various times over the last two years.
Brian was the one in the family who took charge when organising family events like my parents’ landmark anniversaries and birthdays. Brian was the one who would make the 145 each way trip to see Mum and Dad to help them in a crisis. He would always put himself out to help them out either by actually visiting them or suggesting ideas that would help them over their increasing problems.
I know Brian liked to get things his own way in all of these matters. He was not driven by selfishness to be able to say that he had ‘sorted something’ for them. It was a selfless desire to make things as good as possible.
When Mum and Dad suddenly got older and Mum set off along the dementia pathway Brian and I had a tacit agreement that we would both help Mum and Dad as much as possible. Or step in physically when the other one could not. A lot of this ‘stepping in’ fell to my wife and I as we live only fifteen miles from where Dad lives by himself now.
Following Brian’s death both of my parents aged rapidly. Mum’s route along the dementia pathway accelerated along with her dependence on Dad who eventually through his love and devotion to Mum became a prisoner in their own home.
Increasingly it fell upon my wife and I to help my parents. This was done either through frequent visits whenever we could. Speaking to organisations that could help like their doctors, social services and voluntary organisations that can help in these difficult circumstances.
Mum got worse and worse following an emergency hospital admission. My Dad, through loyalty and love, wore himself out through his marathon vigil.
I had just secured a very lucrative consultancy project and started travelling across the UK working away from home for a week at a time. This meant my wife and I could only help Mum and Dad at weekends. I did what I could when I could and hopefully as best as I could juggling the demands of work and home life along with visits to Mum in hospital and making sure Dad was coping. I could not have done all of this without my wife’s support and readiness to have a cup of tea waiting when I got home.
On a Thursday it had been planned that Mum would be moved to a nursing home. Early that morning I had a phone call from the hospital to say that Mum was not well enough to be moved. My eldest brother was with Dad that day but went home in the afternoon leaving him to cope by himself.
Very early the next morning I had the phone call from the hospital, that I knew was coming, at two thirty. It was almost as if I had been lying awake waiting for it so when it came it was not a surprise. I drove over to the hospital where Dad was sitting by Mum’s bed.
Mum was under some thin white sheets with just her head showing. Her legs were bent at the knees looking uncomfortable. Her skeletal face was waxen pale and her eyes were still open. Her mouth gaped open in memory of the last breath her weakened body had taken.
My Dad sat there and when he saw me come into the room he looked up at me.
‘Let’s go home Alan…..there’s no point staying here……Mum’s gone now’.
Dad and I set to work to make the arrangements. In truth, to help Dad I did most of the arranging with him in tow to sign paperwork and agree to things like flowers, hymns and orders of service while he dealt with his own grief.
The funeral service went well including the readings. Something from the Bible by my brother and my last letter to Mum. There must have been close to one hundred people to see Mum on her way. At the reception my wife and I had put together a photo album. My brother recorded some background music. We also put out copies of the ‘last letter’, the reading and Dad’s notes on Mum’s life. We even wrapped daffodil bulbs in pink gift wrap for people to take home and plant wherever they thought appropriate. This idea came from my cousin Ann’s funeral and I hope it becomes a family tradition.
For the day I wore my best suit, a pale shirt with a snappy tie. Mum loved bright coloured ties. Never allowed Dad to wear them but loved to see them on other people. I also wore a pair of highly polished brogues. They had come in the bag of socks and shoes from my middle brother’s widow. Yes, I really had stepped into my brother’s shoes. They fitted perfectly. I just hope I can fill them.