Photo from the series “Reflections of the Past” by TOM HUSSEY

When I worked in community care, I was once sent to a veteran whose family were caring for him at home while awaiting placement in residential care. He’d been in hospital following a fall and was quite a handful for his elderly wife, often wandering off into danger. When I arrived for my first shift, the poor lady was almost in tears, and my client was happily walking around his back yard wearing just his slippers, shouting at the birds for landing on the washing line.

After we coaxed him back inside, dressed him and I got the tour, I was given all the keys and instructions for the various child-proof locks in place about the house. We waved her off on her first day out with the girls for a very long while. She looked more like she was headed to her execution, but we closed the door firmly.

We contemplated one another for a while politely, making idle conversation about the weather. He was suspicious, but felt “fairly sure” he remembered me from “before”. It was probably the uniform, because I’d never met him. I played along. He showed me where the vacuum cleaner was, and I did some light cleaning, made the bed, hung out the washing – all with his help of course, he was a gentleman and didn’t want me to put myself out too much. He showed me where he hid his emergency pendant “because they spy on me with it”. He showed me photos of him in his uniform, and his wife’s wedding dress hanging in the wardrobe. We were getting along nicely.

Lunch time arrived, and we had baked beans on toast set out, but he wasn’t hearing a word of this! He wanted to cook me a proper meal for all my hard work. I became the sous chef, and we chopped up potatoes, boiled some corned beef and he whipped up a white sauce – then he decided we should have some pudding, so he tipped various things in a pot, stirred and poured it into a cake tin. All the time, he regaled me of stories about his children, his grandchildren, his job as a cook, his time in the army, his wife.

We set the table, and sat down to eat. A knock at the door revealed his son, just popping by to make sure everything was okay because Mum had phoned and was really worried. We served him up a plate in a jiffy, and he sat at the table, slightly stunned while Dad kept on talking, “remember this son, remember that time, remember when…?”

After lunch (which was delicious, pudding and all) Dad was a little tired, so he went to have a lie down. I washed the dishes, and the son silently stood beside me drying up. I tried to make small talk but he was a little gruff, so I just let it lapse. When we finished, I decided I’d better pop my head in to check, and we both crept to the door like parents afraid of waking a sleeping baby. All safe and sound.

A firm hand gripped my arm as I went to turn away, and I looked up in surprise – a big, tall man stood before me bawling like a baby. He hadn’t seen his Dad like this in…who knows how long. He sobbed down the phone to Mum that everything was fine, great in fact.

Later that day, when she came home, she looked ten years younger. We were propped up in the armchairs watching Days of our Lives and eating biscuits. She slipped into my place as he was waving a cross hand at the screen, he barely noticed, so intent was he on explaining the ins and outs of the storyline that was unfolding.

“See you next week?” She nodded, speechless.

I went back many weeks, and not all of them were good weeks like the first. After a while he just couldn’t keep up the facade of wellness. The day he went into residential care was a very sad and emotional day for everyone, but work got a letter from his wife a few weeks later. I went in to collect my roster and to take a look. Enclosed was a photo of him playing guitar and smiling in the home beside a man he’d served with – reunited after many years apart.

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