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Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Regeneration

My father has gone through some dramatic changes over the past 14 months. First, he suffered a stroke in October 2006, then after making a good recovery he had a mild seizure. Both set him back very much physically. Although he is now 78, he has enjoyed the past 20 years with a renewed lease of life since he and my mother (who died in 2004) retired in their mid-50s and decided to return to Jamaica from England, where they had lived for nearly 30 years.

Though he was always active, he was never a sporty person; his main contact with sports was watching me perform as a sprinter and footballer, and in both instances my parents were not spectators on a frequent basis. They were often very surprised by my winning races and scoring goals: "Bway, we never know you was so good! " was often their reaction. So it was a great surprise to me that he should take on a range of regular exercises after he returned to Jamaica. He had trained in psychology and worked as a mental nurse at Belleview Mental Hospital in Kingston before he emigrated. He was always aware of the need to train the mind and exercise the brain. So, when his exercise regime started to include yoga that seemed less surprising. However, his going to seniors' aerobic classes was really out of the blue. But he loved it, especially often being the only man in a sea of women. He developed good yoga technique and his body became very lean and strong; I was awestruck watching him doing head stands. He supplemented the classes with regular morning walks from his house into town, across the golf course, to attend his classes on week days, then go to the market to buy provisions. He was well known in Mandeville for his walking and his back-pack of fruit and vegetables.

Since his stroke all of that came to an abrupt halt. His stroke paralysed his left side initially, but he has since regained use of his left leg, while his left arm and hand can barely move themselves.He has managed to walk again but with great difficulty and only with assistance from a stick or someone. His mind is really sharp, even razor like. Maybe he is compensating. He is keenly aware of sounds and though he lost the sight of one eye through glaucoma a few years ago, he seems to see the finest details especially if they seem to be obstacles as he walks.

It saddens me to see how life has changed for Daddy. But I have also started to realise something. It important to go through changes like this with your family and friends alongside. We suffer together and heal together. He has managed to make the transition very well. He is rarely low. He sits in bed or in a wheel chair on his veranda or in his dining room and receives a string of visitors during the week. Some of his neighbours visit every day and chat with him; most of them are about his age and many are also "returning residents" who had lived in England and are now enjoying being back home. He talks a lot about his youth and has an unending number of funny stories, especially from his days in St. Mary and life in Cuffy Gully. Daddy is also enjoying his latest grand daughter (though on a recent car ride he could not deal with any more rhymes). She too has managed the transition well. She is not afraid to see him less active and his "illness" does not frighten her; she is there giving him some hugs and kisses morning and night. As she is only 4, she only has a short memory of him any other way. But she asks why grand dad needs a stick, and she willingly tries to push him in his chair. When we visited his doctor in Kingston last week, she helped with all the tests, and encouraged him as he had to climb up onto the examination table: "Well done, grandpa." she urged. I'm not sure if it helps him but it touches me to see that interaction.

As Dad's memory of certain events fades and details sometimes become confusing, he has lots of things to hold onto and look forward to. He appears to see each day with a freshness that comes from seeing his friends and enjoys visits from one of his grandchildren who runs around and ask questions and does things that make him proud. He likes having his son visit so that he can just be there but also to help deal with simple or complicated issues that Dad can't resolve, like overdue tax payments. Rhian has visited him twice this year and with about six months between trips there is a lot of change Daddy can see in her and he notices a lot. I have managed to visit five times this year and with about two months between trips there's less change in me to notice each time. For my dad, I'm still a boy who may need a good knock on his head.

Though not at all the same as losing the mental control of the body that results from a stroke I suffered a major injury--torn knee ligaments--which stopped me from being active and playing various sports during most of the past five months. That injury is now almost healed and I restarted playing tennis a few weeks ago. During my rehabilitation I swam a lot; the water therapy helped a lot. When I took my father to the mineral baths at Milk River I could see how easy it was for him to move, and he could do a lot of exercises sitting in the deep bath of warm radioactive water. But getting better seemed harder for me because I was living in a new country and had few people on whom I could draw to help me through. It was easy to feel forlorn. Having passed through the painful limping and soreness, I now find that walking is something that will help my body recover without too much strain. I have taken a small leaf from Daddy's book and walk before sun rise; when I'm in Mandeville I walk the golf course at that time and think of him doing the same once upon a few months ago. I had started yoga about 18 months ago and that too has helped strengthen body and mind. These are not deliberate parallels but it is interesting how events can mirror each other.

When my daughter and I leave after this visit I will hope that next time the three of us can again walk and talk together, in our different ways and at our different paces. As three generations it is important for us to stay closely connected. There are many very good we can take from each other, young or old, weak or strong.

1 comment:

BarbadosInFocus / PictureInFocus said...

This is a touching post. We must thank the almighty for the living while we remember those who have gone. All the best to you and your family…