Aneurin Wright, 38, looked after his terminally ill father for the last six months of his life. He has written and drawn a graphic novel about his experiences, Things To Do In A Retirement Home Trailer Park When Youâ€™re 29 And Unemployed.
My dad, Neil, had been a smoker for 50 years. Heâ€™d started taking oxygen in 1996 but the gravity of his emphysema didnâ€™t dawn on me. In 1999, he had the most diseased parts of his lungs removed. In 2002, aged 67, he was told he had six months to live.
I had been laid off from my job as an animator. I said Iâ€™d move to California and take care of him, not knowing what Iâ€™d let myself in for. I stayed with him until he passed away in May 2003. I didnâ€™t realise how hard it was going to be.
He had two sides to him. He was a successful architect with clients who adored him. He built some of the most celebrated houses in my home town and had a street named after him when he passed away. But on a personal level, he was always working so wasnâ€™t around. He and my mother divorced when I was eight. He decided he didnâ€™t want to force visits on his children â€“ he thought if we wanted to see him weâ€™d ask but he never invited us, which we thought meant he didnâ€™t want to see us. He was very remote. Moving in with him was interesting because he was still a remote figure. Living with him for his last six months changed how we interacted with each other.
A typical day would mean Iâ€™d get up at 5.30am. Sleeping for him was difficult. Heâ€™d sleep on a reclining sofa because lying down made him feel he was suffocating. Iâ€™d count out his pills â€“ 20 each morning and evening. Iâ€™d make him breakfast and 12 to 15 times a day, heâ€™d have breathing treatments. Heâ€™d use a nebuliser and take pills and each time Iâ€™d have to sterilise the apparatus. In between heâ€™d read or watch daytime TV. I started drawing little comic book vignettes about what was happening to us. Then Iâ€™d do lunch, buy groceries, do dinner, more pills, then put him to bed. The nurse visited twice a week, a carer helped bathe him three times a week and the doctor came once a fortnight.
A month before he died, my sister said: â€˜I wonder how long this is going to go on?â€™ Then she realised what sheâ€™d said. Itâ€™s bizarre. Youâ€™re sitting around waiting for something to happen but you donâ€™t want it to happen. The interminable circumstances send you a bit mad. Waiting was the hardest part.
Heâ€™d defined himself by his work. He no longer had the energy to work, so had to turn his focus to other things. Heâ€™d always loved me but didnâ€™t understand my interests. He got a little freaked out when I told him I was drawing a comic about us but one day he shuffled over to my desk, saw Iâ€™d drawn him as a rhinoceros-headed character and was delighted. He kept asking to see the next page.
Because he had to put his work aside, it meant he focused more on our relationship. Thereâ€™s nothing worse than dealing with the death of a loved one but the blessing was we knew what was coming. If someone dies in an accident, you donâ€™t have the chance to have those conversations.
It was a watershed experience in my life. Things I was worried about before became irrelevant and it made me think about who I wanted to be and how I treat people. Of course, Iâ€™d rather still have my dad here.
Things To Do In A Retirement Home Trailer Park (Myriad Editions) is out now.Â Â www.trailerparkbook.com
Nearest tube: Elephant & Castle underground station (Northern and Bakerloo lines).
Nearest Railway Station: Elephant & Castle
Buses from Elephant and Castle: ask bus driver for Burgess Park. Bus numbers: 12, 171, 148, 176, 68, 484, 42, 40, 45