playing cards

Life in the present tense

It was the cards I noticed first this morning. Each one neatly placed on the windowsill. Carefully butted up against the thin line of mastic securing glass into frame; they were spaced almost exactly it seemed, but without the benefit of a ruler I couldn’t be sure.

They ran in order, Hearts, then Spades, Diamonds and finally Clubs; each suit starting Ace’s low.

You were moving slowly, gathering them up into a neat stack and beginning to lay them out again. I watched you for a while before going to the kitchen to make the first of many cups of tea.

The kettle boiled, I poured water into two mugs on top of the tea bags and splashed in milk. A quick stir, the bags were fished out and dropped on a ‘save the teabag’ dish bought as a gift in Harrods on a long-forgotten trip.

I took one mug into the sitting room and placed it to the side of the spread, avoiding your carefully orchestrated movements.

Card out, card placed, card adjusted for spacing.

Card out, card placed, card adjusted for spacing.

“There’s a cup of tea here for you Dad”, I spoke the words quietly and without urgency. Any urgency would upset your routine and you would become distressed.

“Frish hand you” You smiled at me when you spoke, a gentle smile that touched every part of your face and illuminated your eyes.

I understood what you were saying even though the words didn’t make sense, and I smiled back touching you on the arm as I did so before turning away to get my own mug.

Settling on the sofa I kept my mug close by and watched you carefully, relaxing into the silence.


There was a time when I would have been frustrated by the silence and the repetition of your actions; but that time had long passed and we had dropped into a comfortable routine, you and I.

I had once been a harbinger of stress; fretting and fussing if this or that hadn’t been done on time, believing that if I didn’t get things right then the world would surely end. Even now, I occasionally reflect on the changes that have been wrought over the years and am amazed at how much less complicated life is than when we first started this journey together.

The trick, it turned out, was to live with you rather than against you. You had no concept of time; the past was long gone and irrelevant, and your future was nowhere to be seen. You didn’t worry about what had been, or what was to come; you stayed in an endless cycle of now.

As I watched you over the months it became apparent my way of living had been entirely unsatisfactory and I learnt to become patient, to be present; living in the moment and working with what happened rather than fretting about what might never be.

Life had been reduced to a simple algorithm of caring, eating and sleeping. I realised there was no need to worry; the world carried on turning and your pension turned up in the bank every month whether I did anything or not. My old role, as I now saw it, of forcing the world into activity was negligible in the face of mounting evidence I did not control anything.

I succumbed to the life. I felt no urgent need to do anything except sit and share this time with you. We didn’t ‘do’ daytime TV; you wouldn’t understand it anyway; I occasionally read a book or a magazine, thoughtfully passed on by a neighbour or friend.  Even more occasionally I checked my email, responding to requests for news from those who cared what we had become.


Watching you, I couldn’t help but wonder at the lies we all bought into about how life ‘should be’. The constant striving to be bigger and better than others, when the reality was we would all end up as dust. My world view had expanded and shrunk at the same time. And it was often with annoyance I listened to platitudes of those who couldn’t understand that your illness wasn’t a problem, for either of us.

You, with your awareness diminished to the present tense only, were happy; I with my awareness changed to the fundamentally important things in life was also happy. Happy in a way I had never anticipated when we were first given the diagnosis that brought us to this point.

Smiling to myself, I remembered how I raged at the specialist, the nurses, our GP. Insisting there be some intervention or treatment which would stop the inevitable changing tide that, Canute like, I wanted to hold back.

My raging had extended even to you in the early days, accusing you of leaving me with ‘this mess’ to clear up; crying, shouting, screaming that you had to stop this nonsense, that you were needed as you once were, had always been, looking after me and putting my needs first.

I recall the moment of realisation; the child had become the parent; our roles were reversed, and I wasn’t ready for the responsibility. Like the rest of my (selfish) generation I assumed this was ‘my’ time. I had no reason to consider others as I sought only to have my own wants and needs met.

I was of the ‘me’ generation, brought to adulthood in the Thatcher years. Succumbing to the hypocrisy of the ‘selfish gene’ and believing I could, in fact, have it all; even if I didn’t know what ‘it’ was back then.

I was driven to make my mark on the world; to gather more than anyone else, to be better than others. I didn’t so much keep up with the Jones’ I had, with your support, surpassed them in every sense.

All of this had been laid low by a simple, single conversation with you on the phone in between meetings.

“I’m going to see the Doctor next week luv, I keep forgetting things”.

Your words didn’t mean much at the time and I brushed you off with a promise to call that night to have a chat, forgetting almost immediately the fear I’d detected in your voice, the way you enunciated the words so clearly and carefully.

I offered to give you a lift. I happened to be passing your house and the hospital anyway en-route to a client. Two birds, one stone I thought. I got to fulfil my daughterly duty and picked up a nice commission into the bargain, result!

That was also the day I picked up a new client. One I hadn’t anticipated or looked for; one which turned my life upside down and threatened all I had built thus far. That client was you. And, as the months advanced, you became my sole responsibility.

My employer ‘let me go’.

I couldn’t look after the business I had so carefully built. Emails sent with enquiries went unanswered, meetings were missed and too many phone calls were ignored as yet another crisis in your decline hit.

I couldn’t blame them; it wasn’t their fault; they had shareholders needs to meet and other employee’s wages to pay. I was just another cog in a wheel that went round and round, to be removed and replaced when I became faulty.

Eventually, I sold the flat I had worked so hard to buy and moved back home; to the place I had left so many years before and my new life began.


Your hands are moving fluidly, and I admire their beauty and your pianist’s fingers.

Intent on their activity and without understanding the process they were involved in, they carefully gathered the cards once more and the cycle began again.

Card out, card placed, card adjusted for spacing.

Card out, card placed, card adjusted for spacing.

My thoughts of the past settle into the moment and I become one with the present, as fluid in my acceptance of our life as you are with the placement of the cards.

(9Image by PDPics from Pixabay)

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