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Useful And Fantastic: The Decision

Val Yule tells of a sombre and sad ending.

When I heard about what happened to the old man, I couldn’t believe it at first. I thought things had been working out for him, but I was obviously mistaken. He’d made a decision, and he’d attempted to carry out his plan.

The last time I’d seen him he was sitting in a comfortable chair in the sunshine. He had his white cane beside him, and his trusty old dog sat panting under his chair. Within his reach, once he stood up and turned around to touch the fence behind him, was the long line of rope we’d organised for him to walk and exercise with. It was tied to a fence post on either side of the yard, and it gave him the chance for some outdoor exercise that he craved. He would march back and forth several times every afternoon, using this rope as a guide.

I noticed that he had his walking shoes on – his new Reeboks. Someone had to help him with these now. He couldn’t bend down to tie up the laces himself. And, in any case, his hands fumbled these days, since the tingling sensations and numbness he’d been feeling in his feet for several months was now starting to affect his hands as well.

He needed a lot of help these days. The diabetes they’d detected in his system only about a year ago, rippled through his whole body in a few months. It took a devastating toll on a man who’d been a fit and active eighty-four year-old. He was a proud man who had no time to sit and pine for his wife of many years who’d died not long ago. He remained busy with his farm, and drove into town every day to chat with friends.

At first, it was his feet that slowed him down. Or rather, they tripped him up. He would sometimes fall over without warning. His doctor diagnosed the diabetes and put him on a special diet. Tingling sensations and occasional numbness in his feet followed. Then a scary thing happened. It was around Christmas time, and near his eighty-fifth birthday. We’d arrived at his house on the farm for our weekly visit. We saw him holding onto the verandah post just outside the kitchen door. He was asking “Why is it so misty? Everything’s white. What’s happened?” Because it was Christmas we couldn’t get him in to see an eye specialist until mid-January, but by then, he’d gone completely blind.

The Guide Dogs people came out and instructed him how to use a cane to find his way around. His daughter, a registered nurse, lived nearby, and she dropped in every day to massage his feet and organise some meals. Meals-on-wheels were able to help too, but because he lived some distance out from town, there was no driver available to bring him his meal until a neighbour called into the Meals kitchen and brought it out for him later in the afternoon.

He was angry and he was disillusioned. We did as much for him as we could. Besides the rope across the house-paddock, we set up a string to guide him from the back door to the outside toilet. We phoned him to see how he was getting on every so often, and someone organised a touch phone so he could call others, and a speaking alarm clock to help him work out the time. His radio was set to the RPH station so he could hear the news being read. I’d give him a haircut every few weeks. We visited him every weekend.

The Guide Dog instructor started coming out twice a week from town. Although he wasn’t a candidate for a guide dog, the organisation did a lot for him. It was probably on one of these visits that he made his decision.

The instructor would keep him company, and this was a great help, besides the ongoing lessons on how to use the white cane. He asked the guide to teach him how to find the chook-house, and how to find his way to where the feed was kept in a shed nearby. He was shown how to locate the hose, and how to switch on the tap and water the garden. We thought this was good because it gave him a bit of pride and independence. He put on a brave face for this person, and was always extremely polite when they were around. Each time we received a report on how he was going we were told how he was such a nice man, “A pure delight.”

But we started seeing a different side to him. I had never before heard him swear, but he would swear now with venom and impatience. It was heartbreaking when he became this other person. But he would swing back to his sweet and pleasant side when we were about to leave. At some time during this tumultuous period, he must have come to his decision. He devised how he was going to carry out his plan, where and when he would do it, and even what he would wear.

He knew that the rifle he’d kept at the farm for shooting rabbits years ago was still wrapped up in an oiled cloth behind the bin that held the chook-food. He also knew where some bullets were kept.

We received a phone call to say that Dad was in hospital. We thought it meant that he’d fallen over, but we found out that he had a grazed forehead - the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

When we went to visit him, he didn’t know that he was in hospital. He was convinced someone was keeping him locked in his house so they could steal his horses, and that we were interlopers and had come to his house to steal things. He shouted at us and told us to get out of his house.

He went downhill from there. After a plastic surgery operation on his forehead, he had another operation – to cut off his gangrenous toes. He never walked again – he didn’t want to. He was moved into a nursing home where we visited him sometimes, but he didn’t recognise our voices. He stopped eating.

He died six months into his eighty-sixth year. He’d made his decision, and had attempted to carry out his plan, but things didn’t quite work out the way he’d wanted. At least now, my father-in-law, who I had come to love in the twenty-five years I’d known him, is hopefully at peace.

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