Dad had a stroke a couple of years ago, since which time he has been able to ‘see things’. It’s not exactly the Sixth Sense (as in the film), although it does sound grisly when he tells me “I can see severed heads” floating around or even shouting at him.
When this phenomenon began he was, quite understandably, terrified – especially of the bodiless heads – although he also banged on the bedroom door in the wee small hours to tell me, I was in his flat. Having failed to convince him that I was in bed – and had been asleep – I followed him home. There I was, just inside his flat – and, apparently, there I was opposite – head, fortunately, attached to my shoulders!
Dad couldn’t believe it. He looked from one of me to the other, murmuring, “You’re there! – and you’re there!” The following evening, he invited me to see the cats that were climbing all over his flat, even his mobility-scooter, seeming so real that we half-wondered whether they would drive off on it.
As he hadn’t slept for days, we were pretty sure it was sleep deprivation causing this blip. But although we had the upper hand in that we knew it to be hallucinatory, it was also unnerving, if not from the gruesome images conjured up by my father’s insomniac brain, by the fact that my intelligent, well-spoken dad had not only lost the power to say what he meant (just about any word other than the one he wanted, stuttering from his surprised lips in an attempt to describe what he wanted to say), but even to recognise the thoughts in his head. Those were frustrating days.
Once we managed to convince him that he wasn’t mad but that it was simply his brain playing tricks, Dad relaxed and coped remarkably well until the following spring when his medication was finally altered and he resumed some kind of normality. But if he ever becomes tired or is off-colour, these strange images return.
He spent a few minutes last night grabbing for something invisible. He couldn’t tell me what it was – I expect one day he’ll use the word, or enough of it for us to guess what has been teasing him from his seat on our sofa. My husband then mentioned that a night or two before, Dad had been watching rabbits on the neighbours’ roofs. My husband had ended up ‘watching’ them, too, in solidarity. I feel left out!
I broached the subject with Dad and he was quite upbeat about it – in fact we’re still laughing about it. He knows they’re figments of his imagination, but he quite likes the idea of them! I get that. They’re a catchy concept. And he’s fascinated that he can still see them, even though he himself has debunked them.
It makes me wonder how much time we all spend preferring to see the world as we wish it was, rather than the way it is? I’m sure many habitually see the world in a way that makes them feel central and important. As for those who would like to believe in jiggery-pokery, an hallucination of Dad’s sort would be very impressive when discussing unicorns or some of the dodgier claims I’ve overheard in the New Age section of the bookshop!
Roof-rabbits have mileage. I kind of hope that Dad remembers them fondly, because they enable him to laugh at the madness he used to fear or feel humiliated by. Roof-rabbits have won a major battle in Dad’s wellbeing and stronger belief in himself.
Karen Steel, Celebrant