bookmark_borderWhat’s Next?

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind.

The day of my parents 50th Anniversary – 30th of July – was when Dad fell ill and was taken to hospital with stomach pains.

I visited him, the sole visitor that was allowed due to COVID restrictions, on the Friday, he was taken into the ICU that night. He had acute pancreatitis which rapidly gave him sepsis and he sadly deteriorated from there.

Mum says he’d been a little off earlier in the week but my Dad was never one to make a fuss. I’m not sure that if he had it would’ve made any difference though as, in one short week, he reached the point the ICU staff couldn’t do anything else for him. He was on a ventilator, dialysis, and the sepsis was shutting down his major organs.

A few years ago Dad was diagnosed with an untreatable muscle wasting condition called Inclusion Body Myositis – it falls into the wider category of Muscular Dystrophy – which left him weaker and weaker, so much so that my sister (thankfully) brought her wedding forward a year to ensure he could walk her down the aisle (almost exactly a year ago). He did, although it was a fair effort to get him up into the carriage that he and my sister arrived in!

He never let it bother him, never complained, just adjusted his life accordingly, and continued to provide care for my Mum (herself a stroke victim without use of her right side). That was his way, just get on with things, don’t dwell, just look to the next thing that needs done.

As I said in my eulogy, he was always busy, always planning what was next but it was clear he was slowing down. Over the past few months he was starting to struggle to stand unaided, walking was getting harder, it was clear the IBM was starting to kick in and that made the future for Dad pretty clear. Once he got too weak to walk he’d be in a wheelchair, and eventually IBM impacts the swallow muscles, meaning he’d move from solid foods, to liquids and ultimately to a feeding tube.

I can’t imagine my Dad in a wheelchair, dependent on others for basic tasks, but then who can picture their parents that way? Yet that’s the way his life was heading.

I say all of this is a prelude to the small measure of relief that sits alongside the sadness and grief that still washes over me unexpectedly. When we first spoke to the Doctors in the ICU, they were very clear that Dad was gravely ill, and that if he did manage to pull through he would likely spend months in the hospital and, given his advancing IBM and the damage being wrought on his body, he would be lucky to be get home at all, with a care home a more likely outcome.

Mum was adamant that Dad would hate that. Given their advancing years, the conditions they both live(d) with, and the fact that they are both very practical about such things, they had discussed all of this. Dad did not want to be resuscitated, preferring I guess to have a few moments of dignity, of ownership of the last moments of his life and, whilst that decision ultimately falls to the Doctors, my Mum made it clear, on more than one occasion, that this is how Dad would’ve wanted it. Just let him go.

We talked about it every day as we drove up and down to the hospital, and waited to get in to see him. I guess we started accepting things that week, seeing him hooked up to all those machines, all that ‘fuss’ over him. I guess we knew he was going and that while it was far far sooner than any of us wanted, it was for the best for him.

My Grandpa, my Mum’s father, spent many years in care homes before he passed. Robbed of his ability to walk and speak by numerous strokes he was reduced to a shell of the man I vaguely remember. I was 15 when he passed, but I struggle to remember his voice, and can barely remember him walking without at least the help of a zimmer. From all accounts he was a life and soul kinda guy, a salesman. I can remember him smiling and laughing, the love in his eyes when Jennie arrived to show him her latest toy or drawing, just as I can remember the frustration and rage that built as he tried to communicate yet could only bang his fist on the table whilst moaning loudly when all he wanted was someone to pass the salt.

It was upsetting to see my Grandfather like that, and I’ve no idea if Dad would’ve gone the same way; he was a very patient man, but I fear he would’ve retreated from life so as not to be a ‘bother’ to anyone.

What a daftie, eh. I miss him so much.

I think it’s natural to contemplate your own mortality at times like these, to look ahead to your future years and ponder and consider what might happen. Like my Dad I’d rather not be in a situation for people to have to make a ‘fuss’.

My Dad lasted a week in ICU before we said our goodbyes, after which he was removed from the ventilator, the dialysis was stopped, and he was given morphine to make him comfortable. We didn’t wait at the hospital, instead we took Mum home, and sat and waited. As the nominated contact it was my phone that rang, my sister and mother looked over at me as the voice at the other end of the line confirmed that Dad had passed away. A little over an hour had passed since we’d said our goodbyes.

We all cried.

We consoled each other, wordless hugs, a cascade of silent tears, as we sobbed.

It was my Mum that broke the silence that followed. ‘Aye’ she said, ‘he was ready to go’.

I think there’s a fine line between hiding from and denying your grief, and accepting the sad moments but not letting them dominate. I know that type of thinking comes from Dad, I spent enough time with him on various gardening projects and home improvements to know that if you get a bit stuck, or a setback occurs, you pause and then figure out what’s next and move on. I appear to be treating my grief the same way, my sister is doing the same.

Every now and then it hits me that he’s gone. It’s not really been triggered by anything, I just suddenly realise that I won’t speak to him again, or have him show me his latest project (more on that later). The tears come, I let them fall, then wipe my face dry and figure out what’s next.

Of course, with life doing what it always does, there have been some other things going on; One of our dogs took unwell last week, thankfully he’s on the mend now but we will need to source two new rugs as … well, I’ll spare you the details.

In nicer news, my sister is pregnant again! It’s not, as my niece hopes, with twins, but Lucy should be a big sister round about the time she turns 5.

The timing of this news is good for my Mum, as it’s something to look forward to, but a little sad nevertheless. Dad was already in ICU when Jennie broke the news to him, she had planned to tell the family that weekend whilst we gathered for their Golden Anniversary celebrations, but we are all sure Dad heard her, responding with a flickering of his eyes and a faint smile.

Yes indeed, one life ends and another will begin, t’were ever thus.

As for my own life, well, I already know what’s next. Just gotta get on and live it.

Image courtesy of The West Wing Weekly (featured on this t-shirt).

bookmark_borderSaying goodbye to Dad

It was my Dad’s funeral this afternoon.

It was a short service at a local crematorium, with only 18 attendees allowed, all of us sitting in socially distanced seats with our masks on. Surreal.

That aside it was, as my Uncle Nigel said, a dignified service. The Rev Ian Miller led the way, and I said a few words myself, words which were easier to write and deliver, than I thought.

My Dad was well liked and we were all very moved to see old neighbours waiting to say goodbye as we left the funeral parlour, members of the Rotary and Burns clubs flanking the road into the Crematorium, and so many people waiting outside as he was piped in ‘up the hill’ by a well kent local figure (thanks again Colin).

It was a sad day, but a wonderful celebration of the amazing life my Dad lived. He touched the lives of so many, and was proof that being a good guy is something to aspire to.

Here’s what I said (and no, I don’t know how I made it through it without crying):

My father was 5’4, on a good day. Being slightly taller than him I occasionally used to tease him about this, yet he always gave the same good natured reply; Good things come in small packages.

Good is a word I’ve seen used to describe my Dad frequently over the last few days as the messages of condolence and support have flooded in. As well as family and friends, we were all heartened to read the hundreds of responses from ex-pupils as well, all of which used a variety of wonderful adjectives; good, thoughtful, kind, considerate, lovely, generous, best, he even got a ‘legend’, a word I know my Dad would’ve baulked at.

I have many more words I could add to that list but, if I had to pick only one it would be “busy”.

Dad always had something on the go; between the numerous home improvements and landscaping of the garden in Barloan Crescent (under Mums close supervision of course), the races to train for, the choirs to sing in, performances to rehearse, poems to write and learn, any number of helpful projects on the computer and, of course, that was all on top of the usual duties involved with being a devoted husband, and a caring and supportive father. He was always busy, but never too busy for us.

When I think of Dad I guess I’ll always come back to that phrase of his, good things come in small packages.

Those thoughts were running through my head as I drove to Dumbarton last week; on the radio they started discussing the Robert Burns poem, Tae a Moose. In it, Burns looks on with envy at the mouse as it only lives in the present, it’s us humans that are cursed with the ability to dwell on the past and fear the future:

Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An’ forward tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

I don’t fear a future without Dad but it makes me sad to think ahead to the life events he will miss; the beginning of my own family and the continuing bloom of my sisters, not to mention all the missed coffee, cake and ice cream trips with Mum.

Instead I’ll look to the past, not to dwell but to remember the happy times, for there are many to choose from.

Dad was always laidback about life – so laidback he was horizontal – and he was always ready with a silly comment or a smile, always there to support the family however best he could.

Our family home was one full of love, joy, laughter, and a never ending stash of biscuits and sweets. Those, and many more, are the memories I will look back on, the past that I’ll carry with me fondly, as should we all.

My Dad was no mouse and, whilst he may only have been 5’4 (on a good day), I know I’ll always look up to him, and aspire to be, like he was, a good man.

A sad day, but I know Dad wouldn’t want us to dwell. He helped his family find happiness and we will strive to continue to live our lives in that same kind-hearted way he exemplified.

R.I.P. Dad. x