13 years ago today I was in a kind of strange no-mans land. I absolutely knew my father was dying, imminently, but he wasn’t dead…yet.
We had the call from the care home on the Monday night that he had been taken very ill with pneumonia and went up to the hospital, saw him conscious for the last time, and all sat with him through the night as he was made “comfortable” with morphine.
The morning came…and he hadn’t actually died.
So I went home and came back up to the hospital later on and spent the Tuesday with him. No change all day, just a still figure under a sheet, visited occasionally by nurses to wet his lips, each one with a different take on the end of life which was new to me but familiar to them.
Wednesday was a similar story, apart from his bed being moved to a different ward. He was still lying in it, lying in it still and “comfortable” and just breathing rattling breaths.
It seemed so cruel to let him just fade out like this, and I started to panic that he was going to die of starvation before anything else. The truth was (and the nurses and doctors told me) that the pneumonia really meant the end. It would make him feel like he was drowning if it wasn’t for the morphine. What we were seeing was just his brain trying to keep him going with the unconscious, involuntary breathing that keeps us all going from the moment we are born.
All of the goodbyes were said, over and over again, hands held and kisses given. Though he was cold and still, still he didn’t die, despite little lapses where the breaths would pause. I don’t recall the evenings, but I evidently went home again at the end of the day and wondered what was happening whilst waiting for another call.
Which didn’t come.
So I went back again on the Thursday and eventually, he took his last breath. Writing “eventually” makes me sound like I was cross with him for keeping me waiting, but the experience was nothing like that at all. It was getting comical after all these days how he seemed to take his time.
My mum and I were with him for most of the day, but halfway through the afternoon I remember popping out to the loo. I wandered back to the room and my mum said “I think he’s died” and sure enough he really had stopped breathing this time. There was one more last strange breath and that was it.
I wanted there to be a great flood of emotion but there wasn’t. He didn’t even look odd, in as much as his illness had changed his appearance so drastically anyway over the last couple of years ago that trying to rely on how he looked to know who he was or how he was doing was pointless.
I was glad I was there for him, and I was glad I was there for my mum, and I am glad she was there with me and dad. We let the nurse know.
My aunty was coming to visit to keep my mum company and we stayed with him until she arrived with my sister.
Old dead dad.
I don’t recall it being that different to most of the other hundreds of hours I had spent with him in the hospital. You get over the weirdness and the smells and the scary awe of a place where life is either starting, being prolonged or ending. The nurses were all nice. We all said one last goodbye, and we went back to my mum’s for a cup of tea.
My father dying in spring was an interesting thing. There is the northern hemisphere world trying hard to wake up and kickstart the new life of springtime, and your creator, your role model, your dad…has died.
The mechanisms for dealing with it all took place on days that were opening up and filling with the hope of March. There were long walks across fields after visiting the coroner, ending in pub gardens where it was warm enough to sit in a t-shirt. I recall sunshine beaming through windows amidst yellow daffodils in vases as we discussed coffin styles and eulogies amidst the endless cups of tea.
To be honest, the whole thing felt nice and pleasant with the overwhelming knowledge that all the suffering was over, and like so many things to do with a dad who was constant and reliable and provided consistency and reliability, it felt “fortunate” and remarkably straightforward.
It really did turn-out-nice-again, and there was no anguish or regret or reason to play “The Living Years” by Mike And The Mechanics. I had to I think (like so many times before in my life) that it was just the way it was for us, a lucky family for whom really bad things didn’t seem to happen.
Things would look very different a year on, but there you go. I wasn’t to know that at the time.