Goodbye Dad – 20th January 2011
On Thursday evening, just a month after my Grandma passed away, it was time to say goodbye to Dad as well.
Unlike my Grandma, we’d had more time to prepare for it although sadly this doesn’t make the whole experience any easier to go through.
Dad had been suffering from heart failure for the last couple of years of his life. In addition he had anaemia, myelodysplasia and nasty leg ulcers which needed new dressings every day.
In spite of all of his medical complications, he remained cheerful to the end and bravely accepted all of his symptoms as they took over. In many ways it was harder for Mum as she sought to provide the best care she could for him including making appointments with various specialists, liaising with District Nurses and carers, arranging for blood transfusions and all while doing her best to maintain a sense of normality for them both.
I remember many happy holidays as a family when growing up. Dad would usually take two weeks off work and we spent time everywhere from Devon up to Scotland. We would normally hire a cottage for a week or two which would give us the freedom to come and go as we pleased.
One of my favourite holidays was one spent in the tiny village of Shieldaig in the Western Highlands of Scotland. We travelled up by train on the now defunct Motorail. This involved driving your car onto a train, then getting onto another carriage, going to sleep overnight and waking up in Inverness before reclaiming your car – what a fantastic concept! While we were in Scotland we travelled to the islands of Lewis and Harris and also spent a night away travelling up to the northern tip of Scotland. The scenery was amazing and it’s one holiday that I’m determined to relive with my own children.
Dad was of the era when you spent all of your working life at the same company and he worked at the Head Office of Milwards Shoes in Reading as an Assistant Company Secretary. I’ve no idea what he did there, but I remember that he had his own office and I felt that he must therefore have been quite important! I spent a few weeks there over a couple of summers in the less glamorous role of ‘Warehouse Assistant’!
Dad took early retirement from Milwards shortly before they were taken over by Clarks Shoes in 1994 and he and Mum enjoyed many happy holidays abroad in staying in various countries from Switzerland to Norway as well as visiting relations in Canada.
For many years Dad looked after the finances at our local church, Parkside Christian Fellowship. When he finally stood down, due to ill-health, I found records that showed him counting the money from the collection when only a teenager! He was also the organist for more years than I can recall, as well as starting the hymns in the morning – a role that I have rather reluctantly undertaken in recent months.
Dad lived out his Christian life in a very quiet and reserved way. Messages that I received following news of his passing speak of him being ‘a quiet but great encourager’, ‘a gentleman’, ‘an inspiration to all’, ‘a shining example to us all’, and having ‘a smile that lit up the room and genuine love and concern for all he spoke to’. His wasn’t a showy Christianity but rather a living out of his personal faith in his everyday life.
Dad wasn’t a ‘platform speaker’ but he had an amazing knowledge of the Bible and his unique way of linking numerous verses together on a Sunday morning will be remembered by many.
Dad had a great love for all of the family and would do anything he could to help out any of us. He was also loved by his seven grandchildren and he used to enjoy spending time with all of them.
The last two years of Dad’s seventy-eight years were not the best. He was diagnosed with heart-failure in 2009 and the quality of his life began to gradually diminish. At first this manifested itself with him not being able to walk as far as he used to as well as getting tired easily and frequently dozing off. More recently his legs required daily dressings and since April 2010 he spent over 100 nights in hospital.
Thursday, 20th January was not a nice day. I had visited Dad the evening before with Mum. We had found him in bed and very agitated. He didn’t seem to be aware of our presence. We felt then that this could be the beginning of the end.
On Thursday morning the hospital called to report that Dad had suffered a cardiac arrest at about 6am. He had come through that but they still thought we should come in. We arrived at about 9am not knowing what to expect. Dad was unconscious and propped up in bed on oxygen. His breathing was noisy and laboured – something that Mum particularly felt upsetting. All of the immediate family (Mum, Adrian and Heather) were there and we were joined by Dad’s brother who had driven up from Southampton.
I took Mum home in the afternoon and returned in the evening with Heather to see Dad. He was much more peaceful, lying down and still receiving oxygen. We spent about an hour with him talking to him and to each other. My Uncle Noel (Dad’s brother-in-law) joined us towards the end. We left him at about 8.30pm happy that he was in God’s hands and He would take him in his own time. Dad passed away at about 10.30pm. I like to think that he deliberately waited until he was alone because he wouldn’t want to put anyone through seeing him take his final breath.
Dad’s passing leaves an immense hole in our lives. He was a much-loved husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, cousin and friend. While it is a relief for him that he is no longer suffering any pain and discomfort and is now with his Lord, for those who are left, and particularly Mum, whose life has been marked by loving care and unstinting devotion to her husband, it will be a long and difficult path to walk.
We are thankful that as Christians we do not walk this path alone. One of my favourite Psalms, Psalm 121 says:
1 I lift up my eyes to the hills — where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip — he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you — the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm — he will watch over your life;
8 The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
On 20th January 2011 my life changed forever when I lost the best father I could ever hope to have. A man whose final years were so beset with illness and yet marked out with such bravery, acceptance and good humour. A man who I was immensely proud to call my Dad and someone who I can only try to measure up to as I bring up my own children.
I won’t remember him gasping out his final breaths on a bed in hospital, but rather, full of life, with that trademark smile and a twinkle in his eye.
Goodbye Dad. I’ll see you again one day. I love you and miss you more than you will ever know.