When the nurse came into the room and told me – ‘I’m so sorry, Lesley, but it’s time to consider your choice of funeral director’. That was when my life changed.
Until that point, the prospect of losing my dad had always been at the back of my mind, as a cruel threat. Like when we were in Anglesey together and he fell asleep in the holiday cottage. It was the year after the death of my mum, or perhaps two years after. However long it was, his grief was still excruciating, and numb-able only by alcohol and company. I’d been putting the children to bed and returned to our huge holiday home living room. Dad’s position (head fully back, almost at a right angle to his body, mouth wide open, eyes closed, skin grey) shocked me the second I saw him. I edged towards him, calling his name. My hands shook as I reached out to shake him. He woke. Oh my god, he woke. He was alright, just deep asleep.
And there were times when his drinking was out of control. His first introduction to my new boyfriend was when I had to call him to help me pull my dad up from the kitchen floor. Again, it was in the early days after mum’s death. Again, there was the involvement of the numbing power of drink. My boyfriend was nonplussed – he’d told me many a time that his entire early life had revolved around over-drinking. He was accustomed to scooping up people.
So, I’d been worried about my dad before, and been there to help him out, but I’d never been told that he was dead…
I barely had a chance to respond. I’d been talking to dad in the cardio ward, holding his hand and having a giggle. The nurses were extremely concerned about dad’s blood pressure, heart rate, potassium levels etc. He’d gone into hospital because he’d felt dizzy and fallen in the kitchen. He thought he’d broken a rib. But when he arrived they realised his fall was likely due to a mild heart attack.
He’d broken into a far more major heart attack when I was with him. I was encouraged to leave the room as they began to resuscitate him. I was led, gently and compassionately, to the Family Room and remained there alone, for 30 minutes. During this time I tried to dad’s partner and other family members.
The door opened. ‘I’m so sorry, Lesley, but it’s time to consider your choice of funeral director.’ She told me they couldn’t bring him round.
They’d been working on him for half an hour, with no response. He was gone. And, within a few moments of me hearing her words, and staring at her in disbelief, there was another knock on the Family Room’s door. ‘We tried one last time. We got him. Your dad’s back. 34 minutes, and we got him back.’ Or words to that effect.
I was a mess. And that feeling lasted for another fourteen months, till I received the news, on Brexit election day, that my dad would not survive from a terrible heart infection which had led to pneumonia, chest infection, liver failure, kidney failure. The doctors had done what they could, but it was now all about end of life care. And the following morning, I received a 5am phone call from Wythenshawe hospital advising me to come down. I told them I would be with them as soon as I had dropped the kids at school. But there was something in their voices I didn’t quite understand. I wanted to ask if he was dying, but I knew they weren’t able to tell me. I said I’d be there as soon as I could. I roused the kids and told them I had to go to hospital and they had to come with me. Within a few hours, dad was gone. A heavily pregnant nurse who’d cared for dad wept almost as much as I did at his leaving us.
Special moments. I was glad I was there for him, as he had always been there for me. But I also wish I hadn’t been there. Because as we approach the 2 year anniversary of losing my dad, I know that every time I think of this story, I will cry. Because these are defining moments, not in the life of my dad, but in the death of my dad. Things are still too raw for me to be able to confine these to the back of my mind for now, to be pulled out in quiet moments of contemplation. Soon, I shall only dwell on his life: on his funny but infuriating IT support calls; on his insistent generosity; on his 2 digit text messages – OK; on his cheeky smile; his silly dancing; on the way he walked with hands behind his back; on his sports jackets and his explosive laughs at the most mundane of mainstream comedy. He was one in a million, and I was lucky to call him my dad.