A lot can happen in a year and this year my dad died. It’s fair to say that the day we buried him I also buried a part of myself. Dad was a genuinely decent man and I’ll miss him.
Over the years, Dads life had been anything but easy. But to his credit, he rarely complained about anything, he simply wasn’t wired that way.
As a teenager, he broke his back and spent six months in a cast. As a result of that early injury, he spent the rest of his life in pain but he absolutely point-blank refused to let it stop him being active. On his 50th birthday, he even began running marathons!
As a way to cope with his pain, he often used humor. Some of his jokes were so bad they were actually quite funny. I once asked him how much it cost to get married and without missing a beat he said, “I’m really not too sure son, I’m still paying for it.” He’d been married to my mom for more than sixty years and with some degree of predictability, he always joked that the first fifty-nine were the hardest.
Mom and Dad were inseparable best friends, in all their time together, they never spent a night apart. So the day Dad complained of chest pain they even went off to the doctor together. The doctor shook her head and immediately sent them to the hospital for more testing. Legend has it that they even rode in the ambulance together, holding hands.
Once there, Dad was put through a pretty intense examination. It was then deemed necessary to keep him for observation. Now separated from each other, Dad quickly found himself being prodded and poked by a team of eager medical students. The following morning, I managed to call him while he was still on the ward. When I asked how he was doing, he mentioned the large needle they plunged into his left lung kinda hurt. Because he so rarely complained, I knew this must have hurt him far more than he was saying.
Dad was then told to drink Barium. If you haven’t heard of this before, Barium is used in medicine to highlight any defects during an X-ray. It’s also used as an insoluble additive in oil well drilling. Its even added to fireworks to make that bright green color! One of the known side effects of drinking Barium is it can cause a hiatal hernia (an internal defect that causes the stomach to slide partially into the chest).
Despite the risks (and being eighty years old), Dad was then told to drink a second batch. The doctors then carried out another round of high radiation x-rays. Once finished, they drew more blood and sent it away for testing.
The next time I called him he asked me to pray for him, only this time there was no punchline. This struck me as quite odd because neither had been inside a church for quite some time. I could only guess that the tests they had been running on him had been pretty intense.
Later that evening I called him again.
Dads mind had always been as sharp as a tack and as we talked I noticed his thoughts were wandering off track. As the conversation unfolded it became clear that he had been given heavy-duty painkillers. After the liquid Barium sulfate, I began to wonder how his liver and kidneys would cope.
A week later Dad had been seen by six specialists. When all his test results were in, all six sat around him in a semi-circle. Each then told him he was going to die.
Dad had always been a very positive man and rarely expressed any outward sign of emotion that might cause others to worry. My sister sat behind him and she later told me that when he heard the doctors’ news, his large square shoulders suddenly dropped. His heart was still beating but I believe this was the exact moment that he lost all hope. Following that damning diagnosis, his beautiful, determined inner spirit begun to wither. He was then sent home and told to get his estate in order.
As if he hadn’t been through enough already, a day nurse then came to visit him twice daily. She brought with her a signed order to inject him with warfarin. This was deemed necessary to prevent blood clots. My suggestion that Hawthorne might be a better fit for an eighty-year-old man was immediately scoffed at.
Emotion got the better of me and I found myself shouting into the phone that warfarin would kill him quicker than any blood clot. It might surprise you to know that warfarin is the same product used in rat poison.
By the time I had booked my flight to come and see him, the emergency services had already been called. A team of paramedics was standing over his body trying to resuscitate him. Before I could even board the plane, Dad’s life had come to an abrupt end.
With no sign of life left in his body, the paramedics packed up their bulky equipment and left. Mom, of course, instinctively went back to holding his hand. Only after the warmth left his fingers did she think to call me long distance to deliver the news. With a great deal of dignity in her voice, she uttered these words, “I wanted to be the one to tell you that we lost Dad today.”
Given his situation, I was half expecting this call but it still hurt like a punch in the gut. A few days later I was back in the UK and saw mom standing without her best friend for the first time. She did what all good moms do in the face of adversity of course and simply smiled through her pain.
For more than six decades, she had cooked, cleaned and cared for Dad. Later at the funeral, she somehow found the strength to go around and thank each and every person for coming. I now have a much deeper understanding of what the term “paying your last respects” really means.
I can only imagine what was going through her mind as we watching the casket lower into the ground. A profound feeling of emptiness washed over me and I was left pondering the meaning of this life.
Dad was ill, and I accept that. And to be fair, everyone was doing the best they could in extremely difficult circumstances. But when six experts tell a human spirit that it’s about to die, I believe that is what it does.
Like a small pilot light the human spirit burns brightly inside us wherever there is hope. It can accomplish things far beyond our understanding. But it’s also as delicate as a candle in the wind.
Rest peacefully Dad, I’ll miss your face and even your terrible jokes.