My lovely father died 12 days ago. As I mentioned in my last post, he had cancer for several years and we knew the end was near. Yet when it came, it was sudden and a shock. In fact, we had been expecting him to go home from hospital that day or the next and to have a few more months of life. That morning my mother was at home and rearranging furniture to make it easier for him to navigate the house with his new zimmer frame.
Death is rarely tidy; the loose ends aren’t tied up, we don’t get to say everything we want to say, we don’t get to say goodbye. One of my sisters was with Dad when he died, but my mother and another sister were still on their way to the hospital. Their home is an island, so getting to hospital took several hours. I live so far away that I didn’t even have time to try. My sadness at his passing still comes in waves, but I have precious memories of him, of lovely conversations we had, particularly those in his last few weeks of life.
My last conversation with Dad was the day before he died. Together, we were recording some of his memories, mainly from when he was seventeen and working at the building of a radar station during World War II. I had hoped to piece it all together into an article to send to the local paper in the hope it would be published while he was still alive. We didn’t finish in time, and as yet I’m not sure if I’ll carry on with the article.
But that last day, Dad didn’t talk about the days he and his workmates hid in cliff tops as Nazi bombers flew overhead. Instead he talked about his school days. He grew up on the same island he is now buried on, the same island I grew up on. But when Dad went to school, life was very different to how it was for my sisters and I, let alone now. In my father’s day the school had two teachers – not two teachers who also had support from visiting specialists, but two teachers. They taught everything. Boys and girls were often separated out, girls doing needlework and boys doing “technical.” In technical subjects (now called Craft, Design and Technology in the UK) my children have learned to make wooden spatulas, plastic clocks and metal brooches. Back in the 1930s, my father and his friends got raffia work.
Dad told me that he was a slow learner when he was young. But he didn’t tell me why. My mother later explained that his poor eyesight meant he couldn’t see the blackboard properly, and even when he got glasses, he needed to put them on to read the board and then and take them off to copy what was written. It took him longer to copy information than it did his classmates. And if Dad had a slow start to learning, he never gave up. He was still learning new things in the last days of his life, getting to grips with a mobile phone so that he could get calls from his hospital bed. Until then he’d largely left the phone for to my mother to deal with. The reason he’d left it to her was once again because of eyesight difficulties, since he was by then registered as partially blind. He also had two hearing aids.
Resilience is a word that comes to mind when I think about my father. From that boy who couldn’t see the blackboard to the man who made monthly round trips of over 500 miles for chemotherapy, to the man who sang folk songs with the nurses days before he died, my father kept going. Several years ago, that resilience inspired me to write a short story His Grandparent’s House, which is one of the stories in my ebook collection Looking For America.
Losing your father isn’t easy. This post probably looks as neatly organised as any other I’ve done. There’s been nothing, so far, to indicate the many times I’ve stopped typing and wondered if I should carry on. You can’t see the tears that have rolled down my cheeks from time to time. But you know them. If you’ve ever lost someone you love, you know how I’m feeling. In the turmoil of these past few days I had forgotten that Looking For America was due to be free on Amazon this weekend. At first, when I remembered, I didn’t much care. But perhaps it is a suitable way to honour my Dad’s life, to absorb some of his resilience. Besides, at least one other character was also inspired by him. Another quality that shone from him was devotion, and in Tea or Cocoa, the elderly character, Jimmy, displays the same quality as he looks after his ailing wife. And besides, Dad was so supportive of my writing, so I think he’d like me to share it now.
If you would like a copy of Looking For America, just follow this link and download it from Amazon.com. For any other Amazon site, just change .com to your country’s – the rest of the url remains the same.