What is supposed to happen when your father dies? There’s no definitive rule and I’m not given to public displays of emotion and not very much even to private ones, for that matter. Letting things simmer away inside is my way. I received the sad news earlier this month and clicked into action mode, organising flights to England and a hire car from Heathrow.
This news was deeply sad and quite unexpected, despite dad’s steadily declining health over recent years. His sudden departure was remarkably similar in speed to my mum’s a decade ago, though different in cause. After fracturing his hip in a fall at home dad slipped away over a two week period. There was a brief and encouraging rally after a few days but the outcome is so often grim for a hip fracture in the elderly and dad‘s weak kidneys and lungs succumbed to the effects of the trauma.
I flew home to visit last January and I am very thankful I did. I spent three weeks lodging with dad and although I was out most days visiting relatives, friends and my two adult sons, I still spent a good deal of time with him. He was more introspective than ever, more detached from reality and the modern world, more confused by technology yet he was still dad – not the dad of old, with sharp intellect, resolve and reliable memory but still dad, just about.
It’s ghastly the way time slowly robs us of our personality as we age. It’s as if we develop a new personality fit for each stage of life but the one we spend our final months with is a far cry from the one of our heyday.
Perhaps it’s that steady but inexorable shift, that winding down, which prepares those who are about to be left behind. I had watched dad’s decline from afar and sometimes up close so when the end came I was not devastated but able to appreciate the relative lack of suffering, the degree of dignity dad experienced up to the end. That’s not to say the scene my brother and sister witnessed over the final hours was not distressing, it was but dad was spared perhaps years of miserable institutional living. A stubbornly independent soul, he would not have taken well to living in a nursing home, nor to the daily routine of kidney dialysis.
The funeral service and requiem mass was very well-attended. Many old friends, cousins, nephews and nieces, grandchildren, in-laws and former work colleagues were there as well as his surviving brother and three children. A few days earlier I had composed a eulogy which I was invited to read aloud during the service. It was a little history of dad’s life and times, his achievements, his likes and dislikes and little details those who knew him would remember. I enjoyed giving it and I’m glad I did.
In no time at all I was aboard a Boeing 767 bound for Toronto then on to Charlottetown and being greeted my wife and daughters. Deaths remind us of our own mortality and the shocking brevity of life. They allow us an opportunity to celebrate the life of another in ways we seldom do in their lifetime.
Take nothing for granted.