My father died on Wednesday night. He was very old, very ill and it was a long time since he had been 'my dad'. But because grief is not rational or logical that doesn't seem to make much difference to how it feels. However prolonged the illness and inevitable the outcome (no one ran through the door at the eleventh hour with a cure for Alzheimers) the ending is always a shock, always sudden, always somehow unexpected - and certainly unexpected RIGHT NOW DAD...
And so I find myself twelve hours after he dies in an undertakers in Exeter with my mother and my sister having a slightly surreal experience. The very patient man in the black suit answers all my mother's questions and I am surprised by all of them. Does the rest of the world not have a Masters in terminal illness, dying, death, funeral procedures and planning? We choose a coffin, hymns, readings, music my father loved and after what feels like hours it is organised. A long life all wrapped up. We go to see him in the chapel there and he looks fabulously handsome and peaceful and just like my dad has always looked. It is my dress rehearsal - I can look death in the eye and not be frightened by it.
So anyway. My father. He was a dying breed which, used to describe anyone else, is a crashing cliche and used to describe my father is right on the money. He was a true gentleman educated in the most traditional of British establishments and working and raising his family in a similarly traditional way. He was the most unassuming man I have ever met and would be mortified to be the centre of attention in this way and for his death to have coincided so horribly with Rose's deterioration. Always busy and happy he loved life, cricket, his garden, his children and his grandchildren. But he saved most of his love for my mother with whom he shared an old fashioned love story for over fifty years. These are some of the memories and catchphrases from my childhood that have played out in my mind over the last few days which will always sum up my father for me.
'I can see blue sky' Usually in the pouring rain in Devon in August. The term 'blue sky thinking' was surely coined with my father in mind - the kind of eternal optimism totally foreign to me. And potentially incredibly annoying...
'Goodnight, god bless, sleep well, see you in the morning, I love you' - night after night for about a million years as he put me to bed.
'Shall I light the bonfire before lunch?' A man of routine.
'Oh yes, so-and-so, they were an old client of mine...' Literally every company you ever mentioned. Bizarre.
More recent memories of him with my children - bowling patiently to a two-foot high Felix hour after hour, teaching him to play chess, building farms and dolls houses out of cardboard boxes for them both and so on. Top memories, top man.
I have no faith. But how comforting it would be if I did to imagine that my dad has gone on ahead for Rose to wherever they are both going to set up home and get the old place ready for her. In that mental picture he is of course condemned to an eternity of having his nails painted and watching Charlie and Lola and Dr Who with her but with what great gusto he would rise to the occasion.