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August 26, 2018

It’s cold wet Bank Holiday Sunday in High Wycombe. The rain is coming down in buckets and I’ve dragged some frozen chili out of the fridge to ensure I don’t have to go shopping today, closed the windows and put some home-made bread in the oven. Only a week or so ago I was having to take a shower before I went to bed to get through the humid sweaty nights but now the English weather has worked its obnoxious miracle and I’m thinking that soon it will be time to turn the heaters back on after their summer break and start digging out wooly tops.

It was a pleasant autumnal day, the August Bank Holiday weekend twenty four years ago and the woods (Burnham Beeches I think) were looking particularly lovely as we drove to the hospital where my father had been taken, for the last visits just before and just after he passed away.

He had been complaining for several months before that he had felt something peculiar happen in the left side of his head. He said it felt as if something had ‘gone click’ behind his eye and he told all the doctors he could get to about it but they could see nothing abnormal. I often wonder if we had MRIs commonly available then whether they would have spotted anything.

He was also under unusual strain the Friday before he died. He had been summoned to court on a charge of careless driving, a thing that had never happened to him before and which I was never sure was justified then or after. He had been in a near collision at a tricky junction and the other driver was determined that it was all my dad’s fault.

Dad was a worrier and he let himself worry himself into a right state. He had gone to have his hair cut that morning and when he returned home he was standing in the living room when he said to my mum “I think I’m having a stroke” and fell full length on the floor.

I had, at last, moved out of the family home earlier that summer, to a council flat a few miles away. Dad had, of course, tried to take over the project, getting involved in a way that spoke volumes about how much he assumed I’d cock things up. We had quarrelled as we often did.

So I wasn’t there and Mum had got things together so well that she had Dad in the hospital and under care before she bothered to ring me and my brother to let us know. Her first call was full of optimism. Dad wasn’t dead and she’d spoken to him when he came around. There were some problems with his speech but people recovered from that with care and therapy.

But by the time the family had gathered to visit him that evening he had undergone another stroke. He knew us and understood us but wasn’t speaking.

On the Saturday he got seen by the doctor who had been treating him long term for his diabetes and he gave my mum, my brother and me the clear and definitive Word. The damage done by the first rupture in his brain (behind the left eye somewhere, oh yes) had led to further damage being done later and we could expect to see him leave us soon.

By now he very nearly unaware of our presence. He had slipped further when we went to see him Sunday morning and after we drove back to the family home the call came that he had gone.

It is the details that stay with me, rather than any great meaning. The doctor saying that he had seen this sort of progression with his own father (and me wondering if that was true or just a good line in reassurance), the trees turning golden as they underwent their yearly death, the last time Dad smiled at us, a rather rueful smile, my sister in law being the most tearful of us all.

I can’t just now find the poem I wrote for him afterwards, an apology, however partial for my churlishness in our last days together. He is still with me in my dreams and memory until I too go down into the darkness. Which I always worry will be sooner than I think when I get a pain in my left sinus and think: “Is today the day I feel ‘something go click’ there?”

The picture above is Middle Pond at Burnham Beeches.

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