My dad died in the early hours of Friday 19th February 2016, and while I’m glad to be able to say that his last moments were peaceful, nothing can fill the absence he leaves in the world. Having been delirious last weekend, he snapped back into focus on Tuesday and seemed to be recovering well by Wednesday evening. While this means that this morning has come as a brutal shock to the family, I’m grateful that we had the opportunity to speak to the man properly this week, to experience the weirdness of his brain one last time, to discover fresh examples of its dark humours (“I’m on the bottle, your mother’s shooting up – some parents”), and to let him know that we had been there for him throughout it all.
He told us that he would never tire of having us there to visit. I only hope that he knew how much he was loved in return, not just by his family but by everyone he met.
Let’s not fuck about: multiple sclerosis made the last couple of decades of my father’s life a constant struggle. It’s been hard on him, and on my mum, and on everyone who’s watched him lose his strength and once ample capability. He never lost his charm or determination though, never stopped trying to do things, whether that meant working from home or washing the dishes or latterly just feeding himself. My dad’s been more in demand at parties than me for a while now, and rightly so – given the choice, I’d definitely rather speak to him than myself. I know he was frustrated by his inability to keep up with computer technology as everything moved to a touch screen format that was no use to him, but my weekly battles with this desktop computer have been a testament to his determination to keep learning how to do new things. We should all be so tenacious.
My dad made new friends everywhere he went. You can count how many people in any social gathering have met my dad by how many of them are asking after him at every opportunity. He will be missed.
To be selfish for a moment: this man made me, not just literally but spiritually. He read me Lord of the Rings when I was a baby and inflicted Richard Thompson and King Crimson on me throughout my childhood, thus dooming me to a life of baroque, grumpy fantasy and reactions against the same. I can’t think of a better upbringing, even if I did cringe that time he blasted ‘Yankee Go Home’ as we drove a rental car down International Drive. (This memory of his over-enthusiasm comes bound up in another one, of his creative kindness, of him comforting me as my ears popped on the return journey by putting on a sketch about a drunken ET as we landed. I hope I never forget this; I doubt I ever will.) He also made time to learn how to play Magic the Gathering with his awkward lump of a teenage son – no easy task for a busy adult! – and to challenge me when I was taking ridiculous pride in some petty victory, or allowing the opinions of idiots to define me, or being a total fanny about filling in job applications (I had principles, maaaaan).
To be less selfish: I do not think that I have ever seen anything as beautiful as the attempts he made to comfort my mum this week while he was clearly in a lot of pain. Those of you who know my family will know that my mother’s health isn’t exactly sparkling, and there are stories of my dad looking out for her that are plainly heroic. Once, when he realised my mum was dangerously far along a diabetic hypo in the middle of the night, he rolled out of his side of the bed and pulled himself round to the phone on her side of the bed using his one working arm. They subsequently moved the phone beside him, a choice that removed some of the potential for high drama from their lives, but made life a hell of a lot easier for him if he had to call an ambulance in the middle of the night.
My words can’t conjure my dad as he was, and as I wish he still could be. I don’t know enough about his life as a tax inspector or as a guy you’d play football with or as a son or a brother to do him justice. I helped him print off a booklet full of in-jokes for his pals’ golf outing but I wasn’t there to see him earn the booby prize. All I know is that I love him, and that his memory will burn bright in the mind of all those who knew him, rendering all of the above unnecessary.