My parents (1) – my father

One of the reasons I started this blog was to write about the big things in life that happen when you reach 40.

I didn’t really intend to write about tales from my Spanish village or shootings on the Spain/Gibraltar frontier.

So for once, this post is a personal one.

I left the UK towards the end of the year. I think it was November. It was a big move, not in terms of any fear of what I was doing, but more a sort-of momentous change of life thing. When we left, we did not stop off to see my parents. I didn’t want any emotional manipulation and apart from anything else, we were actually late leaving home – and we had a ferry to catch.

On our travels I bought a mobile phone so I could keep in touch with them. Or they could with me, whichever way you want to look at it.

My dad rang a few times early the following year to say he wasn’t feeling well. One call always sticks in my mind because I was sitting on the beach at Camping Chullera, south of Estepona, looking at Gibraltar. I talked to my dad about Gib because he was there during the war. He’d forgotten that I had been there too, on holiday some years ago.

He asked if I would get a cheap charter flight to go and see him. I wasn’t impressed with that. I hadn’t flown for years, and I wasn’t planning on flying at all, certainly not cheap charter. I doubted my dad would get a cheap charter flight. In fact I suggested he did, and then we could see each other. He could even fly to Gib. Stalemate. He didn’t want to fly cheap charter either.

My dad was the sort of guy, who, when I first got married and arranged a day out with my mother – in Harrogate, bit of shopping and very nice lunch – suddenly takes ill on the morning of said trip. Mother naturally feels obliged to cancel trip and look after him. Helpful Partner assures her there is no problem and he would look after my dad. Haha.

As soon as we had gone out of the door, and the ruse had failed, father was reinvigorated and suggested they cleared off to the pub. In fact, he’d never been particularly sick in his life apart from a bad back, so I wasn’t very impressed with being summonsed back from a camp site in Spain to the UK because he was feeling sorry for himself.

Some months later my mother rang me. We had bought the house in Spain by then. “Send your father a card, he’s not feeling well.” I did. Never heard any more about it.

Then he was off to hospital for some tests. They were inconclusive. I felt very manipulated. I couldn’t get any sense over the phone and it was clear they wanted me to make the obligatory Dutiful Daughter visit. I didn’t.

Christmas came. Or rather the few days before, and my mother rang. My father had been taken into hospital. She was so stressed and frantic she couldn’t really tell me anything. Partner Who Is Always Right told me to get my arse into gear and go back. It was 18 months since I had seen my parents.

I told my mother I would go back. I think she expected me back on Christmas Day. Given that a) I had to get my head round everything and book tickets, and b) I was going by train and ship, this was impossible. But I did get back on Dec 27.

The neighbours took us to the district hospital the next day. I spotted my dad in the ward before my mum did. He was grey and old, but he looked the same. Sort-of. I guess she was looking for the 25-year-old guy she married and not the old man in his late seventies.

He said thank you for coming. He was never big on words. We chatted and he was a pain in the arse to my mum. He told her he wanted to come out of hospital. Immediately. I talked him into waiting a few days – I couldn’t handle him at home and neither could my mum.

I spoke to the unhelpful staff on the ward desk. They eventually and grudgingly told me he had been admitted with a chest infection. They said he was lucid and alert, as was my mum, and they would do some tests on him.

“What for?” I asked.

“Can’t say.”

I thought this was particularly stupid – having worked in the health service – and told them so. I got abused for trying to pull rank.

Then I went off to the toilet and cried because I realised he was dying and this was the last time I would see him. I dried my eyes and came back out.

I went to the desk and got some more information and insisted that the geriatrician ring me at home. Instead of relying on the unhelpful tosspots on the desk.

I went back to my mum and dad and we chatted a bit more and then we left. Total visit, maybe an hour.

After that visit, I went a few more times on my own. I got the bus, the visit took up most of the day, or at least the travel did. I took him some new pyjamas as a belated Christmas present. He had always been large, so I bought a large size. But they were too big, he had lost so much weight, and he asked me who they belonged to.

One day I asked him if he wanted a drink. There was a bottle of water and a glass. “Yes, please. I’ll have a large gin with a drop of water.”

“Sorry, dad, there isn’t any gin here. Do you want the water?”

“No.”

Over the next few days I told him about his patient’s rights. Well, no-one else seemed to. He could refuse tests. He could refuse operations. He had the right to ask for information about anything and everything that was suggested/recommended/ordered. I don’t know whether I said all that wearing my patient’s advocate hat, or just as his daughter who didn’t want to see him deprived of making his own choices. He’d missed out sometimes in his life so I thought he should at least get the chance to make some choices of his own at the end.

I wasn’t perfect. I didn’t want him home and I knew my mum couldn’t cope with him. She couldn’t move him around. And I was frightened of him. Even though he was ill, and old, and frail, I still didn’t want to sleep under the same roof as him. I told him he could discharge himself if he wanted. He would have to call a taxi, dress himself, and pay for everything. I wasn’t going to do it for him, and I knew he couldn’t do it either.

How do you balance it? I wanted him to die peacefully, the way he wanted. I wanted to look after myself and my mum. No easy answers.

One day he said to me:

“I’m going to die aren’t I?”

I couldn’t think of a sensible answer. “Yes” seemed just a bit too blunt even for two people from Yorkshire.

I said something like: “Well, we all have to die sometime, dad,” and felt so inadequate.

He didn’t reply. He probably wanted me to say no, but I couldn’t.

We were his only visitors, but he did say he didn’t want to see anyone else, but I couldn’t visit at weekends because there was no bus from the village. He rang my mum on the days I didn’t get to go. He must have felt so lonely – or alone – or both.

On New Year’s Eve the hospital rang me late at night. My mum was asleep. He had had a fit. They asked if he had ever had one before (no), and told me they weren’t sure if he would last the night. Could we go in? No we couldn’t. No car. And, I didn’t want to stress my mum in the middle of the night for a false alarm.

I slept on the sofa and asked them to ring if there was any more news. In the morning, he seemed to be stable. There was no public transport and I didn’t want to ask the neighbours again. I went to see him the day after. He must have been medicated up to the eyeballs because he talked to me about people I had never heard of, and seemed to think I was going home to see his mum (my grandmother). The next couple of visits he was ok.

The district hospital was obviously sick of him though. He was taking up a bed and he had refused any further tests –I think I can take the credit/blame for that – so they decided to ship him off to a local cottage hospital. Easier for me it had to be said.

So I spent the next couple of weeks trudging backwards and forwards on the bus into the local town and then walking 20 or 30 mins to the inconvenient hospital. Needless to state it snowed, and the pavements were covered with sheet ice while I was struggling backwards and forwards with his laundry.

My mother couldn’t manage the public transport. We did it once and she was so cold waiting for the bus. She had to get a taxi after that at £20 round trip. Not something to do every day on a pension.

Dad looked very tired. The nursing staff got him out of bed every day and dressed him, so instead of falling asleep in bed, he got to fall asleep in a chair. I’m not sure of the added value – less bed sores?

He fell asleep when I went to visit him. He was reading a John Buchan book, but he didn’t seem to get very far with it. He stopped asking about coming home. He had a nasty bruise on his forehead from when he had fallen at the district hospital.

I left many a time in tears because I didn’t want to cry in front of him. I didn’t even know what to say any more.

One day I got home and told my mum I couldn’t go any more. I was so tired and felt very drained. She told me to go back to Spain, my dad was stable and they were talking about bringing him home soon with a care package.

So I left. I stopped over in London to see some university friends and it was such a break. I rang my mum from Dover and there was no different news, so I boarded the ferry for France and then got the overnight sleeper from Paris to Madrid, and then back down to Málaga.

It was good to be back in Spain. The morning after I arrived my mum rang. Partner answered the phone. My dad had died in his sleep that morning.

Apparently after I left he had deteriorated. They moved him into a private room and told my mum she could visit any time.

I arranged the funeral, phoned the relatives and went back. The undertaker, who was superb, took me to the funeral parlour to see my dad. In that sort of practical manner that they have, he commented as we looked at him in the coffin: “He was a big guy wasn’t he?” and then, “I’ll leave you for a few minutes. Just come out when you’re ready.”

My father was the first dead person I had seen. My mum didn’t visit the funeral parlour, she didn’t want to see him. But Partner had suggested I might find it helpful. I did. He still had the bruise on his head too, which I incongruously thought was such a shame. He looked big and frail at the same time in his box. Then Tom drove me home.

The funeral went ok. The organ music was nice, and my father wasn’t particularly religious but he always liked “Eternal Father” from his days in the navy. I only got half way through it although I did try so hard to sing.

Afterwards, my mum’s relatives and my dad’s niece came back to the house. I had put my foot down at the idea of naff pub sandwiches for all and sundry to have a freeby, so I had decided it would be family only at the house.

I made lots of food. But no-one seemed interested, so I never bothered getting it out of the fridge. It kept mum and I going for days afterwards.

I stayed with her for a few weeks, I thought after the funeral would be the hardest time for her and I had all the paperwork to sort too, but eventually we both had to get on with our different lives so I left for Spain again.

It felt so strange after my father died. It was like part of my life was gone. And he wasn’t very old either, 77. I remembered the good times, and the bad times, and then there was a huge sense of loss which I had never felt before.

And I remembered his comment from many years ago, in my late teens or early 20s, when we were in the pub together, having a pint after work. “When I’m gone, it will be up to you to look after you mother…..”

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50 comments on “My parents (1) – my father

  1. I always meant to write about how strange or difficult it is when your parents die, but never got round to it. Recently I’ve read so many similar stories so thought it was time I wrote something.I’m not sure it’s brave though. I have read some things that people have written on the internet that I do consider to be truly brave to share.It wasn’t meant to be sad either. Just life – and death too.

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  2. OH MY, thank you for sharing your personal story with us. Did you have anyone to lean on during that time? I’ve watched my parents bury their parents, and always wondered and feared what I would do when my parents passed.

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  3. Hi Kate,Thats a very personal post,I almost felt like I was snooping.Its hard to lose a parent and someday I have to do that post too.I am so glad that Adrian is someone who is a rock solid person and that he was there thro it all

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  4. A very moving account – losing a parent is awful, isn’t it? My father died 20 years ago – I was 23 at the time and my mum couldn’t cope at all so I had to, being the oldest. It didn’t hit me for about six months and then it was hellish. What about your mum now?

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  5. oh I am so late in catching up with your blog posts, having just found you. I lost my Pa, in June 2005. And have read your post with tears pricking my eyes, and beginning to fall down my cheeks.I think you commented once on a post on my blog when I wrote about losing my Pa, it is the most odd feeling.So many mixed emotions, so many memories, good, bad and indifferent. I had lots of happy memories, but also lots of confused ones,sometimes. And yet, when he died I felt bereft. Cut adrift.Thank you for putting into words some of my feelings too, on this confused subject. My father died suddenly, two weeks after we had to tell him it was not possible for him to come home from the nursing home where he had lived for 3 years, and for those 3 years, he had nagged and nagged us to come home. Causing us both, but me, more than bubby, more anquish and anxiety than I have ever known.The last time I saw him, I really wish, I had known it would have been the last time, cos I did not make my peace with him. We did not fall out, but there was a barrier between us. I think of it every day, and still over two years later, cry about it in the small wee hours of the morning, or on my dog walks with Marvin.Thank you. Jeannie xxxxx

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  6. Oh Gosh Katherine! I can appreciate how difficult that must have been for you.Reminds me of when I lived in Abu Dhabi and on a visit home, my Dad fell ill. Visiting him in hospital he told me he was going to take his own life once he got out – the rationale being, Parkinsons is a deteriorating disease and he wanted to die now before he got too bad and while he wasn’t a burden on anyone.I sobbed all night wondering how I could ever go bck overseas, knowing that would be the last time ever I saw him. I felt as if the breath had been knocked out of me. Seeing the state I was in, my sister, bless her, persuaded him to wait until we came home for good later the following year.He then moved back with his second wife who cares for him and is still with us! Sorry to hijack this, but you just let me think about that again.

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  7. I have no words right now.. this touched a piece of my heart that threatens to cry for you..
    I will say , I understand.. I really do..

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      • When I read your post and you said how you went in the bathroom and cried, it showed me again how helpless we are in the face of our loved ones (especially our parents) dying. That child in us wants to be brave & save them, but alas the evolution of life marches on. You too are very brave my Gib friend, very brave indeed.

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  8. Phew K, you really opened your heart with that post, it’s not often human stories bring tears to my eyes, but that did.
    It must have been so traumatic for you being so far away, I felt bad enough with my dad just being three hours up the motorway. :-(

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    • Sometimes you have to get it out of your system. Writing it down actually helped me to draw a line underneath it.

      Even I still shed a tear sometimes when I read because it brings back that single moment when I realised he was going to die. And I could do nothing about it. he could be operated on, which he wouldn’t have liked, and die later. Either way, it was staring us both in the face with absolute certainty.

      Anyway, I was pointing out that the buses didn’t run on Sundays (NYD, or late afternoon/evening or anything else convenient for hospital visits.)

      I think I was well running on auto-pilot back them….

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    • The link was about providing the super food for the funeral lunch that fed mum and I for ages rather than the rellies who turned up! And after reading through, I realised it was only one line in the whole story.

      It wasn’t meant to be sad. Just what happened. I don’t have any regrets about it. My parents got enough family visits out of me in the past.

      We had a mate who fell out with his dad (claimed he was a drunken old bigot), so his mother fell out with him, she died, and he was full of angst about not speaking to her, and etc etc etc. At least I didn’t have all that crap to go through! Mine was fairly civilised. I was pleased A told me to get back to the UK to see him and look after my mum. Sixth sense I guess.

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    • Five years since I wrote that! Can’t believe it. And nearly ten years since he died (ie next month). It wasn’t meant to be sad though. I wrote it as it felt. Well, in hindsight, but not much difference as it stayed with me. Still does. If you post on yours, I’ll be interested to read. Sometimes better to write these things than squirrel them away.

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      • Wifey won’t stop moving in bed…keeping me awake. I sat up and she says, “You getting up?” “Yes, can’t sleep with all your moving…” “Don’t stay up long you need your sleep” Say what?!

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        • A got up before 6am. Never heard a thing. He was sitting there showered, drinking a cup of tea when the alarm woke me up at 6. I’ve now done two dog walks, fed three boys, and made the packed lunch.

          Forgot to say, every time I read this I end up with tears in my eyes. It was quite a good post. I meant to do the other part ie my mother, but for so long after she had died I couldn’t bring myself to write about it, there’s something about it on Clouds, but not the same way I wrote this as far as I recall. The first parent dying and the second one are very different, especially for an only child.

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          • I gathered you had to be an only child when there was no mention of siblings being involved.

            It probably made things easier in a way…no one else getting in the way of things or trying to hog control of everything. Arguments over who get what before he’s even buried, etc.

            Dealing with my father’s death was a fucking nightmare with my sisters…but I won’t go into that. Suffice it to say, I have nothing to do with half of them now.

            Once I’ve gone through your posts on here, I’ll be looking at clouds.

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          • Yup, it did make it easier, and as I’m a control freak which I freely admit, I could just get on and sort everything. My mother just handed over the reins when my dad died. I looked after all her money and paperwork, Adrian catered for her emotional needs :D

            He’s had nothing to do with his family for years. His mother and his sister made the mistake of criticising me. Me? Really nice Me? He was going to go to his niece’s funeral but didn’t in the end – you’ve probably read the post by now ‘Sarah’.

            Clouds is very different. There are some er raw ? posts. Well, in terms of language and opinions anyway.

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          • That’s a good thing in my opinion.

            Criticise you? How very dare they?!
            I’ve had that problem with one of my sisters and Pat. Same result. So, A is fine in my books. :)

            Yes, I read the post, Sarah. I’ll get to clouds eventually, I’ve already read a few posts on there…raw? you’re trying to entice me. ;)

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          • It was the take me to watford market that started it. Watford was south of her. We were north of her. She wanted him to drive down, pick her up and escort her around the market, then take her home and drive back to ours. She had a bloody driving licence why not go herself? I could see it becoming custom and practice. He rang up and cancelled. The best one was when she decided she would come and live with us. Oh and when she invited herself up for easter and we said no but she turned up anyway.

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          • I can’t stand people like that.

            I would have helped you out until you got back on your feet, but that’s me.

            Everybody has their lows.It’s at times like that they find out who their friends and family really are.

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          • Yeah, I’m not exactly fond of her :D FFS, her eldest son and his wife? Anyway her cooking was terrible, my mother’s was superb and we got free beers at my parents as well :) No competition really.

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  9. Thank you for sharing the link with me. I am glad that you got to see your dad in hospital. I remember when me and my sister went to see my grandad at the funeral directors, he looked so peaceful. We couldn’t see dad, there had been a post mortem and there had to be a closed coffin. I understand what you mean about the manipulation! All the best

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    • Yeah, it was good that I went. Not sure if I got my first grey hair afterwards though 😉

      I did everything my partner suggested, and selfishly it was a good closure for me. I felt sorry for him, I don’t know if his life flashed in front of him, but my 40 years or so of him did for me. We didn’t have any emotional chats, it wasn’t that sort of family.

      Not sure whether there wasn’t anything to say, or no need to say anything.

      Best wishes to you too. I think the impact of parental deaths is underestimated in many cases.

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  10. Phew … don’t recall reading this piece before.
    Quite draining.
    Your story sounded similar to what my mother went through with her father, and later her mum, who was another story all together.
    My grandmother despised my father for taking ”her daughter away”. Odd. None so queer as folk.

    My dad is chirpy as a canary, but he hits 82 next year. Mum, 80.
    Reading how you felt such a loss at your dad’s passing, these days I keep getting the jitters every time I answer the phone and hear it’s an overseas call.
    Such is life …

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    • And you were just reading it …

      There was a whole thing about ‘taking son/daughter away’ back then wasn’t there? Suspect my MiL thought the same of me stealing her most useful child.

      In a way, I’m glad it happened when I was younger ie 40s. I really couldn’t hack it all now. Our neighbour’s grandmother is now in a home and so neighbour’s father spends half his time flying back to the UK from Gib. And of course, the money is just vanishing into thin air. In the health service, a colleague who worked with nursing homes pointed out how odd it was that residents often died shortly after the moet, moet? (pred text) no, money had run out … Although I guess the moet would have run out too.

      I always intended to do the sequel to this about my mother and I could never bring myself to do it. I think I’ve written bits about her, but not a dedicated post. I should do, I’m probably a bit more objective now after 11 years. It’s quite sad, quite poignant, but at least it has a neat and tidy ending.

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  11. This post touches me. I empathize with you; I truly do. <3

    This type of writing and vulnerability takes a lot of courage Roughseas. I commend you for doing it and continue doing it whenever necessary. Take solace that your Dad, at least in some ways, DID choose how and when he wanted to go, thanks to you. Nothing wrong at all with missing him either. Hugs Darling.

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    • Thanks sweetheart. It’s years ago now. I can’t believe how long ago in fact. Like you, Partner’s father died when he was young, 21, although he’d seen very little of him. But 40+ years of a parent? And then – not there. It was weird.
      And, as I said, I wasn’t that perfect given that he would have liked to have died at home (lots of studies about that one in the UK health service), and neither I (fear) nor my mother wanted him home. I think my mother’s reasons were the physical work looking after him that she couldn’t manage and his general irrascibility. At 78 it’s not that easy becoming a carer. When he’d got moved to the private room, ie the he’s-about-to-die room, she told me she’d had a conversation with him that she wouldn’t share. And she never did. Whatever it was it was something special, whether good or bad. It reminded me of something my dad once said when I was young, ‘I will always love your mother first’. By the time my mother told me about whatever it was they talked about, I’d learned that sometimes, there is a bond between people that isn’t yours to invade. Sometimes, parents don’t fully consider children, but equally, ours as children, to accept our parents and their relationship with each other which is very different to the parental role. Which is clearly why I’m not a parent :)

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  12. Oh my. That is so sad. I’m so sorry for your loss. And at the risk of interjecting my own, some of my dad’s last words to me were “take care of your mom” and that I patch things up with my brother. I took care of mom untill she passed three yrs ago and my brother and I did a fair job of becoming friends before he died in 2014. I’m now the surrogate grandpa for his kids kids.

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    • More than twelve years ago Mike. But at the time, it was a shock. And, like you, we did take care of my mum. The only religious discussions I had with her were what hymn/s did she want at her funeral. ‘God be in my head’ and she wasn’t interested in any other. Made for a short service!

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        • I suspect my mother gained comfort from the ritual. Who knows? I’m happy for people to do what they want regarding accepting/coming to terms with death, and I think it’s important to respect the wishes of the deceased and the ones left. For example, I would have walked in front of the hearse for my father’s funeral but my mother wanted me in the car with her. At her funeral, my husband did do the walk to the funeral director’s delight. He did say that he would have liked me to have walked at my dad’s. Good publicity I guess. The cremations were miles away so nobody attended that, the church services were the goodbyes.

          As for the gathering, I was pleased I made the ‘wake’ a family-only affair at home. There is a certain intimacy – and history – for people who grew up within yards of each other that outsiders don’t get.

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