My uncle died this weekend. I had called him earlier in the week and he said he was: “so tired, I am so, so tired”. And I could tell that the cancer he had been fighting for a year had bested him. The chemo had offered no defence and pain was coming in. But he had kept going to see his daughter marry, to spend time with his beloved grandchildren and to watch his wife turn 70. Then he went to bed on Thursday and stayed there until his breathing slowed to a whisper on Saturday and my aunt told him: “It’s ok, you don’t need to keep fighting, you can let go now.” His wife and daughter were beside Gary’s bed at home – keeping their promise not to take him to a hospital. Walking him to the great beyond.
I can’t tell when the tide turned and it all got so real and so serious and we had to start learning how to say goodbye for good. How can we possibly ready ourselves for this – for preparing a father to die? My cousin said: “I guess when you have to learn, you learn quick”. She slept in her Dad’s room for the last days of his life, rousing every time Gary’s breathing changed. Keeping a side light on to ward off the darkness that frightened him when he woke. Whispering to him – “It’s Judy, I’m here Daddy”. Chasing away the monster.
I remembered sitting in the dark in Roy’s hospital room, watching him thrash and moan in the days after his operation. Gently holding down his hands as he tried to pull the drips and drains from his head. Seeing his wide-fright filled-eyes quiet as I told him it was me, I was there, “and it’s ok. It’s going to be ok, Daddy. Go back to sleep now.” He would look at me for a little while and then close his eyes: trusting that I was right. I hoped like hell I was.
On Friday we will gather for the funeral of a lovely man. A good, decent, honest, family guy who loved nothing more than a whisky and a test match on the television. Who loved his kids. Who was a natural grandfather. And a steadfast husband for 47 years. Who took hours to get ready to go out. Who called me every birthday. Who hated “bullshit” politicians. Who got in his own way sometimes and who recognised that his god-daughter did the same. Once in my teens, after watching me fight with my mother, he took me aside: “Listen you don’t have to do what other people tell you to, but once in a while you should just blerry well shut-up. And then get on with it later when they’ve lost interest.” My lovely uncle was smart too.
I am going to miss you. Goodbye and god speed Gipps.
(Image copyright Amber Land, and used with her kind permission.)