Wednesday, 11 December 2013


This is a first for me, a blog that is mainly words with a single photograph I did not take.  Although November was a 'month and a half'  I managed the odd bit of writing and quite a lot of knitting much of it beside my father's hospital bed.   Tomorrow is his funeral.

After 88 years and six weeks he decided that it was time to leave.  In some ways it felt right but in another I wish he had shared his intention with me, then I would not have spent most of his last weeks encouraging him to eat, drink and generally take an interest in life.  If I say this was a waste of time I don't mean that the time I spent with him in his last few weeks was time wasted but I could have talked about something else.  We could have spoken about his life, the things we shared in common and how, despite the ups and downs of our relationship (and there were plenty of those) we could at the end confirm that we parted friends.

Born in 1925 to parents who were true Victorians,  his happy prosperous childhood ended abruptly one winter's evening in 1941.  His father, who had survived the whole of the first world war serving in the army on the Somme, was killed in what was probably the only air raid on a civilian area of Newcastle Upon Tyne.  The end of his street was hit by a stray bomb as he stood talking to a friend, the friend survived.  Instead of remaining at school and moving on to university to read engineering my father, the elder son in a family of two girls and two boys, left school to work in a reserved occupation. His choice an alternative to active service to save his mother suffering further bereavement.

As children we were amused by his stories of life working on producing brittle metals suitable for bomb casings and the distinctly unsafe 'testing' (basically finding an open piece of land south of the river Tyne and blowing things up).  And his life as the youngest soldier in the Home guard ('Dad were you like Pike??')

He moved South in the early 1950s and met and married our mother.  The rest is our shared history.  He loved walking and exploring the Lake District as well as his beloved Northumberland.  On foot of course and, it seemed to me, in the rain.  A naturally cautious man I remember many rows as I developed a sense of adventure.  I suspect he did not sleep for three weeks when aged 19 I travelled around Europe alone on one of the first Inter-Rail tickets.  We had lots of the other sort of argument too, the intellectually stimulating sort, on politics and the economy,  we shared a social democratic view point but could still find a line of argument

He was always said to be 'not good' with children but my elder daughter said the other day how she remembered he was funny, larking about with them when they were little.  He did like the company of women and though faithfully married to my mother for 58 years, the last two caring for her as she succumbed to Altzheimers, he certainly could flirt!  

Why am I saying all this, to you, readers of my knitting meanderings?  We are friends in a shared bond of loving all things woolly but I don't usually share personal stuff like this.  Well it's because,  life with elderly parents in their last years is something a lot of us have in common and I have been helped by reading other's blogs; so perhaps some readers will share common ground with me.

Despite 87 good years the last one was not good and  as much as he found it hard, so did we his family.  Despite reassurance from his doctor and family he became obsessed with his health which he was convinced was failing.  Until last year he had played badminton twice a week and on other days walked briskly around his village, 'to keep fit'.  As he did less and less he could not accept that finally his age was catching up with him, constantly seeking some miracle cure to restore him to his former level of fitness.  It was hard to be sympathetic when, despite his age he was still driving his car (quite safely)  doing all his own shopping and cooking, refusing our offers of internet shopping, attending discussion groups and many social occasions.  It was hard not to feel irritated when our weekly visits and regular phone calls were considered not enough and to hear constant complaint about feeling lonely (with local friends and activities we often thought he had a busier life than we had).  

And when he was finally truly ill it was hard to watch him just turn his face to the wall, refusing to eat, drink or even to get out of bed till eventually he succumbed to pneumonia.  He continued to welcome friends to his hospital bedside, someone visited every day, with a big smile and a huge effort to make conversation, but his reaction to the almost daily visits from my brother or I was met with little effort to talk or listen.  I loaded some of his favourite music (Vaughan Williams) on my i-Pod and plugged him in, talked a little or just sat, but I don't know if it  pleased him.

At the last we were with him, my brother and I, our spouses too, and I hope that gave him some comfort.  We felt sad, we cried a little but we also felt relieved that a life that had become intolerable had come to a close.  Inevitably I also felt guilty, could I have been more of a comfort, should I not have encouraged him so much to 'make an effort'?  I don't know but I think he did make his own choices to the end and 87 good years out of 88 is not a bad tally

A life well lived (mostly) RIP

My father aged three and a half in 1929




Vandy said...

What a lovely accounting of your father's life, Catherine. It sounds as if he did indeed have a good life, and was an interesting man.

I hope the funeral all went smoothly today, and send my condolences to your family.

Anonymous said...

A truly lovely heartfelt tribute to a special his next journey RIP your lovely Dad, Chopkins and wishing you gentle days ahead x

Gracie Saylor said...

Thank you for sharing this time with us, Catherine. I am one who has had similar times with my mom and dad as they died. So many feelings...and faith wonderings. You and yours are in my prayers. xx

Jee said...

My best wishes, Catherine. We have just seen my elderly Mother-in-law peacefully out of this world and have the mixed feelings you describe so well. I think it's inevitable to wonder if we could have done things better