Farewell Dad

First of all apologies for the long gap since my last musings, suffice to say it has been a traumatic couple of weeks.

My regular reader my recall last August I wrote about a reunion between my Father and his Sister, who had not seen one another for almost 50 years and that the reunion came about as a result of racing being Cancelled last January due to bad weather.

By a cruel twist of fate I write this as racing, once again, faces a bout of weather induced cancellations and at a time when the reunion has an added poignancy.

The reason being, last week, my Father passed away.

Whilst it is desperately sad to lose somebody you love I have to confess my overwhelming emotion at his passing was actually one of relief.

Although in his mid-eighties, even earlier this year he was out going for walks along the seafront most days, he even went to the gym, for mild exercise, twice a week.

Around May this year his health began to decline, over a period of a few weeks he was diagnosed  with a multiplicity of conditions, any one of which was capable of finishing him off.

By August, when the reunion with his sister took place, he was struggling to walk more than a few hundred yards and although he must have found it frustrating he never once complained.

By the end of August he was in hospital again and when released was unable to walk unaided and needed nursing care, for even his most basic needs. It must have been humiliating for him, a proud and hitherto active man and it was painful for us, as a family, to watch.

Late October and following another spell in hospital my Mother had to make the painful decision that she could no longer cope with him at home and he was moved into a palliative care home.

I have to confess when he first moved there the reaction of both my sisters and myself was we had to get him out of the place as soon as possible. His room was Spartan, needed a lick of paint and the place just seemed so depressing.

How wrong we were. Although the building was tired and had seen better days, the staff were, indeed are, wonderful. Grossly overworked and, I suspect, also grossly underpaid, they treated Dad magnificently.

When they were with him you were left with the impression he was the only person they were interested in or cared about, even when he was in full Victor Meldrew mode they were kind, patient and understanding. You forgot he was one of fifty odd patients in the unit.

When you see the work these carers and nurses do for a pittance, then you look at the obscene amounts of money paid to, for example, professional footballers, it make ones blood boil.

Dad proved to be a fighter to the very end.

His condition began to decline on the Tuesday afternoon, and at 03:00 on the Wednesday morning we received the call saying he had taken a turn for the worse.

Later that day he, for the first time, began to have pain, although the nurses were very quick to deliver pain relief.

On Thursday the doctor took us to the relatives room and told us he thought Dad had 24 – 48 hours, 72 hours max left. So we made sure someone was with him all the time.

We were with him on Friday morning when he stopped breathing. A nurse checked him and said she thought he had breathed his last and went to get the sister. Meanwhile my sister began crying and he started breathing again – talk about not wanting to let go.

He went on past the 24, 48 and even the 72 hour deadlines.

By now we had a “shift” system staying with him. I was with him overnight on the Sunday and around 5:15 his breathing changed, he became hot and clammy and his fingers were turning blue. The nurse came in and told me “this looks like it, probably within the hour, maybe two.”

I call my sisters back in … two hours later he is a lovely pink colour and his breathing was back to normal.

On Monday I decided to go home – I needed a rest and, more importantly, some fresh clothes.

It was back to Portsmouth again on Tuesday afternoon – Dad was still with us. My wife had decided to stay at home this time, mainly because her Mum is also unwell and she wanted to spend some time with her.

One of my sisters decided she also needed to pop back home as she had been away from home and her family for a week and my other sister, who lived locally, needed to go shopping with her family.

I was sitting with Dad in his room, quietly doing crosswords. My sister rang to say she was home and although Dad was unconscious I told him she was at home. I also mentioned my wife was also at home and that my other sister was shopping and I then returned to my crossword.

Half an hour later his breathing eased, I went over to him, stroked his forehead. He breathed two shallow breaths, I felt his pulse, his heart stopped, I kissed him and he was at peace.

I am convinced he did not want my sisters to see him pass and he waited until they were all back home before going.

It was heartbreaking to see him in his final weeks, stripped of his dignity and dependant on others for even the most basic of his needs. It has certainly re-enforced my view that the law needs to be changed to allow terminally ill people to have the choice, should they so choose, to end their life of a time of their choosing.

Dad, much to Mum’s annoyance, loved to have a bet. Now don’t get me wrong he was no big time punter, far from it. The biggest bet I have ever known him have was a fiver. More often than not it was 10p patents or, if he was feeling brave, Lucky 15’s.

He was what many in the sport disparagingly call a “mug punter” – so what it gave him pleasure.

I think I can safely say Dad never once looked at a form book in his life. His usual selection technique was to choose horses with a colour in their name, which is how he came to back Red Marauder when he won the National.

Dad was still having a bet almost until the very end, although as his writing deteriorated so much I don’t know they managed to settled his bets, although as they were only 5p patents there was probably some generosity on the settlers part.

Full credit, also, to my Mother who actually went into the betting shop to place his bets in his final weeks – knowing how much she disapproved and hated betting shops it must have taken a great deal of guts to do that for him.  

It’s the silly things I am going miss – for example, wherever I was in the world, I used to phone him every Saturday morning for a chat and the conversation would invariably include some discussion around the weeks racing.

I am hoping, on the day of his funeral, there will be a horse running with a colour in its name - hopefully "Red" - if there is I will have an investment on it and any winnings will go towards the refurbishment appeal for the home where he spent his final weeks.

Farewell Dad, I am really going to miss you xxx  

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