Well, I’m back. For the moment at least.
As anyone who knows me well, 2018 was a strange year. Many people might find it strange that I do not use words like terrible or sad, as it was the year that I lost my father. But while I do feel a deep sadness – and having just gone through my first Christmas without a parent and with his birthday approaching at the end of the week I feel it particularly at the moment – but there was a lot more to 2018 than the blunt fact that my Dad is not with us anymore.
For a start, it was a year I got to spend more time with Dad than I had in the last 10 years and for the first few months that was pretty good quality time, filled with a lot of laughs and love. We were blessed time and time again; finding him a nursing home within walking distance of where I grew up, right in the heart of the community he and mum had lived in for over 40 years; cared for by people who understood him and cared enough that when he passed away they were genuinely upset. He had a room that suited him, a TV to watch endless episodes of the various versions of NCIS (and believe me, I’ve now seen a lot of those from sitting in with him) and enjoying the childlike delight in consuming far too many sweets then would be good for you – if it mattered, which now it didn’t. Although, typically Dad decided that the only sweets he really wanted were the fruit flavoured travel sweets you get in the small round tins, which for a while I could only find in service stations. Considering how cheeky my Dad could be when he wanted to be, that almost feels deliberate.
As a last few months go, I think I have to admit they went as well as they could. He was comfortable, he knew the garden and house was being well looked after – the Lovely wife and I took time to do that and take in the photographs to prove it, much to his delight. His beloved Newcastle managed to avoid relegation from the Premier League. He picked the winner of the Grand National – for the first time I recall in his life – and spent some of the winnings on chocolates for the Home staff. He liked ‘Dunkirk’ but was less impressed with ‘La La Land’, because that movie’s bittersweet tendencies did not fit with the fact that Dad was a sweet romantic at heart. We regaled him with the adventure that was saving Sméagol the Beagle from the busy road outside the Home after one summer visit to the Home – as a dog lover that one kept him rapt. The routine of walking down to see him, buying the Evening Chronicle on the way, which he hardly ever read, past the last page anyway, was a sustaining one, as was the support we received from two local churches and the staff at the Newfield Inn, where the odd pint of Double Maxim and some ‘porkies’ where a regular reward. The Lovely Wife and I walked all over the North East, letting her see where I came from and giving us plenty to talk about with Dad afterwards.
And when the end came, it came quickly and painlessly. It was on June 21st, a bright sunny day and if you want to pick a day to go, a pretty good choice. We spent the latter part of that day letting the magic of ducks help with the grief at the WWT site at Washington; a place that has always being precious to me and now has a sad but equally supportive resonance.
So, 2018 was a strange year. But I prefer to focus on the many blessings we received and a gentle ending to an earthly life of someone who had always been devoted to my Mum and I and I think was at peace when the end came.