Dad died under unfortunate circumstances. He'd had a duodenal ulcer for over twenty years which was kept in check with medication. He had been feeling particularly unwell, experiencing some pain and a high temperature, and my mother called out the doctor. Unfortunately their regular GP was unavailable and another partner in the practice came out. Despite having access to my father's medical history and my mother questioning the diagnosis, he pronounced that my father had pleurisy. He prescribed some pills and told my parents that it would be at least three days before they took effect, and that there would be no point in contacting him again until then. My parents were of a generation where authority is rarely challenged and by the time (three days later) they called the surgery again, my father was in a great deal of pain and a lot sicker. It was Dad's old doctor who visited this time I believe, and he immediately and correctly diagnosed a perforated ulcer. I drove down overnight with my son who wasn't quite thirteen at the time. I had woken him in the middle of the night on receiving the call from my mother to say that Dad had just gone into surgery. Our son was incredibly close to his grandfather (Dycu, as he called him) and I didn't want to leave for Wales without giving him the option of coming with me. His response was immediate and unequivocal. I think there may have been some criticism of this in some quarters. My wife and I had talked it over, and we both have strongly held convictions about not sheltering children completely from life's troubles. Even so, I was never a hundred percent certain if it had been the correct thing to do. So I asked him last year whether we'd made the right choice. He looked rather taken aback that I'd even bothered to ask. "Of course it was," he said, and then went on to tell me how the experience had he felt informed his life in some way. I was grateful to hear this.
The forty hours in intensive care was a difficult ordeal for everyone and when my father died he was surrounded by his immediate family. I'll never forget how the sensation of oppressive gloom dissipated almost immediately in the moments following his death. My son wasn't present at the time of death, that would have been too much for him to bear. He was outside with his mum, who had travelled down as soon as she'd been able to make arrangements for our dog and two cats. It was my mother, on his request, who took him in to say his last goodbye to his 'Dycu'. Some days later my mother's GP called in to tell her how very sorry he was to hear about 'Dan' as he called him. He went on to apologise for his colleague's diagnosis. According to my mother he repeated several times, "I don't know what he was thinking ... he must have seen Dan's notes." My mother accepted that a terrible mistake had been made but didn't consider for a moment making any accusations of incompetence or malpractice. A short while later the doctor in question tragically took his own life. There had apparently been other mistakes I believe which must have preyed on the poor man's mind.
In the long years after my father's death my mother managed to keep herself going by joining various art classes, and took advantage of her free bus pass to visit friends and family in her birthplace of Aberdare. We spent a week or two with her every summer and as she grew older we switched from visiting her at Christmas to her coming up to us in Kent. Then, just under two years ago, unquestionably due to her diminishing eyesight, she had a fall which led to her
requiring a hip replacement. It's quite a big operation for someone in their mid-eighties to bear and the ordeal took its toll. While she was convalescing over many months in hospital my wife did some research and found a sheltered housing scheme close to her home. We were very fortunate to get her a place there a short while later.
Which brings me back to the start of this blog post and what I was doing in Wales last week: the final clear-out of my mother's little bungalow, the place I moved to when I was twelve and which part of me always thinks of as 'home' or with more potency in Welsh 'cartref' - even though home has been somewhere quite different for a very long time. I stayed for nearly a month at the beginning of 2011 when my mother moved out and into her sheltered accommodation and sorted through a great deal of old stuff: my father's wartime letters from India to his sweetheart (as Mam was from age fourteen), literally dozens of photograph albums, my father's suits still hanging in the wardrobe and drawers full of all kinds of memorabilia of no remunerative value, but which often had the power to turn me into a blubbering wreck, like some passages my mother had underlined in a self-help book and the tariff card from the hotel where my parents stayed the night before our wedding kept in pristine condition in my father's wallet.
Nothing can ever really prepare you for the emotional cross-currents awaiting you when you dismantle a family home. it's a bit like gazing back over your shoulder at your childhood and adolescence whilst at the same time staring ahead at the shortening perspective of your own mortality.