Time with Dad

Lindsey has done a great job with her last post getting caught up with everything that has been going on since we last posted anything. One part she has left for me to write about is the time when I was in the UK and Lindsey was in the States. I returned to London on April 10th and unlike Lindsey had to quarantine for 10 days. Although the UK made you jump through a number of hoops including 3 Covid tests I was allowed to quarantine with a family member which meant I could stay with my Dad.

The timing of my return turned out to be extremely fortunate and I will always be grateful for the time I got to spend with Dad. Although I knew he was at the latter stages of cancer he had been doing relatively OK in the last few months. My brothers would probably not have asked me to return in time for me to spend any quality time with him but as it was we spent 2 good weeks together before his condition began to worsen.

The schedule was fairly challenging as I was working from around 3am (8:30am Myanmar time) up until about 9 or 10am UK time. This is usually when Dad would get up which is when I would switch roles to primary carer and start my second shift of the day. I had lots of help from the local hospice who managed to get us all manner of equipment to help transport Dad around the house and then from the National Health Service who arranged carers to help get him up in the mornings. My hat goes off to the thousands of carers around the world who half the time probably have much less support than I had and are caring for years and years rather than the month I was doing it. My shift ended at around 6 or 7pm when my brother, Robin would then take over and see that my Dad got to bed.

Considering his extremely poor eyesight and general condition, Dad was quite able to follow what was going on on a television program or film which I found quite surprising. He was pretty sharp during that month. I was keeping a list of all the different species of birds I’d seen in the garden. As I was awake much earlier than him there would often be a new bird to report when he got up. I would tell him that there was a new bird when he got to the stairlift and he would have the (tortuously slow) journey downstairs to guess the bird. After about 15 birds we had a greenfinch which is unusual for that garden and amazingly, he got it in one. Dad always loved birds which is where I get my own interest in them. Although I gave bird cam presents to my brothers I never did it for my Dad because of his poor eyesight. I thought he’d never be able to see the birds. Soon after arriving I discovered the location of a Robin’s nest in the garage. Being pretty experienced in setting up bird cams I figured it would be possible to manage for this one although it would involve some messing around and a 40 meter cable! I ordered all the parts and soon had it going on the main television. The problem was that Dad spent his day in the kitchen and was not able to move easily between the two rooms. The next day I decided to up the game and brought another television right into the kitchen. This was unprecedented for Dad and had the additional horrors or cables stuck to the walls with masking tape! I had it all set up for when he got up one day and was pretty nervous he would make me take it all down. Instead he loved it and we were glued to watching the Robins feeding their chicks every day. We even watched as one left the nest – a total success!

My other brother, Simon, was also nearby and so would come over a lot to help out and just spend time with Dad.  One time we were chatting and Simon asked Dad to recall a story that Dad would sometimes tell about Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator.  I told my brother that I knew the story but it turned out that there were two stories about Idi Amin.  How many people have fathers with two stories about Idi Amin! One of the questions we were constantly being asked by various medical practitioners was about Dad’s mental health and if he was starting to get confused.  Fortunately for everyone, we could always answer that he was fine mentally although we did have to admit that he might be on the wane after he predicted that Scotland might win the European Football Cup!

My Dad was born on July 12th 1942. He died in his own bed, in his own house just as he wanted, at night time on May 12th exactly 2 months before what would have been his 79th birthday and the day after my Mum’s birthday.

What next? There were still 4 weeks of school left before the summer break started and we could move on to a normal schedule.  I took a couple of days off and went to Devon to spend a long weekend with Simon and his partner, Paula but after that it was right back to double shifts.  Now, the second shift became one of house clearing and preparations for two funerals.  Fortunately, Lindsey arrived back in the UK for the last 2 weeks of school and so could help me out.  Being reunited after 7.5 weeks (the longest we’d ever been apart since we met) was frankly one of the highlights of the whole summer.  

Covid restrictions were due to be lifted about 5 weeks later.  Dad left specific instructions about his memorial service including a big party so we knew we had to wait in order to give him a proper send off.  We decided to have a small crematorium service with just family and a few close friends and then wait to have a proper memorial service just after the restrictions were lifted.  Unfortunately, by the time that service came around, we found out that the restrictions were going to remain in place for another whole month.  Reluctantly, we decided to put off the memorial service for another month.

For me there were two highlights from the crematorium service.  The first were the flowers which was an idea I originally came up with but that was then perfected by a tip from the funeral service.  My Dad loved geraniums and every year would have as many as he could find planted around his koi pond.  My idea was to have geraniums around his coffin in the hearse and that afterwards we could then plant them around the pond as he always liked.  I mentioned this to the funeral directors who then said that they knew of a florist in the area who had once created a floral tribute using geraniums.  They gave me the details and I called them to arrange it.  In the end, the florist did a fantastic job blending deep red geraniums with his other favourite flower, white carnations.  The geraniums were actually in their soil so we were able to take the floral tribute apart afterwards and replant all the flowers making separate displays from the carnations – 100% recycling!  The other highlight was the reading of the obituary which I wrote but Lindsey read brilliantly.

After that day, Linz and I went to Devon for some rest and relaxation although it wasn’t to be as we spent most of the time fixing stuff in the cottage.  Post lockdown is not the best time to be trying to get a plumber and/or electrician it seems.  I would not advise trying to fix a pretty old immersion boiler element without professional help but necessity is the mother of invention…  Eventually Simon and I managed to fix it together which was painful if satisfying to get done.  The theme of general jobbing continued as we returned to London, this time to supervise work on our flat.  This was mainly the redoing of the shower floor as the base on which it sat was rotted after the grouting had perished.  A word to the wise – if you see that your grouting is perishing – fix it!.  

Finally, the day for the actual memorial came around and in the end, it all went very well.  Dad had left very specific instructions as to what he wanted so we didn’t think there would be too many things to decide upon but it turns out there were still loads.  Everyone should write out exactly how their funeral should go so people have as little to think about as possible.  The highlights again were Lindsey’s wonderful reading of the obituary, several poems of Dad’s that were read by various people and the program which my colleague back in Yangon incredibly kindly offered to design.  A final flourish was a live trumpeter playing the exit music that Dad said he wanted.  

After the service we all went to Dad’s local pub, ‘The Albert’.  All the staff had been very kind to Dad in the last few years and were just brilliant on the day.  No one wanted for anything and the event was ‘very jolly’ as he had specifically wished. It was particularly nice to meet a lot of ‘big names’ in Dad’s working life, many of whom we had heard of but never met.  There were some great stories that came out of that and some of Dad’s stories that were added to. 

Work then continued on the house and continues still as I am writing this post.  One thing to mention is that my brothers and I had no disagreements over items we wanted to take from the house.  Dad assigned almost nothing to any individual but did tell one of my brothers that I was to get ‘the rat’.  ‘The rat’ refers to a sculpture of a rat made by the scrap metal sculptor, Rob Spinazola, who we rented our garage to when we lived in the States.  At that time I had a pet rat called Stanley and so was particularly fond of that sculpture.

Other than that we each wrote out a list of things we wanted in order of importance and then flipped a coin to see who went first. It was actually a fascinating afternoon as people recalled stories about why that particular thing was special to them. There was not too much crossover with the lists and almost nothing that was high up in each person’s priority. Mainly, we were glad that someone was going to look after an item of family sentimental value.

The only other things to note before I bring this rather rambling post to a close are firstly letters and a 1 month diary that my mother wrote. The letters were part of the things that had come out of my grandmother’s house when she died. They were from my mother to my grandparents and uncle (on my Dad’s side) and tell of our time in America. My Dad described my Mum as one of the last great letter writers and reading some of them certainly confirmed this. The few we read were hysterical and brilliantly written and the effort she made to write them (to her inlaws!) was amazing. The diary is the first 30 days of our time in America. I remember it as a pretty exciting time but the stress on my parents was astonishing. In just one month they moved to New York, bought a house, moved in and by the 30th day all three of us had started school!

The other thing was a project I completed just before we left to go to Thailand. This was the scanning of the family photo albums. There are phone apps now that you can use to do pretty high quality scans of photos. I used it for a few of the photos we used for the program and scanned a few great photos for fun to show the rest of the family. This turned into a mammoth task of scanning all the photos (bar the scenery shots) and putting them into digital albums by decade. All in all I scanned about 1,700 photos and some of the results were fantastic showing photos I hadn’t seen before and had certainly forgotten. I love this photo for instance of us outside the White House circa 1980.

The early photos of my Dad show him almost invariably with a cigarette in his hand. Sometimes you have to really zoom in on the photo to see it. He wasn’t showing off his smoking, it was just something that I think he decided was part of his persona from a very early age. One of his childhood friends recalled to me her shock at how much he was smoking just after his school years so you have to add another 60 years on to that to begin to understand his relationship with smoking. To be honest, I’ve never really understood why he didn’t quit when the risks were so plain and when everyone else had. He was a stubborn character and I feel would have had the willpower to quit if only he wanted to – but he didn’t, which in part was the story of his life. He lived it on his own terms right to the end and had no regrets. I will leave you with a comment from his brother Ian: ‘Andrew had a very full and happy life, much like his wine glass and ash tray; never less than half full, the other overflowing.’

3 thoughts on “Time with Dad

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  1. Gavin, What a lovely tribute to your dad! I am so glad you were able to be with him. Sending hugs to you and Lindsey.
    ❤️Robbin Shepley

    Liked by 1 person

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