So much from the day of Dad’s death is etched onto my memory, it will stay for decades without the aid photography or digital recording.
I was due to go on a business trip, had just driven home to pick up my bags. As I was about to leave the house my phone beeped with a message that I had a voicemail. My parents home number is filed under dads name because he nearly always answers the phone at their home. Dad had called me. Dad has only called me once during the day. The day his brother died. So I knew instantly it was seriously bad news. No point listening to the voicemail of I can talk directly to Dad.
Wendy: dad just called, um, I just got a call from this number
Mumsie: It’s your dad dear, it’s not good news
I could hear she was not her easy self
Wendy: How are YOU?
Mumsie: he said he was feeling strange when we were having our morning coffee, feeling strange – what do you do with that? I didn’t know what to do. He said call an ambulance, so I did and when I got back (from the hallway phone, she doesn’t use a mobile yet) he had keeled over. He’s dead.
The maritime reference was a beautiful, natural, touch. They live in the old port of Bristol, dad loved ships, Britain is an island full of nautical sayings. She went on to describe what happened next which involved helicopters. Dad would have approved, many of the retired engineers he mixed with worked on helicopters, he’d shown me video of the testing of the “Bristol” a helicopter with two sets of rotary blades. She’d been busy on the phone since the paramedics had taken his body. She listed who’d she’d called. How organised and thorough. Mum sounded like me.
Wendy: I’ve got my bag packed for a 2 day trip in front of me, can I come over to your place and get a hug instead?
Mumsie: yes, yes, that would be good, drive carefully though
Wendy: I’ll be there in 2 hours
When the call ended I was stood by my front door with my bags at my feet. A bag with a William Morris print, the strawberry thief. The sofa in dad’s study is a William Morris print. I called work to tell them (about the death, not the William Morris prints). That’s when I started crying. The call ended somewhat awkwardly as I trailed-off into tears and my manager said take all the time you need….
My mind was busy during that drive:
- I’m glad he died quickly
- I’m glad I visited last weekend to tell them about my route66 trip adventures and share a birthday (Chinese take-away) dinner
- I’m glad I moved back to the UK and enjoyed his company for the last 5 years of reasonable health
- What do you say to a mum who’s just lost her life-long partner, over 55 years living together?
- I must cancel my hotel
- Are my tears blocking my road vision or just making my cheeks itchy?
I stopped at a motorway service station and picked up some wine, chocolate and dried apricots. It’s not clear what works for the recently bereaved. I don’t eat chocolate or apricots but I remember a friend telling me that a constant supply of food was useful and both these products would last if not eaten immediately. The wine was more for me, though later I only drank a glass.