When the hospital rang at 5 am on Monday 29th March 1999 saying we’d better get up there, they didn’t think it would be long now, I knew we were in a for a lengthy wait. Not two weeks before a voice in my head had told me that he would die on April Fool’s Day. “God I hope not”, one of my brothers groaned as we sat together by his deathbed in a quiet side room “I can’t do this for another four days.”
But I knew that this was to be my Pa’s final joke!
In actual fact those four days were not so bad, I remember them almost fondly. Family members came and went saying their last farewell to the man everyone loved so deeply. The hard core of brothers and sisters never changed and we sat and reminisced about a life that spanned nearly 80 years, full of ups and downs, six children, a growing gaggle of grandchildren and plenty of adventures – my son called his grandfather Bimps and once, quite astutely, described him as “like a very, very old teenager.”
My husband sent up bottles of red wine and one of my daughters made a cake. Ward staff and other visitors must have thought it strange to hear laughter emanating from a room they knew contained the dying but it was a cathartic experience and I am sure that Pa would rather have gone out to the sound of his children telling elaborate stories about midnight trips to Blackpool in a battered Bugatti or strawberry tarts in Le Mans than to hear us all quietly weeping.
There were brief periods when each of us had him completely to ourselves. When my time came I took his hand and told him that he was not to worry, that I would be fine but I was going to miss him so much that’s all. Despite having been in a coma for over a week his limp grasp tightened ever so slightly and with supreme effort he jerked his head just a fraction to let me know he was there.
We spent three nights sleeping where we could, in upright chairs or on the single camp bed the hospital provided. As daylight filtered through the curtains on the morning of Thursday the 1st April my father drew his last rasping breath and left us.
Pa lived in the next street to me and whenever he left his house he would always drive his [trademark] Alfa Romeo past mine in case he caught a glimpse of us coming or going. Readers may not know this but Alfa Romeo’s have a very distinctive throaty throttle, and strange as it might seem that summer after he died one of the things I missed the most was the absence of sound. The soundtrack of my summer had a hole that used to be filled with the sound of his Alfa as he accelerated away from my house.
My father’s favourite piece of music was Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, which we played (of course) at his funeral. About six months after he died William Orbit released a techno version that I still listen to from time to time; I close my eyes and imagine a carefree Pa – before life dealt its blows and before his body had started to give up on him – speeding through The Alps in a red convertible Alfa Romeo Spider…