A post for my father

My father, Graham, died on the 3rd December after a long and hard fought battle with motor neurone disease.  It's a cliche to talk about battle with illness but in his case I think it is right.  He fought the good fight, cheerfully, positively, with immense courage and determination.  It is over now and I am glad that he doesn't have to fight it any more.  Who would have thought that such an active, physical, practical man, such a talker, a joker, a story teller, could find a way to live with profound physical disability and eventually with his own silence.  But he did.  In a life filled with action and achievement that was perhaps the most extraordinary achievement of all.

I feel now, in relation to this blog, as I felt just over two years ago when my mother died.  My mother's death was sudden, unexpected, terrible, full of the anguish of a loss which was totally unprepared for.  My father's death was a long time coming and because of what he lost as he died so very slowly it is, in its way, both a terrible loss and a relief and a release.  Both deaths leave the world an emptier and colder place for us their children.  I don't use this blog generally as a place to bare my soul.  I use it for gardening and cooking and books and the small pleasures of the moment.  But I felt when my  mother died, as I feel now, that if I did not write about my parents the blog itself would simply be silenced by the enormity of what was unsaid.  Ian has blogged about the eulogy which he read at my father's funeral so here is a song to my father, as I wrote a hymn to my mother.  Here is a tribute to both an ordinary and an extraordinary man.

First of all he was not my father.  My own father was in the RAF and was killed in a flying accident when I was three.  I remember a tallness, how I had to stretch up to hold his hand.  I remember a sense of safety and that is about it.  His family loomed large in my life when I was a child and remain important to me.  After his death, my mother returned with her two very young children to her home town.  Dad's family and hers were not friends but it was a small community in a northern milltown.  Everyone knew the story about the young widow.  Eventually she came to live in a terraced house built, in a working class echo of a London square, with a large central garden behind iron railings.  Dad's family lived in a house on the bottom of the square.  My mother moved in with my brother and me to a house on one of the long sides.

Dad was energetic, practical and hands on.  He began doing small jobs for my mother, mending things and making things and helping to make her life easier.  After Mum died Dad talked to me about seeing her first on the street with her two young children, realising who she was and longing to look after her.  This is quite funny when you knew the two of them because, while Mum was undoubtedly struggling with her loss at that time, she was a person of great inner strength, not a natural damsel in distress.  She was young, beautiful and alone.  He fell in love with her and he fell hard.  "There was never anyone else for me" he said in those weeks after she died when I stayed to look after him, the MND already biting deep.  My mother and I were close and we had talked about all sorts of times in her life over the years.  Dad didn't talk much about feelings except at that time of loss and, occasionally,  in the two years that followed as his illness progressed.  I am glad I had that time.  In the immediate aftermath of Mum's death, his talking to me about my mother was painful because it was as though he almost mixed me up with her in those first shocking days.  He would come to look for me if I sat in her room or talk to me when I helped him to bed.   But that period means now that I know him and see him in a way that I would not have done without it.

They married when I was five and my brother was three.  Mum told me later that he had moved too fast for her and that, while she loved his energy and cheerfulness and his wholehearted commitment to her, it was only years later that she realised that she would have needed five or more years to pass after the death of her first husband before she regained anything like her old sense of self.  Dad thought any reservations she had were to do with the difficulties of taking on a ready made family.  He had clearly thought about that long and hard himself.  "I wouldn't have married Mum if I hadn't been absolutely sure I could love you and Paul properly" he told me.  And he did.  He wasn't a man to examine himself and analyse his actions.  He decided what was right to do and he did it.  He decided he would love us as if we were his own and I truly believe that he did.  Even the birth of his own child, my sister, made no difference at all to my sense that he loved us all, we all mattered just the same.  Had it been me I would always have been examining myself, poking at the issue to see if I was really doing what I was aiming to do.  Dad just got on with it.  I admire him for that.

Throughout my childhood and adolescence much of my relationship with Dad was defined for me by my sense that he was not my father.  I do not mean by this that I did not love him.   I did.    I knew he loved me too.  I relied upon him and doubtless took him for granted in the way children and teenagers do and he was always there, always ready with lifts, with help, with time and energy.  He was a very good father and he was later a very good grandfather.  I knew I was lucky to have him in my life and this feeling has only grown stronger as I have grown older.  But he was very different from me: an extrovert, a joker, a man with a short fuse and strong enthusiasms.  My mother was the thinker, the peacemaker, the person who encouraged me to put myself in other people's shoes.  My mother had a natural empathy with people and I learnt from her to try to see the world with the eyes of another.  Dad didn't really do empathy.  Sympathy he had in spades and if he thought you needed anything he would be the first to help but he was always so busy charging his way through life that thinking his way into someone else's head would simply never have occurred to him.  So I identified with my mother  and in a way I suppose I also wanted to continue to recognise somehow my own father.  For years, until after my own children were born, I referred to my own father as "my father" and to my stepfather as "Dad".  I must have been in my thirties when I ceased to make the distinction.  What did it matter?  He fathered me.  He was a loving and involved grandfather to my children.  Could I have asked anything more of him as a father?  No, I could not.  Whatever you asked of him, he would always step up to the plate.

So what else was he, this man who gave me love and confidence in spades?  He was adventurous. Physically fearless, strong and fit, he simply loved doing things.  I am sure my love of walking and of being outdoors was down to him.  Given the choice my mother would be found in a chair with a book.  Her adventurousness was of a different kind and showed itself in a readiness to do new things, go new places, have a go, make a change.  The combination of the two of them produced for their family a energetic, happy, adventurous childhood and adolescence and a sense when we became adults ourselves that we didn't have to be worrying about our parents or guiltily wondering whether they were waiting for us to go to see them.  They would be out there, having a good time, embarking on yet another project, delighted when you appeared but returning cheerfully to their own lives when you walked out of the door.

He was determined with a readiness to learn and a stubborn streak which prevented him from giving up when times got hard.  He regretted that he had had to leave school at fifteen and was a natural self educator, reading his way through the classics, immersing himself in local history.  At seventy he decided to learn how to use a computer and over the following few years (and not without various explosions and much telephone and face to face advice) digitised a lifetime's work as a photographer.  When he put his mind to something he would make it happen.  He wrote copiously about his early life, revealing a memory for the telling detail and a straightforward and accessible writing style.  He was a generous man, with his time, his energy, his money (not that there was ever a great deal of that but he and my mum had a way of making it deliver more than anyone ever had a right to expect).  He was a loyal man, ultimately to his wife and family but also to his friends.  He was good at friendship as the numbers who turned out for his eightieth birthday and later for his funeral demonstrated.  Even in his last year or so, in a wheelchair and with his speech at first failing and then gone, he made new friends.

Above all he was courageous.  He faced the last two years of his life, without his wife, his home and his health with a determination to take whatever pleasure he could in the every day which was quite simply extraordinary.  Because you knew that he did not want you to weep over him but to take him outside into the sunshine, to walk with him and the dogs, to stop at a cafe and drink coffee and eat cake, that is what we did.  While he could speak he never failed to tell Ian and me that he had a good day when we went out with him and to thank us for driving the long journey to see him.  He endured helplessness with humour and without self pity.  He loved to make people laugh and to be made to laugh.  Until three weeks before his death, and while profoundly helpless,  he was still being taken out by us, my sister or our friend Bob who became for Dad like another member of the family.  I am glad he did not linger long when that was lost to him.

So that was my Dad, my father: loving, constant, brave, adventurous, short tempered in health, enduring in illness, funny, hardworking, reliable, generous, explosive, patient, always open to life.  It does not matter that I don't share his genes.  I would not be the person I am today without him. Thank you Dad for everything.  I love you.  I miss you.  Go gently.

Comments

  1. This is a lovely tribute to your dad. It isn't until one is much older that you see the whole picture of life and can ponder back on it all. Time gives you that capability. I know you miss them both, mum and dad.

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  2. A very moving tribute to a much loved man. My thoughts are with you x

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  3. Sorry for your earthly loss. You gave a good picture and wonderful tribute of your dad. May God comfort you...

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  4. A beautiful tribute to a wonderful sounding man. My thoughts are with you.

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  5. A beautiful tribute to a wonderful sounding man. My thoughts are with you.

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  6. Dear Elizabeth,
    How beautifully written and what thoughtful words about your Dad. I love the idea of him wanting to help a young widow -exactly the sort of person to make her happy - but I can quite see she might have needed time to digest the loss of your first father. Never quite sure which is better (or worse) a quick exit or one with a chance to say goodbye. It seems as if you were blessed (as I was) with wonderful parents.
    All best wishes to you and Ian for 2016. Please keep in touch. ps Frances is coming to tea tomorrow.

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  7. I am so sorry for your loss Elizabeth, that was a lovely tribute xxx

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  8. This was such a beautiful story written with love and respect.

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  9. Your love and respect for your father come through so beautifully in this tribute. It has been a long few years of loss for you, punctuates with the joy of the grandchildren. I hope the months ahead give you a chance to rest and spend time filling yourself up in the garden. Thinking of you, and sending a hug across the miles.

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  10. glad you decided to write this Elizabeth - so very well put together with all the heartfelt and bio details woven in profound memories and moments in your parents' lives. I am sorry for your loss - sounds rather pathetic but words don't always come up to the mark - yours did here though
    best wishes Laura

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  11. Sorry for your loss Elizabeth. You had a wonderful father and what an interesting man he was.

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  12. A tribute which moved me to tears. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. Elizabeth, I'm so sorry for your loss.

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  13. making new friends in his last year - that I do admire!
    My sympathies on your loss.

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  14. I am so sorry that you have lost two wonderful Fathers, to have one is enough, but to have two is even better, so the loss must be even greater. You are right, a Dad is someone who loves you and cares for you and does all be can, it doesn't matter whether he is related to you by blood or not. I know that too. I am so glad for you that you had three great parents who bought you up to be such a wonderful lady. They must all have been wonderful to have made you. I hope that the year ahead brings you some good times and that you can look back on the past times with fond memories and great love. xx

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  15. A lovely tribute to your dear dad. Take care of yourself Elizabeth.

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  16. My sincere condolences to you. A very thoughtful and moving tribute to your father, thank you for sharing this.

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  17. Thinking of you Elizabeth x

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  18. It is a release, I felt the same after my mother died a year ago after a long fight with dementia. But, however much it is expected, the death of a parent still hits you like a speeding train. I'm so sorry Elizabeth. Please take care.

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  19. It is so hard to watch someone you love be stolen from you by inches and be powerless to alter the inevitable. My own dad slid gradually out of our grasp from mini strokes and age. He was 92 when he died, outliving all his siblings and most of his nieces and nephews. A remarkable achievement for one who grew up amid the poverty and stress of the Great Depression and who came of age during WWII in the Pacific. I entirely empathize. When at last the excruciating process finally reaches its inevitable end, you are relieved and almost glad that the long ordeal is finally over, for their sake and for your own. Since the MND stole his body, but not his mind, you lost the person he was last of all. Be thankful for the quality time you had with him. The ministrokes took their toll (multi-infarct dementia is the medical term) on my father's lucidity and the fact that he had a severe hearing impairment made communication problematic for the last few years of his life. With these long drawn-out scenarios, you spend so much time preparing and bracing yourself for the end that when it finally come, what you are left with is a feeling of numbness. In a sense you do your grieving as their final illness progresses so that you are well into the process by the time you actually lose them. I was struck by how it was like being in a loud noisy environment for days, and then suddenly being plunged into silence. All of the stresses of dealing with the realities of the situation, and how your life gets wrapped up so tight in just getting through each day, and then suddenly, it's all over. He sounds like a truly remarkable fellow. Life blessed you with this second father. Please accept my condolences for your loss.

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  20. A beautiful celebration of your father, Elizabeth. Hugs.

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  21. Having been a blogreader for a while now, I sense a great deal of your dad in you.
    Peace to all...

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  22. I am so sorry for your loss. I often dip in and out of your blog and noticed you were missing and wondered what had happened. I am a long term conditions nurse and love listening to what people have done in the past as often you come into people's lives when it is a crisis or a deterioration. It amazes me people's lives. I am still sorting my parents stuff out and both have had such a fascinating lives and I am sorry we did not write a better eulogy for them, as the one done by your Ian for your father. love to you both and the new stage in your life.

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  23. Dear Elizabeth,

    I have been able this morning to take my time in reading this tribute to your father. Thank you for allowing us to know and appreciate this complex man who certainly raised a marvelous daughter, whom I am lucky to have met.

    Motor Neuron Disease is a formidable opponent, and you tell so very well how your father faced this challenge for a long time. There is so much to learn from what you have written here about the various ways that family members can support each other. Thank you for giving me some insights and inspiration.

    Lots of love to you and Ian. xo

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  24. Just beautiful, Elizabeth. And so full of love, given and returned.

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  25. Beautiful writing about a wonderful man.

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  26. I don't often comment, but check your blog regularly for updates. Noting your weeks of 'absence' I felt certain that your father's illness had reached a crisis.
    Our relationship with our parents evolves through many stages--sometimes not simple or comfortable, yet when they die, such an empty place is left. Thank you for sharing this essay about your parents--it gives us a glimpse of the young man who died too soon, of a courageous woman, and of a fine man who stepped into the hole in your lives in every way possible.

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  27. I, too, had noticed your absence and wondered if it was your Dad's failing health that was keeping you away, and so it was. A sad loss of a wonderful father and husband and a wonderful role model for you, Elizabeth, and the end of an era too. So much for you to process now, but much to look forward to, with Ian and the new generation. Blessings x

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  28. Thank you for introducing me to your dad, Elizabeth. I am new to reading your blog and found you through your comment on my blog several posts ago. This post helps me to know you better. I care about the life losses you have shared, and am so glad that you have much to be grateful for in your relationships with your mom and dads. May you be blessed as we launch into 2016. xx

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  29. A beautiful post and tribute to your Dad, and a great insight you have into the man too, thinking of you at this time

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  30. You have written a beautiful and moving memorial to your Dad. Your support in his last years must have meant a great deal to him. MND is a truly horrible disease.
    Thinking of you Elizabeth.

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  31. I'm sorry for your loss . He sounds lovely ; giving you all that certainty of being loved without limit , the greatest gift of all .
    And you're handing it on , in turn .

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  32. See how much a life can influence the next generation - a kind of immortality.

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  33. I started following your blog quite recently, because of the quality of your writing, which I thought quite exceptional, and your skill has not let you down here. I was in tears as I read your dad's story, even though I did not know him, and don't know you. You painted such a vivid portrait of a strong character. I am terribly sorry for your loss, though I understand your relief at knowing his suffering is ended. My dad died 10 1/2 years ago, and I still miss him every day. Wishing you peace in your heart x

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  34. Others have said it all, you've written a beautiful and moving tribute to your dad and celebrated his life in a way that gave real understanding of the kind of man he was and what his loss means to you. I wish you a peaceful, healing New Year. Cx

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  35. I found your tribute to your Dad very inspiring and moving. Like others, as I checked in here, I wondered how you were getting on and am grateful for your courage in bringing this part of the story to a close for those who do not know you or your family in real life.

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  36. I am so sorry what a sad time for you, my father died 9 years ago and I understand how you are feeling. What a lovely tribute.

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  37. What a beautiful and heartfelt tribute!

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  38. Oh Elizabeth. My deepest condolences. What a moving and beautiful post about your Dad. I do hope you are bearing up. Sam x

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  39. Oh, Elizabeth, I'd been so preoccupied with the holidays and our trip to the US, I am just now reading and commenting on this and am so sorry for your loss. It seems like you were just stopping here on your way to visit him - can't believe what a short time ago it was. He sounds like a tremendous person and one who influenced your life so greatly and so beautifully. I love this tribute you've written and I love that your children and grandchildren, nieces, nephews, relatives and friends will have it as a lovely jumping-off point for some treasured memories. I lost my dad over 18 years ago on 21st December - it sounds terribly long ago - but I still find that he is very much present in my life all these years later - most especially at Christmas. Sometimes that's a happy thing, and sometimes it's very painful, but I'm thankful that the memories are still so vivid. I hope putting this down was some comfort for you - it's beautifully written and I can feel the love behind it. Many hugs to you. xx

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  40. I have tears now after reading this beautiful tribute. Love your way of writing, it was such a wonderful story and you sound like such a loving daughter. You were both lucky to have each other. Thanks for sharing!

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  41. A moving tribute and a heart warming celebration. He sounds like an interestingly complex man and one it would have been a privilege to know.

    I never quite know what to say to those who are grieving, words can sound so trite, hugs work well in the real world, perhaps a virtual one has a little of that power?

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  42. A lucky, lucky man to have had this written about him. I'm very sorry for you and for all who loved him.

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