We watch Dad’s face become younger in the minutes after his death. His skin is smooth and blooming; youthful, almost. We can’t stop kissing him and touching him and holding him. It feels in no way morbid. He is still our Dad. Death has no sting. Not yet, anyway.
A nurse comes in. ‘Would you like me to put him into his pyjamas?’
We agree this would be nice. The ubiquitous hospital gown with its over-familiar blue and white pattern is depressing in its reminder of illness, drugs, bed baths and ward rounds.
We leave the room while he is changed into his own cotton pyjamas, lovingly ironed by Mother before she was taken away to her own newly institutionalised life. My God, that woman could iron. Even in her most manic episodes, ironing would calm her, soothe her wretched, writhing thoughts. I think back to the airing cupboard in my parents’ house: that hallowed space where every piece of clothing had its place, pristine and ordered. It broke my heart when I went into it three weeks’ ago to fetch Dad a shirt and I realised that no one would ever look after him as well as Mum used to do – and that this was one of the many reasons why he missed her.
When we come back into the room Dad is dressed, neatly tucked up and simply beautiful to look at. There is a light euphoric feel in the air. As though we have accomplished something. As though something good has happened. And in a way, it has: Dad has passed on, shuffled off this mortal coil and left behind the pain which has wracked him these past months, as a snake sheds its skin to become shiny and new. To look at him now, you would have to say he really is at peace. All the anxieties and panic I have felt since leaving Thailand have dissipated. I sit and chat to my sister, laugh even.
Marina, the wonderful carer who found Dad at home three days ago in a confused state, comes into the room. She is tearful, telling us he was ‘a gentleman’ and that it was a privilege to look after him.
‘Bless him, he was so confused before we got him into hospital,’ my sister says. ‘He was convinced he had to get to Luxembourg with a case full of cash. He kept getting cross and saying there was an income tax conspiracy which he had to sort out.’
We are all laughing now, remembering his funny ways, his obsessions, his passions, his love of life.
The nurses are discreet, but it is clear that they need us to leave; that they have a job to do. They gently suggest we come back later.
I go back with my sister and Marina to my childhood home where I am greeted enthusiastically by my gorgeous nephew and niece and my kind brother-in-law.
I look at the children, rocketing around their grandparents’ house and I think: ‘A generation goes and a generation comes; but the earth remains forever.’
(With thanks to the Hospice in the Weald who made Dad’s last hours so peaceful and showed us such support and kindness.)