He would have been 87 years old today if he was still alive, today, his birthday, Armistice Day, thats how I always remember, if he hadn’t died from liver cancer twelve years ago he’d have been 87 today.
The last words he said to me from his hospital bed on the day before he died were “Are you still here ?”, I’d only just arrived and he’d only opened his eyes for a few seconds from within his morphine induced sedation, “Are you still here ?” he thought I was our Ned, he’d been there all afternoon and he’d just left before I arrived, we look the same and on that day we had the same coats on, even the nurse at the ward desk looked twice as I arrived, “Are you still here ?” he said and then slipped back into morphine sleep so I thought “Well sod you too” and I left, it was 6pm on Christmas Eve.
Downstairs in the hospital reception area I found two old friends of his waiting, I spoke to them, I thought they were waiting to go in to see him but they weren’t, they were waiting downstairs while a doctor attended to another old mate of theirs, someone my dad had known for 70 years, he was in a different ward and he too was on the threshold of death that evening, in fact they both died within 24 hours of each other.
I came home that Christmas Eve and decided that Christmas Day would not be interrupted by the mere inconvenience of my father dying in hospital so arising early that morning I unplugged the phone line before our children came downstairs to unwrap their presents, it stayed unplugged all day.
The following morning, Boxing Day, I rose early and plugged the phone back in, ten minutes later the hospital rang, “Your father passed away during the night” is what they said, “I’ll be down shortly” is what I said, I drove to Neds house, picked him up and then we went to the side ward where they’d moved his body, the room was darkened and they’d laid him in a fresh bed as if asleep, Ned stayed much longer than I was comfortable with, the old man was dead, nothing more to do here, lets go home was my attitude, we thanked the nurses and left.
And arriving back home I had to tell the children, or to tell the truth Suzanne told them because I couldn’t, I sat there while they cried and I only felt upset because they were upset, the rest of the day was spent ringing around all of his friends and informing them that 1) He had come home from Benidorm and 2) He was dead.
He’d have been 87 years old today, Armistice Day, probably would still be living in Benidorm, I’d probably still be paying him £1000 a month for his share of the business and he’d probably still be drinking it away in his favourite sing-along bars and entertaining the old biddies to a medley of Sinatra songs every night, give him a microphone and he WAS Frank Sinatra.
He’d still be ringing me at 7pm every Sunday night, dropping one euro in the coin slot and shouting very loudly for me to ring him back on THIS number, he never quite understood that you didn’t have to shout louder down the phones the further away from England you went, I’d ring him back and he’d spend half an hour of my time and my phone bill telling me how badly I was ruining his business and would I be able to make his payment this month and if I ran a cash “side book” like he always had then I could use that money to pay him off quicker – I know just how Michael Corleone felt when he said those words “Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in again…”
Sometimes, when the phone rings on a Sunday evening, especially around 7pm, I jump up and I’m halfway across the room before I realise its not going to be him on the other end.