Boxing Day 1998
I got up early that morning, I mean, I always get up early even when I’m on holiday, can’t help it, I’m a morning person, a lie-in for me would be waking up at 7am, its usually 6am, if you ever need an early morning call for 6am then I’m yer man, can’t help it, maybe I was born at 6am, whatever.
That morning I was awake before 6am in truth I probably hadn’t really slept through that night, Christmas Day had been forced jollity, I’d unplugged the phone because I didn’t want the call, I didn’t go on a visit because I’d been late evening on Christmas Eve and he hadn’t recognised me, “Just don’t spoil Christmas Day for us” is what I thought, harsh but true.
So I was up early that Boxing Day morning, went downstairs to the kitchen, let Jake out into the garden, switched the kettle on, noticed that the phone was still unplugged so plugged it back in, went to let Jake back in, the phone rang.
Wouldn’t be anyone else trying to contact me this early on a festive holiday morning, it was them.
“I’m very sorry but your father passed away during the night” the young night shift nurse explained, “OK” is what I said, it wasn’t a surprise in fact it was a bloody relief, he’d been in a lot of pain for the three weeks beforehand while waiting for the diagnosis that neither of us spoke to each other about but both knew was coming – the Benidorm disease, liver cancer, most retirees succumb to the Benidorm disease sooner or later, you can’t go out boozing all night every night for six years and expect your 75 year old liver to enjoy the experience.
He never got the diagnosis but after they’d admitted him five days before christmas and sedated him then they told me, “its liver cancer” the young chinese doctor explained gently to me exactly as he’d been taught in the text books, I may have been the first that he was trying this with, “I’m very sorry” he said his face full of compassion for the relative just like the photos in the text books said he should look, “Yeah I know” I replied, “Its ok, we knew all the time”, he looked relieved and he went on to explain how they would keep him sedated on high doses of some very happy drugs until the end came, I almost asked if they could make it come before christmas but that would probably have sounded callous.
So instead I unplugged the phone on christmas day so that they didn’t interrupt our forced joviality, I didn’t want the kids upset on christmas day and I certainly didn’t want to end up sitting around a bed watching an unconcious man take his last breath.
I rang Ned and told him, told him I’d come around shortly and we’d go to the hospital, I didn’t really want to go, didn’t need to go but there are things that seem right to do and it didn’t seem right to say to the nurse, “Yeah, I’ll tell the undertaker to pop along for him soon”
So we went down, Ned and me and they’d moved his body to a private side room where the curtains had been drawn so that the room was dark and only illuminated by a bed head lamp, the nurse said he’d leave us alone for as long as we wanted, again it seemed a little callous to tell him it was ok I wouldn’t be stopping long but really that was what happened, our Ned went and sat at the far side of the bed, I spent about 30 seconds in there and went to the nurses station, “What do we have to do now then?” I asked and we talked about the formalities, I think I signed a form, the nurse told me that we’d need to come back to see the hospital administrator to arrange collection by our undertaker and pick up the death certificate, it was all very chatty as though I was signing the documents for a new car, then Ned appeared and we left.
We’re both very practical you see, the old man was dead and now we had a funeral to arrange, he was 75, had lived an incredible life, had left us with hundreds of stories and memories, some of which we had shared, some of which we had lived through separately and the telling of those stories to each other over the next few years would lead to me starting this blog in 2005 because despite us recalling so many stories about him I am still left with the feeling that we only knew a small fraction of what he had got up to in his life – we never really knew what he did in WW2 for instance, we knew that it involved driving trucks across Africa and then a spell in India and we have some photos, but we never got any of the stories.
I knew about some of his “deals” and “fiddles”, I knew that he knew almost everyone who could get you anything and that he was the man that other people came to when they wanted stuff but didn’t want to buy it in a shop, but I never found out who his contacts were (apart from Bennett of course), or just how many detectives on the Leeds City Police Force bought those maroon blazers from him that time.
A vicar came around to see us with the undertaker the night before the funeral, could have been the parish vicar or just a random one, I didn’t know then and still don’t know what our vicar looks like but this vicar sat down and started to ask us questions about our dad so that he could pretend that he had known him when he spoke his eulogy and Ned and I spent nearly an hour telling this random vicar about just a few of the things that our dad had got up to during his 75 years and at the end of it with his cup of tea left untouched and cold on the table he finally put his pen down because he’d run out of paper to write on and just smiled and said “I wish I’d known him when he was alive now”.
And then he asked what music we’d like playing at the funeral and I said that I’d sort it out, I’d been warned by my dads sister not to pick “My Way” because she thought it too common for a funeral, it may have been common but never was a song more appropriate nor a singer more apt, for as everyone who reads this blog knows, Frank Sinatra WAS my father.
There was another song that was a favourite of his though and I’d spent a couple of days browsing some of the “oldies” racks in HMV looking for a CD with it on but the only copy I found was a live recording and it didn’t seem appropriate to have people clapping and cheering at his funeral so we never got to play this song at his funeral at all …