Dad died as the dawn broke. Before he went to sleep the night before, I spent my final hour with him. Heart failure and whiskey made him ramble, but I got his gist. I tucked him in, as he had tucked me in once and kissed him goodnight. “Leave the curtains open, would you darling, I want to see the dawn.” Those were the last words I ever heard him say.
Surrounded by his children, it was a good death and with it came a strange release from his paternal authority over us. Afterwards, waiting for the undertaker, we became naughty. My sister, giggling, put on his shoes and glasses and shuffled around, pretending to be him. We raided his pockets for his last thirty pounds and someone went out and bought champagne with it. We played his favourite tunes much too loudly, almost disrespectfully, cocooned in a strange, hysterical grief bubble.
Later, one by one we crept back to see him on his death bed. We smoothed his shirt, combed his hair, inspected his hands, kissed his cold forehead. The grandchildren, some as young as three came in, curious. We answered their questions as best as we could. After a while, we told the children that soon they’d come to take Grandad’s body away. There was a long silence, then the youngest piped up “But aren’t they going to take his head, too?”
3 thoughts on “When Dad died”
Dear Jane, thanks for sharing this. I’m deeply moved probably because of myself taking care of my ailing mother. Death is the unknown, frightening, sad, and at the same time liberating.
Dear Karin, To me, death is as natural as birth, but I think we have forgotten that. My dad was so lucky to die at home, something that rarely happens any more. I still miss him terribly, yet it was nearly twenty years since he died. I hope for a good a death as my Dad’s. Feelings about death are all so complicated and varied and every one valid. People should talk about it more freely, I feel. I am sorry you are having to walk this difficult road with your mum, I know how hard it can be. Hugs.
what a great send off! (where was his head??) I agree – death is as natural as birth, and there is no avoiding it. A friend reminded me the other day that I had said I was planning to get a cardboard coffin, have the grandkids draw all over it – and then be sent off with Elvis at full blast…Have you read Being Mortal by Atul Gawande? A wonderful book.