May you live as long as you wish and love as long as you live.
I thought long and hard before posting this.
I decided that if posting on here meant ANYTHING at all, it is an appropriate public place to write a few words marking the passing of my father.
On November 17th this year he fell awkwardly in his lounge and broke his hip.
Following his discharge from hospital on Nov 23rd, he and my mum came to stay with us because an 89 year old motorist had that day crashed into the front wall of their house rendering it uninhabitable. No, I didn't believe it at the time either.
My dad had been losing weight for over a year and never weighed much to begin with. We didn't realise it at the time but this condition was more serious than we thought. Although he actually healed quite well from surgery, and was able to walk with the aid of a 'zimmer' frame, he was not eating enough and became weaker by the day. Our local GP attended twice and took blood samples. They did not reveal anything sinister although, a lifelong smoker, he had previously undiagnosed COPD.
He developed a chest infection and was prescribed antibiotics which did appear to be having a positive effect.
Then, after a good day last Friday where he was lucid, chatty even, and appeared to be on the mend, he died in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Below is the eulogy that I will be reading at his funeral next Tuesday, to a small group of family and friends.
My dad was not a religious man. He was not a Christian, and in fact considered himself an Atheist. He and I debated his view a few times, because as a fan of Terry Pratchett's work I felt he should see himself not as Atheist, knowing for certain there is no God, but as Agnostic, claiming no specific certainty or faith.
But he would have none of it. Quietly and politely as was his way, he insisted that for him, there was just life, and eventually, for everyone, death was the end.
He was nonetheless a very moral man. His integrity was very important to him. I remember in his early days as an Architect he would receive 'Christmas presents' of the odd bottle of scotch from building contractors. He accepted them, in those days he didn't have much money for luxuries, but it always made him uneasy. He didn't want to feel 'beholden' to anyone.
For the same reason he was not one to ask for help or favours, or the loan of something. He would do it himself, buy it himself, or do without. Even just two months ago he was still clearing garden waste by himself, only accepting a bit of help because I had a trailer large enough to take the bigger items. I'm sure if his car had been bigger he'd have done it all on his own. Right up to the end he mowed his own lawn, washed his own car, kept the house maintained, balanced his chequebook, and took a pride in his independence.
He was also a very kind man. Not one for 'the community', or 'good works' he would nonetheless give help to anyone who asked for it. In my youth he kept my moped running as well as that of my best mate. Even at 5.00 in the morning he'd get up to strip down a clogged carb prior to one of our fishing trips. He gave his time freely and happily to the Red Cross annual camp, putting up tents, and organising the cook out. Hot dogs were a particular speciality.
He was too a creative man. Architect by trade, I always felt he was more Artist and Artisan by persuasion. He loved to MAKE things. His house is full of little wooden 'adaptations', a grab rail, a hinged table top, a conservatory! If he needed a TV stand or a coffee table he'd go out to his shed and BUILD one. Not because he had to, but because he could. And the things he made were always perfect. Just the right size for the task, and finished so well they instantly became part of the background, like him, quietly and unobtrusively doing their job.
Material things were not important to him. He didn't own a lot of stuff. An air rifle and penknife were his only 'toys'. He wore no jewelry. When he retired from the building trade they bought him an expensive Omega watch. He never wore it. Preferring the simple inexpensive watch bought for him by my mum one holiday. He was not, as they say 'flash'. I remember after he got a second speeding ticket in his big old Ford Granada, he swapped it for a little Fiat, so that he could better feel how fast he was going. Appearances mattered little to him.
Dad had a wonderful sense of humour. His was a fan of the late Eric Morecambe, who's annual Christmas show was a highlight in its day. I think the sketch in a train where Ernie, speaking of his country home, tells Eric he has 'a couple of acres' and Eric replies "Yes these seats are a bit hard" sums up best what made him laugh.
He also liked dressing up, and was very good at it. As our kids grew up we had many 'themed' fancy dress parties and Dad always took the prize for the best getup. His ‘Starveling the Tailor' was particularly memorable, although his silver faced Zombie Lord, and ‘Big Cat Hunter’ complete with air pistol were up there with the best.
Above all dad was a loving man. As children, my sister and I took for granted that he loved us, why wouldn't we? He introduced me to the joys of fishing and model aircraft, and with Jane he shared his love of music.
As we grew up we both realised just how much his family meant to him. He loved to see us all, was always interested in what we were doing, always impressed by our achievements however small. He embraced our partners Paula and Lesley, and when our children came along he loved them too. He was always pleased to see Laura, Alice, Sally and Adam, always happy to talk to them, often over a 'fag break', about their lives and interests. With a smile and a pat on the shoulder he always made us all feel cared for and loved.
But his real love, the one person in the world with whom he fully shared himself and whose happiness meant more to him than his own, was of course, his wife, our mother, Sheila. From the age of 17 they were together. To say he loved her is not enough, she completed him. Married for 60 years separated only briefly by his period of National service, their story is one of a lifelong romance. Dad loved his family and enjoyed his friendships but, quiet and self sufficient as he was, the only person he ever truly needed was Mum. She meant everything to him, he trusted and relied on her just as she trusted and relied on him. His dearest wish, to the end was never to be separated from her.
He died holding her hand.