I'm on my way to visit my grandmother in hospital. She has accomplished much during her life as a nurse, farmer's wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. Now, aged ninety, her body is failing. When the doctors told us that the heart failure will ultimately lead to multiple organ failure, I had to explain that we knew almost exactly what to expect. We have spent the last year watching my father's organs fail.
I cannot help but turn to the cliché that the only certainty in life is death. Everywhere, every day, people encounter the dying and have to deal with death. My father's death last month gave me a genuine understanding of the phrase 'a peaceful death'. The moment his suffering ended in a love-filled room could almost be described as beautiful. Yet the greatest solace I find in all this is a simple confirmation of the need to relish life whilst we can.
I read the following paragraphs at my father's funeral last week. Whilst this is a personal tribute, I hope that anyone who has experienced the parental bond might be able to relate to the sentiment of this bond's everlasting influence.
I knew speaking on such an occasion was going to be difficult but, with a stubbornness I inherited from my father, I was determined to speak at his funeral. During the last year, usually whilst travelling on the trains which came to feel like my second home, I've jotted down thoughts and quotes in preparation. This therefore may not the most eloquent thing I've ever written but no words could ever pay a brilliant enough tribute to the man I'm honoured to call my father.
The past year has been hard. It has been hard for me, for Mum but most of all for Dad himself. No matter how difficult it was for us to watch the fit, active man we knew become increasingly frail, I cannot imagine how hard it was for Dad himself.
For as long as I can remember we teased Dad that he could never simply sit down and do nothing. He had to be doing or thinking about something- be it riding his beloved bike for miles, gardening for hours, or doing errands for someone in need. I cannot deny this energy, desire to be busy and to have a plan of action could sometimes be infuriating (especially at 6am!). When he did sit down, he'd be actively engrossed in the classical music which meant so much to him throughout his entire life.
One evening last summer, as Dad and I sat listening to the Prom Concerts on the radio like we often did, he started telling me about Beethoven whose ninth Symphony we were about to hear. His knowledge of classical composers never failed to amaze me and on this occasion he quietly told me that, and I quote, "Beethoven was a man for humanity. He believed in the work of the common man".
I immediately ran to write down this quote as I thought it was a perfect description of Dad himself. He was a man for humanity and a passionate champion of the common man. He simply cared about people (friends, family or strangers) and often showed it without even realising. I definitely never told him enough how extraordinary he was.
So, Papa, wherever you are, I'm going to address you directly now.
You set me the best example and instilled in me values and principles which I'll hold onto for the rest of my life. You led me when I needed to be led and let me go when I needed to be independent. You taught me to stand up for what I believe in, to always do what I think is just and to never fail to be true to myself.
Together with Mum, you loved me unconditionally and supported me unfailingly. I am determined to live a life of which you'd be proud, Dad. You were too humble to realise just how many lives you touched through your consideration and good nature. From everyone fortunate enough to know you well, to those strangers who momentarily encountered your kindness, thank you.
Thank you for the memories that we'll cherish forever; memories of you playing the violin beautifully, articulating wise thoughts philosophically, recounting stories vividly, and making funny comments with that mischievous, infectious smile.
Those memories are just a few of the reasons why I'll be eternally grateful, and proud, that you'll always be my Daddy and I'll forever be your Babs.