Thursday, 19 September 2013

I'm not afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens (Woody Allen)

“I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens” (Woody Allen)

I haven't blogged lately.  I haven't been up to it.  Ideas flew in and out of my head.  I wanted to blog them but it didn't happen. Instead a brief tweet or Facebook update here and there which got the idea over but didn't take much application or concentration. That's because my Dad died four weeks ago.

He was 92 and ill for months with so many serious conditions that he was too old and frail to keep fighting and winning.  He developed pneumonia, didn't respond to the anti-biotics and died peacefully and painlessly after a good and happy life.  I spent much of the past few months in hospital with him because he needed nursing and company.  Whatever they say about the NHS not caring about the elderly was just not true in the case of my Dad. They couldn't have done more for him but they are pitifully short-staffed.   

I sat with him the night he died.  Earlier in the day I was led into a nearby storeroom by one of the doctors to guarantee our privacy. She was a young, glamorous blonde and when he first met her my father was certain she couldn't possibly be a doctor. Then one day she appeared in a red dress. My father, cracking jokes to the end, told her that he had recently read a novel about a girl in a red dress who turned out to be a murderer. The doctor cracked back that she was not a murderer but on the contrary she was there to save people's lives.  When she and I were alone in the storeroom she pointedly closed the door and having seen many episodes of "House" I guessed that the news wasn't going to be great.  There was nothing more that could be done for him and I should expect the worst.  

In tears I went back into his room and really didn't know what to do. He was a jazz pianist as well as an academic and I sat beside him and decided I'd sing to him.  We are very von Trapp as a family - singing at every opportunity, lots of harmony and uncontained enthusiasm.  So very quietly I began to sing the songs that had been significant to him: his parents' favourites: Alice Blue Gown and If you were the only girl in the world and I were the only boy".  Then other family favourites.  He was in the Air Force during the war, though he was transferred to ENSA because of his musical talents and less than perfect eyesight, and when we went on family car journeys we always started by singing The Wizard of Oz, because he told us that was the song they sang when flying off on a mission to guarantee their safe return.  So that was part of my death-bed repertoire. Then jazz songs, songs from the Great American Songbook, songs he had played at his gigs well into his 80s: Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, Lullaby of birdland, My one and only love, Around midnight, which it was.  Suddenly his right hand moved very slowly, unexpectedly, on the sheet and he started very gently fingering as if he were playing the piano.  He could hear me.  I thought perhaps I was imagining it, but it was happening. I was told later that hearing is the last sense to go, and at that moment I am sure he could hear me.  After that I held his hand and spoke to him saying silly things like: "I'm still here Dad. You can't get rid of me that easily". And although I am a non-believer, I said prayers and sang hymns that I knew he would like.  In that extra time, after I thought communication had ended for ever, I was elated, thrilled, full of spiritual delight and gratitude. It gave me some sort of closure, allowed me to say "goodbye".  I miss him very much.  He was a majorly lovely man. 

And today I feel the urge to blog again, though instead of the blog I had in mind, the above popped out.  It doesn't have to be read but I think it probably did have to be written.


  1. This is so lovely, Devra: having been through a similar experience, I understand how you felt. Being with someone when they slip away from the world is, or can be, an unexpected privilege, and something you never forget: a good end to a life, and a real expression of love.x

  2. Beautifully written. I lost my mum earlier this year. I feel for you!

  3. Thank you so much. I'm very sorry for your loss. I feel for you, too. xx