My dad died peacefully last Saturday in Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary. My mum, sister and I were all there with him at the end, which was comforting for us, and hopefully for him. Two weeks prior to this, Dad had come out of his coma, which brought us both elation and despair. We had envisaged him slipping away quietly without regaining consciousness, and hoped that this is how things would play out. But Dad was made of sterner stuff than we had given him credit for, and regained consciousness to the point where he could hear and understand us, but was unable to speak or communicate, aside from a few breathed words. That he showed little sign of frustration at what amounted to two weeks of captivity was testament to his inner peace. I do believe that God ministered to him and was a great comfort during this time.
So we found ourselves bidding goodbye to the now familiar surroundings of Ward 202, and the nurses that worked there and did such a great job of making his last days as comfortable and peaceful as possible. I lost another £4 to the machine in the car park, and drove off into a world without Dad.
It will be an emptier place without him, even though Dad and I rarely talked at length. Despite being a preacher in the second half of his life, he was a quiet man who kept his opinions, for the most part, to himself. During my final three years at high school, he picked me up from town every day and drove me the six mile journey home. Frequently not much was said, and both of us were content with this arrangement. Since his retirement, and my parents’ subsequent move here to Edinburgh, opportunities for talking with him have been almost limitless, but rarely taken. I wish now, of course, that I had spent more time with him. But chatting never came naturally to either of us, and that’s just how it was. I did spend enough time with him over the course of my life to appreciate his reserves of dignity and grace, his wisdom and dry Irish humour. Over the last few weeks, too, I was able to spend a fair bit of time in his company, reading and praying, sometimes just talking about my day at work. I continued to assail him at times with my piano-playing via my iPod as he was unable to tell me to stop.
Last Saturday being 15 March, he now shares the date of his passing with Julius Caesar, which might just please him. He was never an emperor, but no-one looked more regal with a paper crown from a Christmas cracker.
The funeral director came to call on Monday, and we found ourselves leafing through brochures of flower arrangements, which included some corking Pearly Gates motifs. We passed these by, and settled for something altogether more discreet, since Dad wasn’t big on ostentation.
Monday also meant a visit to the cemetery to choose a plot for his grave. I had a fleeting vision of Dad somewhere upstairs shouting “PICK THAT ONE! PICK THAT ONE!” but in reality he was probably rolling his eyes at us humming and hawing over the decision. We settled on a quiet corner, very close to the nearby Church of Scotland, but when they came to dig the grave the soil proved dodgy. Dad would have been delighted to discover that the Presbyterian church had been built on suspect ground. So we had to move his resting place to a more central location.
Sadly, therefore, it’s not quite a corner any more, but there’s now part of a foreign field that is forever Ireland.
Northern Ireland, obviously.