I’ve been silent on the blog the past four months.
At the end of May my Dad was rushed into hospital with what turned out to be a kidney infection.
He had a similar infection two years ago and two years before that. In both cases he had bounced back to a seemingly better state of health than before admission.
But given his 80 years and the fact that he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease three years ago and a mild version of Alzheimer’s a year before that, my family was obviously very concerned.
(When I found out about the dementia diagnosis, I was an emotional heap for two days as I feared the day would come where he wouldn’t know our names.)
Around six weeks into his hospital stay, myself and my eldest brother Ciaran had a meeting with the doctors (our remaining brothers Fergal and Rory live in Australia).
It was held in Dad’s ward, so we visited him before meeting the team. He motioned to get out of his bed but Ciaran told him the meeting was for family only. “But I’m family too,” he replied. So, as you see, he definitely still had most of his faculties.
Dad aged around 17 (1950) at his home in Bailieborough, Co Cavan.
The team told us that Dad had made an “impressive” fightback against his kidney infection. He then contracted another infection while in St Vincent’s but managed to kick that one to touch too.
As a result, the doctors said he could be discharged the following week once we were sure we had enough caregivers for him at home.
However, just a few days later Dad took a turn for the worse. And on July 4 last myself and Ciaran had another meeting in the hospital, this time with the Parkinson’s consultant, a social care worker and a doctor.
When the specialist took a sharp intake of breath before saying anything, I knew it would be awful news. “Your dad doesn’t have much time left,” he said. I immediately asked how long. He said possibly weeks, but more likely two to six months. The Parkinson’s would claim him in the end. It was a 40-minute meeting, although it didn’t feel that long… perhaps a reminder of what little time we had left together. It was surreal having to hear the news, but inescapably real too.
The next week was easily the toughest of my life. Trying to grapple with the fact that a loved one is terminally ill is an emotional struggle that tests you like no other.
(In passing, I should mention that I kept on going to the gym during this time because it gave me the physical and mental fortitude to stay strong).
I had visited Dad virtually every day in hospital up until that point. But from then on, I tried to spend longer on each visit because time was all we had left.
Dad, right, with his brother Tom and their parents, Nan and Philip. Uncle Tom reckons this was right after a victorious match.
There were times I wasn’t sure he recognised me in those last seven weeks. But any doubts were banished a week after the British Open. I told Dad that Phil Mickelson outplayed Lee Westood in the final round to lift the claret jug. “He’s small beer,” Dad replied, referring to Westwood. I was astonished as it was the most he had said in a while to me. He read that as me misunderstanding what he said, and added: “In golf terms, I mean.” I cried because I knew then that he was still with us, in his mind at least.
Tragically, he passed away on August 22, about seven weeks after the fatal diagnosis. Thankfully, Ciaran and I were both at his bedside when he left us in the most dignified, silent and peaceful way possible.
Ciaran was 80 and the best dad anyone could ask for. He met my mother when he was in the seat behind her on a two-hour bus journey from Dublin home to Cavan and asked if he could sit beside her.
He played Gaelic football for his local club and county and went on to love fishing, pheasant shooting and golf. Dad was an engineer and later an arbitrator. My uncle Tom, a playwright, told me in the days after his kid brother’s demise that Dad was “terrifyingly honest” and “strangely patient”.
Dad never really got angry with us, except for one occasion I remember in 1983. I wrote a letter to the Evening Press in defence of my sporting idol John “Super Brat” McEnroe and was so excited to see it published in a major Irish newspaper that I raced to show it to my father. Dad exclaimed incredulously: “And you put our address, TOO?”
My parents on their wedding day, May 31, 1960.
He had a great sense of humour. When one of us four boys won an academic prize, Mother boasted to another parent: “He’s got my brains.” Dad added: “I’ve still got mine.”
And two years ago, when visiting him in hospital, he said to me: “Come on, let’s get outta here.
Me: “But you can’t leave until you get better.”
Dad: ‘But I’m not getting any better. I’ve had a good innings. We’re both nearly 80 (he and Mum). I’m happy.”
I teared up, of course.
The next day when my brother Ciaran came in, he asked Dad: “Was Brian in?”
Dad replied: ‘Brian was in tears.”
In that same week two years ago, he told me that I had to accept nature. I asked him if he was able to accept it. His stoic reply (as ever): “I think I’m better able than you are.” That was Dad… always thinking about others.
I realise how lucky I am to have had that conversation with him. To know that he was okay with death… and that I should be okay with it by extension… is of great comfort now.
I had always dreaded having to do a reading at a parent’s funeral. When the priest suggested I read the famous one about love from the first letter of St Paul to the Corinthians, I balked. It was full of emotional landmines that I feared would blow up in my face.
My Mother with Fergal, myself (in red), Ciaran and Rory in 1972.
“Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth: it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes. Love does not come to an end.”
People told me to think of Dad when I was reading it… but I knew that would make things worse for me. In the end I read it because I really wanted to honour my father.
I thought I’d be inconsolable immediately after the funeral, but I think subconsciously I was trying to honour Dad’s wish that I accept nature. In the first few days after the funeral, I’d have mini panic attacks where I had to see Dad there and then. But that soon ended as the harsh reality of logic took over.
Now, a month after his passing, I feel like a half-orphan. I’m finding it harder to come to terms with our family’s loss… now that the visitors to my parents’ house have dwindled and we’re left with our own thoughts.
Thankfully my Mother is still with us because the unbelievable finality of a parent’s death is so coldly cruel. There’s a void that cannot be filled. Life feels, and is, different. Yet it’s just as nature intended. The opposite would be the real tragedy.
If there’s one regret I have it’s that I didn’t ask Dad more about his early life. But, to be honest, I didn’t want to broach the subject in the past few years because I didn’t want him to worry that I was thinking he was about to leave us.
My parents and I in the late ’80s.
However, I did ask him why he became an engineer. He said it was because he thought it would allow him to be outdoors a lot. And in hospital back in June, I asked him who he had voted for in the last election. I had a suspicion where his political leanings lay, and I wasn’t wrong. It was a cheeky question, but his answer reaffirmed for me the kind of principles he stood by.
I’d like to think that Dad lives on in my brothers and I, and to a certain extent he does, at least biologically and in terms of the life lessons he passed on through the years.
But an interesting aspect of his passing is that it has really forced me to take a long, hard look at my own mortality. It’s made me want to give my life more purpose, so I too can enjoy the kind of love and happiness he experienced in his.
Or to put it another way, as my boss said, for some people bereaving someone close to them can actually be a rebirth of sorts.
My cousin Deirdre told me Dad’s legacy is love.
I dearly hope to pass that on to a family of my own some day.
Treasure your parents… I miss my Dad terribly.