The sound of the skipping rope whirring as it hit the ground meant their father was up. He used to skip every day before he went to work.
He taught his children resilience, to never give up when learning something new no matter how difficult it was. “You just gotta make friends with it”, he used to say.
He loved his children and would try and spoil them when he could.
He fancied himself as a mechanic and would often diagnose the car trouble as needing new spark plugs. When asked if he had fixed the car he nodded and said it didn’t need the key to start it, you just had to stand at the front step and clap your hands and it would come.
He was of that generation where you didn’t tell your kids you loved them but you showed them. When his children told him they loved him it was met by an embarrassed silence.
The removal of his gall bladder heralded the start of his decline. He became increasingly ill and grumpy and as the days moved on he became less communicative. He was always very direct in his communication. When his children spoke to him on the phone he never said hello or goodbye. He said their name and at the end just hung up.
He tried to manage his pain on his own but it became increasingly difficult. He found it hard to accept the changes of ageing, being constantly unwell and dependent on others. His doctor told him his liver function was poor and that there was no other medical intervention that could help him given he was 85.
He took the news stoically and tried to prepare for his pending death. He didn’t want outside help but finally agreed to have a caregiver come shower him during the week. He made it clear he didn’t want any of his children to bathe him and his wife was too ill to help. He was tired from trying to do it on his own. His shower time meant a lot of listening at the door and calling out to see if he was okay. It was a big ordeal for him, his daughter, and wife.
His daughter arranged to go away on pilgrimage for six weeks and he was left in the care of his other daughters and sons. Not one to express himself, he told his daughter that he would miss her when she left. “Don’t worry” she said, “there’s my photo, look at it and know I am thinking of you”. When it came time to leave he cried and hugged her, not knowing whether he would see her again.
“Won’t be long,” she reassured him.
She checked with her siblings whilst away that their parents were okay. Upon her return he was the last to greet her and cried tears of joy, the familiar smile lighting up his face.
In the bedtime ritual, both parents went to bed with a kiss good night from the daugther and told each other they were loved. The mother would reply she loved her too, the father just said good night.
He was falling over a lot, unable to walk any distance unaided. He liked to sit up in his chair for a couple of hours before returning to bed. The only joy was when his grandchildren would visit and watch wrestling on TV.
When he was told his sister was in hospital he wanted to visit her. Arrangements were made for that to happen. He said goodbye to her and a week later she died. He stood up to deliver his eulogy. He began to speak and became overwhelmed with sadness and stood there for a couple of minutes trying to regain his composure. Each of his children willed him to get through it, they were all so proud of him that he managed to finish it.
He always used to say to his children when they were planning an outing for the next day that if they woke up the next day then they could plan. To his children, it seemed a strange thing to say, but when they got older they realised life is precious and it can be taken away at any moment.
A week before he died his mood changed he became buoyant and happy almost as if he knew it was time for his departure. He asked for his sons to come over and watch the rugby game with him. He laughed and made jokes. His sons were glad he was happy and he hugged them warmly when they left.
The next day he sat on the couch next to his daughter waiting for his wrestling programme. He turned to his daughter, took her hands in his and looked directly into her eyes and said, “I want you to know that I love you.” He released her hands and returned to the wrestling.
A week later he died and his children were assured he had made friends with death.