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My Dad's death - one year on

My dad died in May 2021. As my sister predicted with a sort of gallows humour, he ‘timed’ it to coincide with the birthday of my mother, his wife of nearly 60 years, so that his anniversary won’t be forgotten. As if.

So: May 2021, I was working as a funeral director at Poppy’s in south west London, and phoned in the morning to let them know that Dad was probably in his final hours. I caught the train to the hospital and joined my sisters and uncle at his bedside, dodging the fierce duty nurse who was keen to stick to the strictest interpretation of covid rules about numbers allowed at his bedside. Over the course of the next few hours we spoke to Dad, held his hand, told him not to worry and that it was time to let go of life. My religious uncle read a prayer, and I read an excerpt from Herbert Read’s ‘The Falcon and The Dove’. It’s a favourite of mine and felt very right and soothing, paving the way for my father’s passage from life to death. Not least because Dad was an obsessive gardener, who spent a lifetime nurturing plants. Here it is:

"My own attitude towards death has never been one of fear…. My favourite symbol is the Tree of Life. The human race is the trunk and branches of this tree, and individual men and women are the leaves, which appear one season, flourish for a summer, and then die. I am like a leaf of this tree, and one day I shall decay and fall, and become a pinch of compost about its roots. But meanwhile I am conscious of the tree’s flowing sap and steadfast strength. When I die and fall the tree remains, nourished to some small degree by my life. Millions of leaves have preceded me, and millions will follow me; but the tree itself grows and endures..."

Dad died an hour or so later.

It was, I believe, a good death. Surrounded by family, by love and with soothing words, we were able to really see his death and, we hope, to make it less frightening for him. For those left behind, the acceptance that comes with such an experience is valuable, and lasting.

I was lucky enough to have a few hours alone with Dad after he’d died, and I read to him, and held his hand. I even combed his hair and shaved his face: the nurses had missed a bit, which he’d have hated, always having been fastidious about having a smooth chin. Then I helped Danny from Poppy’s transfer him to the collection vehicle and we drove through the spring rain to Poppy's beautiful mortuary in Tooting, where I helped check Dad in and where he'd be cared for until his funeral three weeks later.

Since then I’ve discovered that each of us had our own, individual experience of that day. And over time, we’ve each responded differently to Dad’s death. But I can at least say that I am at peace with it, and for that I’m deeply grateful.

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