It was 9pm, mum and I had eaten and settled in front of the TV for a short time. Mum had risen and announced she was going to put on her night attire. I decided to make another cup of tea.
It was at this time that the phone rang. When I answered and was told it was someone from the hospital, I knew it wasn’t good news. I knew…
“Can you please return to the hospital as soon as possible,” the woman said. “Your dad hasn’t got long.”
“Oh. Yes, we’ll be there soon.”
“I have to tell you that he may be gone before you get here.”
I told mum to get dressed. I quickly rang my brother and told him what was happening. And then we were in the car and driving silently to the hospital. It only took us ten minutes to get there, we parked the car, and then we had the most stressful experience. We couldn’t find a way into the hospital. All the entrances were locked. There was no response when we pressed the buzzers. We went from one entrance to another, and to another before someone finally spoke to us over the intercom.
By this time I was flustered, stressed, crying. “Please let us in. We’ve had a call about my dad. He’s…” I couldn’t say it.
The door opened. We scurried through the dim corridors. We finally got to the ward. We discovered his bed empty, but another patient pointed to another door. “They moved him in there.”
The door was closed. A sign was stuck to the door. “Keep out.” We went in.
Dad lay peacefully in the bed. He lay flat on his back, his arms placed on his chest. His eyes were closed. I knew straight away that we were too late. He was gone. “No, no, no. I’m so sorry, Dad.”
We sank on to chairs and sobbed.
My brother and his family arrived ten minutes later. The nurse told us dad had passed away at 9.30pm. Mum and I had gotten there at 9.38pm. Eight minutes too late. But if we hadn’t had trouble finding a way into the hospital, we would have been there with him. He wouldn’t have passed away alone. I will always feel guilt over that.
We stood around dad for two hours, without saying a word to each other. I remember hearing crying. I know mum found her voice and told dad everything she wanted to say to him. She didn’t care that we were there listening. Dad’s family grieved for him. We were all turned inward. We were all alone. We were fractured, in a sense.
Then a nurse appeared in the doorway. “Would you like a cup of tea or coffee? I can bring a tray in.”
And we started living again. We turned to each other. We held each other. We started talking together, crying together. We once again became a family.
Yes, we had tea and biscuits. Then we sat around dad and reminisced. Occasionally, one of us would say something to dad. Like mum, we wanted him to know how we felt. We encouraged each other, support each other. And we even managed to remember happy times, funny times and laughed. No, it wasn’t a belly laugh. It was nothing more than a smile and a noise that almost resembled a laugh. Sort of.
I think it was around 1.30am when I turned to mum and told her that it was time to go home. Dad’s body was no longer warm. I was concerned that reality would set in and mum would fall apart. My brother glanced at me, knowing that we may have trouble separating mum from her husband. But, again, mum surprised us and said that she knew it was time. She had been preparing herself for it. We said our final goodbyes and left.
Dad passed away on mum’s birthday, almost five years ago. She asked me once why he would do that. Did he hate her? We told her that he loved her with all his heart and that he did that so that she would always be able to remember the date. As I’ve mentioned before, she has Alzheimer’s disease, she cannot remember a lot of things. But she remembers the date dad passed away.
This is the end of Dad’s story. But it is not the end of our story, our grief. That will continue undocumented. We love and miss him every day.