I always thought I was the risk taker in the family. I had a telephone in my tree house. The doctor in casualty told my Dad that I was “a very good customer”. Throughout my life this taste for adventure has taken me far and wide.
I was in the States last week when I called my Dad and got no reply. Nothing unusual there. His hearing was getting bad. It could take a few days to raise him. He lived alone. We asked him to think about moving to sheltered accommodation. We took him to see homes; he would have none of it. The people in these places “are old and past it” he said.
I said to him that as long as he had his marbles then the choice to leave would be his and that I’d never force anything on him. I did get the concession that I could monitor the issue as he headed to a hundred.
So two months ago, on the day of his 91st birthday, I sat with him and a social worker in the living room of his flat. He’d had a couple more falls. One in the living room and a bad one on the escalator in WH Smiths. I asked her if he should stay at home. She asked him a load of questions. He gave a bravura performance of mental and physical agility that made me look stupid.
She can be forgiven for thinking I was trying to offload my Dad into a home. After making some helpful suggestions to aid his independent living, she left stressing that the policy was to keep people in their own homes for as long as possible. He may have been hard of hearing and had a few falls on his ‘creaky knees’, but he was still smug after she’d gone.
We had a heart to heart. I told him I was worried and made him at least promise to hang that bloody bleeper round his neck for him to press in an emergency. He said he would but told me that he knew he was running a risk by staying at home. I pretty much exactly remember what he said: ‘This is my home, I've lived here 52 years, I’ve just put in new windows and blinds and damn it, I like it here!” He said he knew he could have an accident, on the stairs, in the house or worse still driving his wee Ford Ka to see Frankie at Arnold Clark’s garage.
I’m just back from seeing Frankie. He and Dad had become good friends over the years. Frankie said “Archie has single handedly recession-proofed Arnold Clark”. Dad couldn’t stand a scratch on his car, and there had been more and more bumps in the last year or so. We all knew it couldn’t go on much longer. None of us wanted to take away his independence.
I told Frankie that Dad had died. He teared up, we all did, it hit me then that my Dad was gone. I’d seen Dad in the morgue this morning but it was telling Frankie that Archie wouldn’t be bringing the car in for repair anymore that really brought it home. No Dad, no best friend, no shadow.
I said to Frankie that Dad had been found dead in the living room by the social workers when his home-help couldn’t get in. That the flat was smoke damaged by a kitchen fire. And that although there would be a post mortem, the best guess right now was that as dad had no burns he’d either had a heart attack or succumbed to fumes at some point on Friday night when his dinner had caught fire.
In the last few years as Dad’s horizon has contracted, I’ve flown further. I’ve lived with cannibals, had an elephant fall on my head and been in an armed stand-off with the Seattle police. But as all this adventuring has been going on, by far the biggest and proudest tale to tell is that of an amazing 91 year old man who had the pride and dignity to face life head on despite the real and lethal risks.
I love you Dad.