The day started with me sitting on the lid of the cat’s litter tray after I’d taken it off to clean the base out. It cracked down the middle with a splintering noise. I don’t know why I did it, maybe it just seemed like the kind of thing that wouldn’t happen, defying the logic of my weight, the angle of meeting and the flimsiness of the plastic.
Outside the pet shop, with my new litter tray, in the huge carpark that had once been the home of Brighton and Hove Albion, I got a call from my youngest brother saying that Dad had had a fall the day before. The hospital had put in place end-of-life-procedure. I’d had to call him back, the connection was bad or it might just have been my clumsiness.
One thing after another. It was a warm and sunny day, the last day of June. Now I’d have to take the train across the country. That train ride was something I looked forward to, usually, but on a Sunday, in England?
I told my wife. She started to make preparations to come too, with our daughter. Another thing. Usually I go by myself. Look out the window, read, take a beer. But in truth it was rather lovely. The three of us, a kind of rural ride by train across the south of England on a green and sunny Sunday afternoon. Shoreham by Sea, Lancing, Worthing, Angmering, Chichester, an incantation along the crowded south coast; inland, Salisbury, where I’d jumped off a few weeks before, on my last home visit, to see the cathedral, Warminster and its uncanny hill, Dilton Marsh, Bradford on Avon and memories of its Saxon church, Bath. England were playing India away off in Birmingham. The girls mocked me as I checked the score, so far so good, on the mustard coloured BBC app.
We were met at the station by my brother. When we got to the hospital Dad seemed as he had 18 months before after another fall: stony but visceral: bones, veins, paper skin with bruises and blotches. He roused himself and straightaway recognised my wife and daughter, ‘Ah! It’s you!’ He hadn’t seen them for two years. Then me: ‘Which one are you?’ I was the last to leave, ushered away by one of the nurses; I hadn’t thought of much to say.
At my brother’s we watched the cricket highlights together, sharing a beer. My daughter explored the garden. It’s got four or five ponds and she went off looking for frogs. We watched the coverage of Glastonbury (which flags, we wondered, might be unacceptable to wave there). I was deeply asleep and had no idea where I was or the time or what was happening when my brother came into my room. He’d got a call from the hospital. It was just after midnight and the two of us walked there through a sleeping village in Somerset.
The hospital appeared like an eerily lit alien presence, we were let in via a video intercom and were led by a nurse into a visitors’ room and offered tea. You’ve got to have tea, I thought, though I didn’t fancy one. There’d been a moment’s hesitation when we’d got to the ward as one nurse whispered to the duty nurse; in the dim light I could see a screen up round my dad’s bed. A little later a doctor came to see us: a young woman, blue uniformed, blonde, calm and good-looking to tell us he had passed away ten minutes before. She asked if there was anything we wanted to know and scanned our faces for any emotion. There was nothing to ask. We thanked her.
A while later another nurse came to see us, sombre but bouncy, somehow. The three of them had held his hand and stroked his hair, she said. We saw the body, still on the bed, in the ward, with the bleeping of monitoring machines and another patient’s rasping breathing going on. ‘I always talk to them’ the nurse said, ‘listening is the last thing to go.’
My dad died on 1st July, 2019, a little after midnight.