A Half Decent Death.
Don’t know why he had to go and do it. Die, I mean. He always did want revenge. All his life he’d been dying – then, he finally went and did it. Shocked us all, he did. Never thought he’d really do it. They were all the same in his family. Never did anything by halves – everything for maximum effect. Take his mother – woke up on Christmas morning, wished them all Happy Christmas, and then – died! Would you ever. She was another one – spent her life dying. When she did it seemed unreal – just like with him. My Dad, I mean.
Well, he just went off to the doctor’s one morning. Not for anything in particular. Never guessed he’d got this up his sleeve. It’s almost as if it was all planned. Only two days before, he’d said to me, “I’m going to die.” Well, tell us some real news, I thought. It’s just one of his games again. Stress, he said it was. Couldn’t take any more, he said. Any more of what?
I wonder how he managed to do it? I mean – it’s not easy to die to order.
The doctor wasn’t especially worried – just said he had a slight heart irregularity, so he was sending him into hospital as a precaution. Knowing my Dad I expect he was pleased as punch. The doctor told him to go home and pack a case; the ambulance would be there within the hour. I can just see him walking home with a spring in his step, dead chuffed. Bet it was the most sprightly he’d walked for years!
Packed his own things. My Mum just let him get on with it. After he’d walked into the ambulance carrying his case, my Mum rubbed her hands together. “Good,” she thought. “Now I can decorate his bedroom.” I didn’t know that until afterwards – but then she told me.
They hadn’t slept together for a long time. Right bone of contention that was. I remember taking him to the library with me one day. Had to get some books for my project on Victorian prostitutes. “I’ve not had sex since your brother was conceived,” he said. Well, my brother was forty two then. Hell of a long time to bear a grudge, I thought. Found it all a bit disgusting really. I didn’t want to know about that. I was driving my car at the time. What a way to trap somebody! I was forced to listen. I couldn’t put him out on the motorway. Motorways brought him out in a cold sweat when he was inside the car. God knows what it would have done if I’d put him outside of it. It might have killed him!
Anyway – next thing my Mum knew was that the consultant was ringing her from the hospital. “Does your husband always slur his speech?” he said.
“Well, not that I’ve noticed,” she said.
“Was he alright during the night?” he said. Well I mean – how could she answer that one? Honesty was the best policy, she thought.
“Oh I don’t know. I don’t sleep with him,” she said.
“We’ve got to do some tests,” the consultant said.
“We think he might have had a slight stroke in the ambulance.” Just like him, my Mum thought. He never could do anything by halves.
Ten days it took him to die. Took us all by surprise. I mean – he didn’t look too bad when we went to see him. Tried to write us messages. All wobbly they were, and in big letters. Wrote the same word over and over again, and then kept pointing to it. Some of the letters were missing. We had to guess what the word was.
He did try to speak – but he couldn’t. That was the first time I’d known him lost for words. He always had something to say on everything. And he always had to be right.
“They think I’ve had a stroke,” we managed to decipher. Well – it couldn’t be too bad if he could get that across.
Never thought he’d die! Silly old bugger. Why didn’t he fight a bit. But no. He’d been waiting for this chance all his life, and he wasn’t going to blow it now.
We did everything to try and make him live. Brought him food. Jam sandwiches. Those were his favourites. We should have known when he wouldn’t even eat them. And then when the Chaplain came in. I mean – my Dad was an atheist. “Don’t let no bloody parsons near me when I’m dead,” he used to say. But there’s no telling what you’ll do when you think you might be about to snuff it. You could see his eyes light up. He put his hand up to him and smiled at him. Wanted to speak to him – well, as much as he could. Maybe he was playing safe. Needed to be on the right side of God if he might be going to meet Him soon!
I’ll never forget one day. He wanted to go to the toilet. Well – what a palava. He could hardly get out of bed. The nurse came and helped him. I could tell he wasn’t really up to it. He was so weak. Why couldn’t they have got him a bedpan, I thought. Why did they force him to walk all that way? I was almost crying. You wouldn’t do that to an animal, I thought.
We sat there, silently. Then, all of a sudden, it happened. We heard a wailing and a shouting. A chill ran through me. It sounded like an animal. There was fear in the voice. And desperation. The wailing got louder. “WHAT THE……” And suddenly I knew. It was my Dad. I began to shake. What the heck is wrong? I thought. I started, as if to go to him. But suddenly there were all nurses there. He’d fallen off the toilet, and was on the floor in a corner behind the door, crying like a baby.
They got him back into bed. “We’re short-staffed,” the nurse said, brightly. “He’s alright.” My eyes looked into hers, screaming at her, “That’s my DAD. That’s my DAD.”
It was all downhill after that. Soon, they moved him into a side room. The blinds were pulled down. We had our privacy. Not that he did. He kept pulling the sheets down, exposing everything. “Eee, Eee,” he said, pointing to his nether regions.
“It’s alright,” we said. “You’ve got a bag.”
We pulled the sheets back over him – but he fought, insisting, “Eee, Eee.”
We couldn’t win. Gave up in the end. Let him lay there with it all hanging out. Wonder if it was the first time my Mum had seen it in forty two years? He started to get agitated. They came and gave him an injection. He calmed down. We knew this was it.
My Mum brought a tape recorder in. Played an Abba tape. He liked Abba. I got hold of his hand and danced at the side of the bed, and sang along. “Let’s have a party, Dad,” I said. He always did love a party.
He looked at me with a look in his eyes that said, “Yes – let’s.” It was as if, for one moment, he forgot he was dying. Seconds later, he fell into a deep sleep. Soon after that, it was all over. He died to the sounds of ‘Dancing Queen.’
My Mum still doesn’t know why he had to go and do it. “He should have fought,” she says, putting her fists up to heaven. Just like he did when she was about to go at the end of visiting time one day. And that about sums it up. They spent their whole lives fighting. Now, my Mum’s bereft. She’s got no-one to fight any more. Gone down to seven stone. Nothing to feed on. She’s fading fast. I’m waiting for the call.