Perhaps it is the way of relationships that they often end in the same way they began. I’ve been processing life for the last few weeks since I sat and held hands with my father as he died. In the meantime, the planet has whirled insanely on without my full attention.
Some of my earliest memories are of my father’s hands, holding on to him as I toddled down the road, being lifted off the small saddle on his bicycle cross bar, helping him prepare food for his aviary of birds, watching him paint and seeing his pottery animal sculptures crafted, painted and glazed.
His hands were kind and gentle, an expression of his person, strong, skilful, warm and trustworthy. Towards the end he was almost totally deaf and incredibly stubborn, the latter a good trait if you are determined to live on your own on a Scottish island. He was housebound towards the end and we were in the middle of sorting out wheelchair ramps and the like when he had what proved to be his final stroke.
He died peacefully in his sleep, without the need for long term residential care or painful illness – for which I am, I suspect somewhat selfishly, grateful. I am by turns overwhelmed and under-impressed with myself and my reactions. I loved him dearly and admired him enormously but I lived over 500 miles and a boat journey away and meaningful communication was often difficult. He hated most modern technology and would have nothing to do with computers, email and the internet. After my brother and mother’s deaths and with increasing age his foci narrowed and his range of conversational topics became limited
Successfully growing up should mean being unlike your parents and I am unlike my father in interests, understanding, career and theology and pretty much everything else as well. None the less I miss his presence enormously it’s as if a restraining influence has been removed from my life. As a child he was the pointer for my developing moral compass and his approval remained an important touchstone of many of my life choices.
His were the first hands to touch me as he helped me into this world – the midwife came late. On that last morning, he squeezed my hand, smiled and pushed it away in a final gesture of farewell. I guess that means I’m supposed to be an independent adult now.