Smiling Isn't Going to Solve the Problem

There were three eulogies at my father’s funeral. The first, from an eighty-year-old friend, began: ‘I would probably have to say I am a muddled atheist. In my view, in a well-ordered universe, death would be accorded in strict order of seniority, rather like policemen used to be promoted. Instead, we know it is unforeseen, unplanned and entirely random.’

For Dad’s last birthday, friends and family gathered at the hospital for a celebration. I was seventeen. At the end of his party, Dad said to me, ‘OK, let’s go!’

I didn’t want to treat him like a child, he’d scolded me for that once before. I looked to Mum for help and watched Dad get increasingly frustrated as I searched for the right way to say: ‘You’re not coming home.’

Mum and one of the nurses helped Dad into a wheelchair, and instead of going home we went for a walk around the block. Once we had headed down the hill and were working our way back up to the hospital Mum suggested we push Dad home. But the three blocks was too far. It didn’t seem practical because Dad would get restless and try to stand up. If Mum asked me now, though, I’d probably do it.

When we returned to Dad’s room he was adamant about going home and wanted to know how the three of us were going to get there. I smiled so I wouldn’t cry and he said, ‘Smiling isn’t going to solve the problem.’ That’s the last thing my father said to me. The next time I saw him, he was in a coma.

I was told by one of my father’s nurses that parents often choose not to die in front of their children. My father died minutes after I’d left the room. I’d hesitated after closing the door, and then I’d walked home.