This is the story I have to tell. On Monday evening last, the phone rang and my sister said, ‘Dad’s collapsed, he’s had three heart attacks in a row. Come quick’. He collapsed bowling, they had a defibrillator, and for one brief moment as a complete stranger worked on him following the instructions of paramedics over the phone, my Dad came back into the world, his crystal blue eyes seeing the clouds roll over him and the edges of his world framed by friends. Then he slipped away again on the bowling green at St Paul’s. Then my Mum, my sister, my nephew, two fast response cars and an ambulance enter the story and my Dad’s world is framed by the paramedics working on him. This is the term. Like my Dad worked and crafted wood to make something beautiful. His heart catches like a knot in a tree after twenty-five minutes but still he sleeps. Then there are sirens, complaints from my Mum that she’s too old to get up the steps into the ambulance, and from two points on a map we meet at the hospital in the intensive care unit. My Dad, my indestructible Dad who fell from the roof of the Liberal club and survived, who weathered a heart attack over a decade ago, who took his heart bypass in his stride with humour and wind is a bundle of drips and wires, and monitors that sound like distant church bells, and a machine that brings the breath back into him. We sit with him. We hope. My Mum clings to it like a rock within a fierce sea. We all call from the boat, daughter, son, daughter-in-law and grand children. We call to him and in his mind it is the faintest of whispers. We tell him stories. I sing to him, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Al Bowlly and my nephew brings in an iPod, which can do it better, with less tears and forgotten lyrics. My Mum says it is like a film, grief, a film that rolls by, the speed of the projector never constant, the pain the same. The nurse says it is like a rollercoaster. We all know the end will be shit not even a little gift shop. It comes after we are told the brain damage is too much, the heart too damaged and though we offer up his organs; this blood donor, this donor, he is now diabetic and nothing can be used. We tried, Dad. We tried. In the end it is my Mum, my sister and me around his bed. My Mum strokes his arm, my sister holds his hand and I hold his heart in my hand. Watch the drips, the machines, switch off, one by one until his chest falls still and I long, yearn in a way I have never have for him to sit up, to ask what all the fuss is about as each heartbeat leaks through my fingers until it becomes nothing more than a flutter, nothing but stillness.
I tell my Dad that this will not be his story. My Dad’s death was on a sunny day, he drove people older than him, frailer than him to different bowling matches. In the evening he ate fish, gave my Mum the biggest kiss and hug he has given her in a long time. He felt great. He climbed the steps to St Paul’s bowling green, he played, he laughed, he made others laugh and then he laid down on the grass, among the short blades like the stubble on his chin. He looked up at the world and knew it would be a happy place with or without him. He reached out and took his Mum’s hand and with the faintest of words only he knew, he walked away with her to wherever he went. That is the story I will tell, that is the story of my Dad’s death.