Wood you please - Chapter 9

Three Stories

3rd June 2019

Woodwork has always been my sanctuary, the space where my head can get screwed back on. However, in the last 6 weeks it just hasn't been the same. It seems so mundane. It seems so futile. It seems so irrelevant.

6 weeks ago Dad died and although the world has not stopped turning and the sun has not stopped shining, I can't shake off what he'd become. I've written approximately 2000 words already but having read it, I don't think he'd like it. Should I delete it? Should I share it? At the moment, I'll do neither. Instead, I'll adopt a 3rd way – I'll rewrite it.

My dad touched many people in his quiet unassuming way – me more than most and I define him with three words parenting, prayer and politics. As ever, I'll put the cart before the horse.

January 2019

I suppose one of my parents' greatest regrets was the fact that they didn't have grandchildren. It was no one's fault but that's the way of the world. I could have explored more options but I couldn't face that particular roller-coaster and grandchildren-less they were. A little boy came into my life however, and he called Mum and Dad grandma and grandpa. He's not mine but he feels like he is. I was looking after him today and as we walked together past the park I used to play in, I explained that Grandma was really looking forward to seeing him but Grandpa would be quiet as he's not very well.

As is a five-year-old's wont, he wanted to know why he was ill. His mother explained that he wasn't eating his food and so he wasn't strong. This seemed to satisfy him and when we went to visit Mum and Dad he delighted in the cuddles and kisses Mum gave him and giggled as she tickled him. My mum has always loved children.

Mum asked if he would come up and see Grandpa which he eagerly agreed to and in his five-year-old way tried to engage with Dad. He was fascinated by the length of Dad's ears and how 'wobbly' they were. He wanted to show he cared so he asked if he should feed him. We all smiled indulgently but said no.

Note from the author

As with many sons, when I called it would be a quick exchange of pleasantries with Dad followed by, 'Where's Mum?' The conversations I had with Dad revolved around politics and my earliest memories of him are filled with him watching the news.

 ‘Coal not dole’ were the words on everybody’s lips in the summer of 1984. Arthur Scargill had made the fateful error of believing that democracy did not extend to the NUM playing right into Maggie Thatcher’s hands – the result was the creation of the UDM, Ian MacGregor continued down the road of dismantling the mines and we had another 6 years of Maggie.

Although many say that Dad and I look alike, including my mother [she jokily says that we are both ugly], we are most similar in our politics – left-wingers and proud. I suppose the summer of 1984 was when many of my generation became politicized, I can pinpoint the moment almost to the minute: Dad’s watching the news and Maggie comes on the screen – he immediately starts shouting in Gujarati, “Mother fucker, you mad fucker…” mentally, I raise my fist in solidarity.

Note from the author

Dad suffered from a dementia type illness and we had been told by his wonderful geriatrician that his brain had shrunk considerably since his last CT scan. Dementia is a cruel illness. It strips you of your essence, your being, your soul. Tellingly, he'd forgotten his prayers. Those words that he'd recited day after day, without fail, for his entire life had now escaped him.

March 2019

After I had given Dad his bath and ensured that the routine had been completed to Mum's satisfaction, I got him dressed. He'd have to stand to put on his clothes and although he found it exhausting, he insisted on bathing, getting dressed and praying every day. As he got weaker, this was harder and harder to do. His religious garments [his sudreh and kusti – a vest and thread] had to be put on but they got in my way as they kept falling down on my head.  I joked with him and said we'll have to cut these. A familiar, throaty rumble escaped his lips, 'Khabadhar!' which means don't you dare! Mum and I laughed at this. For me it was a reminder of my youth and for her it showed that although Dad was almost gone, some of his sense of self was still there. It was almost the last time he was lucid.

17th April 2019

Dad died in the night. As we were waiting in the room, a voice note appeared on my phone. It was from my boy, he said he loved me and that he was sad that grandpa had died.

18th April 2019 – the day of the eulogy

Mrs WW had told me she's spoken to my boy's mum, she said he was still very upset and that he thought it was his fault that Grandpa had died. He had asked his mum if he should have forced him to eat.

Author's note

As I pondered this in the garage and shed a few private tears, I mused on what I was going to say later that afternoon.  Casual encounters I have had have been an integral part of my life - those chance meetings where my destiny twisted and turned and fate threw me a ‘get of jail free’ card and I remembered an assembly I had been to. As ever, it was one of the Head's

18th April 2019 – the eulogy

As I finished the first two stories I asked the 150 or so mourners to close their eyes and think about someone they love or someone who loves them. I asked them to think about how much that person worried about them, cared for them, thought about them and sacrificed for them. How they tried to guide, model and shape. How they spent every waking moment wanting and hoping for the best for them. And then I wanted them to think about my dad [and mum] as they'd done all of those things and  many more, for me….