Wednesday, 13 May 2015


The week-before-last my kind, stoic, brainy father-in-law died. He was also the adored grandfather of our two children.

I’ve been pretty stingy with the adjectives - George was also calm, philosophical and resourceful. But the thing I loved best was his tinder-dry sense of humour. “Climb aboard!” he’d boom as you knocked hesitantly on his door. This was no pleasure craft - George had been flat on his back in his rest home bed for more than a year.

My father-in-law wasn't just old, he was ‘old old’ and his body wore out before his mind did.

Phone calls at 4 a.m are seldom good. The best you can hope for is a wrong number. When it rang we knew immediately. And even though a peaceful death was just what everybody - including George - had been hoping for, our relief was quickly trumped by sadness and grief.

Straight away the family’s work starts - letting people know, making funeral arrangements, sorting all the stuff around the end of a long life. George was to be flown back to Blenheim and we were going with him. I had to tell Mum.

As soon as she saw me she sensed something was wrong.

What she didn't know, at least for more than a few minutes at a time, was that George had died. I tried everything. All the tricks that used to help her retain things.

I started with a letter, explaining what had happened, and delivered it to the rest home. As soon as she received it Mum phoned my partner to say how sorry she was. She did that beautifully. Later the same day, she re-discovered the letter and phoned him all over again.

Then there was the death notice. Mum still gets the morning paper. And she’s a keen scanner of the Family Announcements. She must have read George’s death notice half a dozen times. Nothing stuck.

Saturday came round and I picked up Mum. I broke the news to her once again. She was visibly upset. Mum hugged the grandchildren. She said all the right things.

A little while later, sitting on the sofa drinking tea, Mum spotted the cards on the sideboard. “Have I missed something? Has someone had a birthday?”

It was almost true.

George’s funeral - which he’d pre-purchased decades earlier - was held on a perfect autumn day in Marlborough. It would have been his 96th birthday.

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