It is three years today since my dad died. Over time the narrative has become simplified, stripped to essentials. Codified.
For me it began when my mother called me as I was about to board my plane for Toronto, at Heathrow airport. My dad was fading fast, she said; she didn’t think he would last. I said I would call as soon as I landed. For seven hours, over the Atlantic and out of contact, I wondered if my dad was dying while I was out of touch and far away.
As soon as I landed at Pearson I turned on my phone. There were messages to call, from my sisters, and one, I think, from my daughter Kathy. There was no need to call, in one sense: I knew what the messages were about. But of course I did call, each person in turn. And then the strange drive in from the airport, with Rob, to her home in Marchmount Road, trying to figure out how I felt, what I should do, what this meant.
Last week, my son Jonathan was in Cape Town, having flown out from London to say goodbye to his school-friend Carl, who was dying of cancer. He and Kathy, who had flown down to give Jono her support, took Carl for one last ride up the cable car, to the top of Table Mountain. There was a farewell party, with Carl and his friends and family. After that, Carl faded fast, with great dignity Kathy said, despite the pain, and on Good Friday, early, I got a text message from Jonathan: ‘Carl has just died. No need to call. I need time to digest this.’
There is no road over death: no freeway past. It is there, you know it, and you get on with it.