The text arrived at 8.26 just as I was plugging in my computer after being away for the weekend. Kneeling on the floor scrabbling around under my desk my first thought was “gosh I haven’t even had a cup of tea yet, who needs me this early on a Monday morning?”. As soon as I picked up my phone I could read the text on the home screen and it simply said “the doctors think we don’t have much time”.
By 8.45 I had packed a bag with enough clothes for a week, sent Whatsapp messages to my children and parents to bring them up to speed, decanted my cup of tea into a travel mug, grabbed the dog, locked the house up and got in the car. My reply at 8.27 had just said “I am coming”.
For eighteen months we have been fitting in fortnightly visits to my ailing father in law in the north of England following a stroke that had left him paralysed, immobile from the neck down. Cared for by mother in law and a rotation of carers from an outside agency we had done our best to make sure we were on hand as much as possible, whilst juggling our own jobs, teens, and the usual comings and goings of family life.
My father in law had been looked after as an inpatient in a couple of hospitals during that time and we had never worried about him not coming home at the end of each treatment. He was in his mid eighties, had done national service, run companies, been a keen sportsman, made of stern stuff and was, therefore, invincible.
This journey up the motorways of England to a hospital four hours away was not a new one. It really was the path well travelled, but this time it felt different, it was different. It was one of those “will I get there in time” journeys. One of the hardest journeys of all.
His health had deteriorated in the past week and we had seen him admitted to hospital again, though we still didnt really believe that “this could be it”. He had perked up once on an IV of fluid and pain killers so we thought this might be just another blip, despite the doctors suggesting otherwise. My husband had travelled up the night before after receiving a text from his mum suggesting it might be a good idea, I had plans for Monday so said I would come up on Tuesday. After all, we had time didnt we?
We thought we did, but by Monday morning it looked like we didnt and plans had to be cancelled somewhere around Oxford Services when offices were open and hands free phone calls could be made.
As both the M25 and M40 were kind to me I thanked my lucky stars that it looked increasingly like I would get get to say my final goodbyes but as those thoughts went through my head I felt awful for thinking them. This was my strong and fiercely independent father in law, the head of the family who’s name I took when I married into it a decade ago. How could I be so disloyal as to imagine him not being with us anymore? Whilst by the next junction I was mentally writing lines for his eulogy.
Whilst also thinking that I really needed to concentrate on the road ahead. Maybe some music, rather than Radio 4 would help. First song that came on was “Walk of Life” which felt hugely inappropriate, followed by “I’m Still Standing”. This was a joke right, right? Ken Bruce was trying to help by making me smile. Trying to stop me getting me lost in my thoughts and memories of a man I was going to be saying goodbye to by making me sing along to Elton John and Dire Straits.
Having stopped briefly at my inlaw’s home to leave the dog with the carers for the day I was back in the car and at the hospital three hours and 45 minutes after leaving home. I was in time to say what I needed to say to my father in law. To thank him for his kindness and generosity. For his warmth and wit. His conversation and sharp crossword solving brain.
Just an hour later, surrounded by his family, he passed away peacefully.
I had done the hardest journey of them all, though now as we reflect life without this great man maybe the hardest journey is actually about to start.