Thursday, 31 October 2013


I was going to begin this with "Hey! I'm not dead! Hurrah!" but on reflection that seemed a bit crass, given the events of recent weeks.

We have suffered a bereavement here.

Mr WithaY's father died suddenly at the start of October, and despite the fact that he has been ill for a long time, it was a shock.  At the latter end of the summer he was diagnosed with an unusual form of chronic leukaemia, on top of the multiple severe health issues he already suffered with.  Mr WithaY went with him to the hospital in Bath and the various treatment options were discussed, but to be perfectly blunt, they picked the only practical one, which was to treat the illness without hoping to cure it.

Mr WithaY said that the oncologist was lovely, kind and helpful and considerate, and very anxious to make sure that all of the possible treatments were explained and understood.  The cure option involved some sort of radical gene therapy, but would have required frequent trips to the hospital, and massive bone marrow injections, which would have been cruelly invasive and uncomfortable for a frail, immobile old man.

Anyway, that crisis passed, and life continued as normal for all of us, with Mr WithaY and I popping in to see father in law at the nursing home as often as possible.  We bought him a new TV, as the one he had in his room was "too small, bloody hopeless, I can't hear the bloody thing," etcetera, which he liked.  I baked him caramel cookies, and he enjoyed those now and again, despite his diabetes.  He complained about the "bastard birds" avoiding his window-mounted feeder.

The glorious weather over the summer meant that the view from his room was truly beautiful, the hills and woods, trees, animals, birds and the old house in the foreground.  Father in law enjoyed sitting and looking out of his (thankfully floor to ceiling) window at people coming and going in the car park, it afforded him pleasure to see movement in the outside world after having spent so long in his previous care home without the ability to look outside except at the sky.

A worrying new development began, though.  He became rather confused, telling us things which made no sense.  In hindsight I think he was suffering a series of mini-strokes. At this time he became considerably more frail too, unwilling to leave his bed to sit and look out of the window.  He even stopped watching television, seeming to be content to doze, only really waking up to chat to the staff and any visitors as they came and went.

One Saturday afternoon - Mr WithaY was away working at a country show - I had a call from the senior nurse at the care home, telling me that father in law was poorly, and they had called an ambulance to take him to hospital for tests.  This was a concern, but he had suffered so many trips to hospital over the years that I wasn't particularly alarmed.  I left a message on Mr WithaY's mobile to tell him his father had been taken to hospital, and that I'd let him know how he got on.  We've left each other a lot of messages like that over the years, so neither of us panics early.

When the hospital rang me a couple of hours later to ask "Who is his next of kin?" I did begin to worry.  I answered the hospital's questions as best I could, and then I left another message for Mr WithaY, asking him to call me ASAP.

An hour passed, the hospital called again, this time to tell me that "It might be best for the family to come in."   By now it was past 10pm, things sounded very serious.  I called Mr WithaY's brother and let him know, but as he lives at least 4 hours away, I said there was little point in him coming down that night.  Thankfully, Mr WithaY had managed to pick up my messages, and he rang to find out what the situation was. As soon as I told him what was happening, he said he was coming home.

So, by 1am we were both at the hospital, and were able to be with father in law.  It was peaceful, tranquil, dignified.  The nurses at Bath hospital were wonderful. They gave us privacy but checked in on him every half hour or so, brought Mr WithaY and I tea and biscuits, and offered sympathy and practical advice at the end.  We left the hospital at about 4.30am, walking out into a gloriously clear starry night. It seemed appropriate, somehow.

In the days which followed we learned about the administrative burden which a death confers on the nearest and dearest, on top of the sadness.  Mr WithaY's brother came down for a day or two and helped out, which was appreciated, and we set about organising a funeral, notifying those friends and former neighbours we had contact details for, and clearing out his remaining possessions from the nursing home.

The funeral was on Tuesday this week. It was simple, respectful and gentle, and, I hope, such that father in law would have wanted.  We buried him in a pretty little Dorset churchyard, where his mother was buried.  It's close enough that we can visit if we want to, but I don't imagine we will.  Visiting graves has never been something Mr WithaY or I have ever done, but I am glad it's in a lovely spot.

One thing which is comforting is that he saw almost all of his family in the weeks before his death,  and a few of his old friends had been to see him too.

Apparently he died of a stroke, simply going to sleep and not waking up.  We are very sad, but it is also a relief to know that he is not suffering under his many and irreversible medical problems, any more.

So.  A solemn start to this posting, but as it's been in my head for weeks, it seems right to share it here.

In  other news: I have to go and have some routine but possibly major surgery next year. I've been having a few problems, went to the doctor, was referred to have a scan, and as a result will be having an op (hopefully) in January next year. Nothing terrible, but I'm not looking forward to it much.

Gosh, what a medical post.  I promise to try and be back to my normal self soon.