My dad is ill. Fit, strong and healthy all his days then in the weeks leading up to his 76th birthday, he lands himself in hospital with pneumonia, suspected pulmonary fibrosis and possibly cancer. (Maybe the 35 years in a coal mine are catching up) They can’t confirm the latter two until the pneumonia is dealt with but something is showing up on these CT scans, making it a worrying time for us all. He’s now home by his fireside on a cocktail of steroids and antibiotics, trying to build his strength back up; he’s lost a frightening amount of weight.
Having healthy parents lasting happily into their seventies is a blessing not everyone gets to enjoy and one I am ever more grateful for. No matter how you consider the possibilities, nothing prepares you for the sudden realisation that they are not invincible; that they, and in fact, all of us are fragile and only here for a fleeting time in the grand scale of things. We shall all one day return to the dust from whence we came to be scattered and forgotten.
Back in 1989 when my grandfather (on my father’s side) was falling into that slow, insidious failing health of old age, both mentally and physically, I remember going with my dad to visit him in hospital. We walked into the ward and there on the first bed on the right hand side of a big old Victorian room, he was lying perfectly still, mouth open, face sunken and eyes half shut and for one horrible instant we both thought we were looking at a corpse. What has stuck with me all those years wasn’t how my papa was but that look on my dad’s face, a frozen moment, quickly dispelled when my papa woke up. I’ll never forget that, and I was reminded of it when I went up to Scotland last week to see my dad in hospital. My once fit-as-a-butcher’s-dog dad shuffled through, skeletal, breathless and vulnerable and at once I knew what that look on his face all these years ago truly meant; when someone close to you is facing their own mortality, it’s also your own mortality that stares back at you.
He’s always been a good dad, and at the age of seventy six, he can still teach this forty five year old boy a valuable lesson or two.