It’s Christmas Day and my father died on Wednesday. It was not unexpected but the enormity of it is so vast I haven’t yet reached the other side.
I have tried several times to write something for you about it. I think this is important because the purpose of this page is to bear witness to death. So that will come. But at the moment I can’t put the words down.
Partly this is because there are so many of them I don’t know where to begin. But maybe words also fail me because words were my place with him – even when he lost them.
The stories keep coming, the memories, that thing I’ve discussed before where you only get the full sense of the person when their current challenging needs no longer distract and their true magnificence steps to the fore.
I got the gift of time with Dad on Wednesday. When I arrived in the morning he was slightly smaller in the bed, slightly more withered. (Each day I marvelled at how this could be possible.)
He still had a strong grip and I held his hand. Hard as it was, I drew myself into that space. I sat that way for two hours, shutting my eyes and resting my forehead in against him. Every now and then I’d squeeze and he’d squeeze back. The communication between us was as strong as ever and I knew an opportunity like this would never come again so I savoured it: sat with it, revelled in it. Memories, moments, connections, and just the luxury of nothing other than being in the same space as him.
Later that day, he died with Sr Latu at his bedside and I could not be happier. She nursed Mum when she was dying. She is a strong, wise, comforting presence.
I arrived about an hour later and his body was still warm. A little expiration of air, almost a breath, puffed from him as I once again took his hand. (This is unusual but occasionally happens.) Not much had changed but everything had. Without his character shaping his face, he was almost unrecognisable. Technically Ken Rice but not Ken Rice. His spirit had gone. And it was most striking in his eyes. They no longer reflected the person he saw. They held a gaze that looked past life, into the true never-never.
Again, I held his hand for two hours, interrupting only on tiny occasions, including to invite his housemate Judy to come in and say goodbye. His hand was easy to hold. No grip this time but it was soft and malleable still, so I could shape it into mine.
We sat there again: memories, moments, connections, and just the luxury of nothing other than being in the same space as him.
Then I kissed him on the forehead, kissed those strange eyes and now completely comfortable about who we had been to each other, I said my last Goodbye.
I’ve joined that reluctant club – those who grieve a loss at Christmas time.
Happy Christmas to all – and goodbye my darling father.
Vale Kenneth Parnell Rice.