But words often spark more memories in me than photos do, so it’s important that I write down a few words, really just for myself, about Dad’s 80th Birthday Party which, as most of you know, we had about six weeks ago.
I could do it privately and put the words in a drawer somewhere but this blog incites me to do my writing and to do it a little better. Besides, I like sharing my words with whoever cares to read them so this seems best, to me.
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I’m not usually the one who wants to celebrate anything. I’ll go along and I’ll generally love it but I won’t be the one pressing to organise it, to get it started. This time, though, I was right at the front of queue. This one, I felt, was worth celebrating. Very few people, you see, had expected Dad to reach 80 years old. There had been so much heart-trouble, so many operations, it just didn’t ever seem terribly likely. Yet here he was, smart and strong, independent and enjoying life more thoroughly than he had in many years. It was something to celebrate for sure.
So, on the eve of his 80th birthday, we all gathered to eat. “Let’s go to that usual place,” I said, “we all enjoy it and it will be perfectly fine.” Some of the others wanted a bigger deal. “That lovely place which overlooks the lake. It’s a bit of a drive but who cares? It’s an occasion.” So we went there. I’m so glad we did. We had a private room, overlooking the lake. The early evening was beautiful. The fishermen in the group, Dad included, must have looked wistfully down upon the lake and the island and pictured themselves out there in their boats. Even I did a bit of that and I was not one of the fisherman in the group.
The food was spectacularly good. If it was longer ago, you could be forgiven in thinking that I am viewing this evening now with rose-tinted spectacles but I’m not. It was only a few weeks ago and I remember it clearly. That’s why I’m setting it down like this. So, yes, the food was very good. We had two tables in the room and there was much chatter and even photographing of each other’s dinners. That was new to me. In between courses, we went out onto the balcony to sniff the lake air and Auntie Della’s cigarette smoke, then we came back in for more.
At the end, Dad made a little speech. Can you believe the perfection of it? He got to make a little speech. Nothing grandiose, he just thanked us all for being there and said how it meant a lot to him. Then we got pictures taken. He looks good in the pictures, happy that we’re all together and having such a nice time. That’s what I think anyway.
We had started dinner early so, by eight thirty, we were on the road again, convoying back into town. The pub had set aside the entire rear section for Dad and his family for a few drinks and an open invitation, for anyone who cared to, to come and have a drink and say ‘Happy Birthday.’
They came in droves. People we see every day, people we hadn’t seen in years. Dad and Berney and Della set themselves up in a corner and sort-of ‘held court’ while wave upon wave of well-wishers landed, greeted, laughed and joked, remembered, then mingled among themselves and chatted and drank.
The pub laid on sausages and chips. If Jesus had them when that multitude showed up for his gig, he wouldn’t have needed any miracle. There was plenty to go around. Soon the place was buzzing with friends and family, old work colleagues, neighbours, fellow-Rovers-fans and God knows who else.
Late in the evening, there was a big cake. It was a lovely cake. It showed Dad on his boat on his lake, wrapped up warm in his Rovers scarf, having hooked a friendly shark-like fish who was popping out of the blue water to wish him a Happy Birthday. The cake was much-admired then cut and enthusiastically demolished. The noise levels got louder and then, eventually, quieter as the congenial evening slipped away from us. Dad enjoyed it all, his friends, the fun. I could always tell when he wasn't enjoying something, I always knew. He enjoyed this evening. He enjoyed it.
Sometime after Midnight, I had to go. I had to get back to my boys. Dad was still holding court in the corner, so I went over to see him.
“I have to go. How are you doing?”
“Oh fine. I’m thinking of going home myself fairly soon.”
“You should, you’ve done all you have to do now. I’ll see you in the morning.”
It wasn’t the worst conversation to have had.
That’s all I know, first hand, until the morning.
I know he stayed a while longer. He needed to get a big black plastic bag to put all his presents in. A bar man obliged. He brought them home and he and his daughters opened the presents and exclaimed over the thoughtfulness and kindness of people.
Then he got ready and went to bed, in fine form. He curled up and went to sleep.
And that’s how we found him in the morning. Curled up and asleep. Sometime towards morning, he had slipped away. He hadn’t been expected to ever hit 80, but, at midnight, he had. He'd done it so well we hadn't been expecting him to go.
I was glad I was there, that morning. Otherwise I never could have believed that somebody could die so peacefully. I would have thought there must inevitably have been some moment of pain or discomfort before you’d go. But I was there and there was nothing but deep sleep. Deep sleep.
Even in the first moments of shock, I couldn’t help but think what a wonderful way it was to go. To see everybody, share a last meal untroubled by any foresight, get to tell everyone what they meant to you. Celebrate, socialise, make plans for a little trip in the days to come and then go home and go to sleep.
I’ll have it that way too, please, when my time comes.