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Until Death Do Us Part

My Mother is living with mild cognitive impairment, with memory loss being the only real symptom. Well, so we thought until my Dad had his stroke. Over the past few years, she told us that she cannot cry. My sister and I joked about it and told her that when the day comes and there is a good reason for her to cry she will. Somehow, she cannot cry. And it really concerns her. “What will people think of me if I don’t cry?” We assure her that between myself and sister we make up for all three of us!

Minutes after my Father’s passing my Mom said “What now?” Reality check? Nurse in action? I realise that she actually means what she says – what now? I gently say “nothing”. We are now just going to be with my Dad’s body in silence. I open the windows and we sit in silence. His face is serene, gentle. My Mom is worried that he might actually still be alive…. I put my head on his chest and listen for a heartbeat. She feels his pulse. He has transitioned.

My Father is dead.

What now? We decide to put his favourite pair of trousers on – a purple pair with white stars, and a T-shirt. My Dad loved this pair of earmarked pants that I chucked out years ago. Strangely Sally (his dog) suddenly did not want to be with him any longer. Right up to his last breath, she was lying on his pillow. The minute he transitioned she no longer wanted to be with him. I cover his body with a soft blanket and they to close his mouth. (My Mom hated it when he slept in front of the tv with his mouth open!) I said to her that I cannot get his mouth to stay closed. “Why don’t we tie something around his head?” she said. I had to smile. I took the little frog-shaped doorstop and put it under his chin under the blanket. It helped a little bit.

We call the GP who happened to be in Witsand, just like last Friday night when Dad had the stroke. (The GP lives in Heidelberg and usually only comes to Witsand on a Saturday.) His gentle presence confirms the transition.

My Father is dead.

We call the undertakers and decide that a strong gin and tonic is now called for. Within the hour the undertaker arrives. We say our last goodbyes. My Father’s body is wrapped in plastic and a thick grey plastic cover is put over the white plastic. It seems so official and clinical.

My Father is dead.

I help them carry his body to the hearse. On the way, I pick a rosemary branch and puts it on the plastic cover. It falls off as we push the stretcher into the hearse.

My Father is dead.

Saturday is a daze. Grey, rainy, windy. People come and go in an endless stream of teacups and coffee and more food and cakes. Firm hand grips and perfumy kisses. Old friends, people I have only heard of, some I have never met in my life. It feels like I am watching a foreign language lm of which the sub-titles are also in a foreign language.

My Father is dead.

Platitudes. People I know my Father disliked intensely. Some he tolerated. The odd one that I know he liked. At one point I feel like running away, far away to a quiet place. I realise that there is a very deep quiet within me. It is done. A life lived to capacity, with extra vigour. My Dad knew how to get the most out of his 84 years, he made sure that every trip became a journey. Last year we sat outside and he said to me “I have never been as content in my entire life as I am now”.

My Father is dead. Long live my Father!

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