Dads Last Days

February 10 2009 Dad took very ill at home and was admitted to Ward 3 Mid-Ulster palliative care until his death 1 March.

When my brother in law Ron phoned me (we were at son Sam's/Jasna's for Thelma Rose's first birthday, 10 Feb 2009) to say that Dad was on his way to hospital and that our family doctor advised me to travel, I knew that it was the beginning of the end. Travel arrangements were quickly made....I was on my way the next day, 11 February. I did not to return until 7 March, one week after Dad's remains were laid to rest in Cooksown cemetry.

I arrived at the Hospital, the Mid Ulster in Magherafelt, (where Yvonne & I were born), on Wednesday 11 February 09. Ron kindly picked me up at the George Best Belfast City Airport, arriving at the Mid Ulster Hospital around 20:00, walked nervously up the stairs towards the small ward just before Ward 3, not really knowing what to expect. Saw aunt Evelyn & Sandy....went forward to Dad, bent down and hugged him. He was happy, I was happy....he remarked “hugging that was like hugging a yard brush”!! Uncle Sandy, as expected had a hearty laugh! This was the beginning of the downward path, but we were determined to make that path as comfortable as possible. One incident, a few days after my arrival...... He was in the small single bed ward (where he died almost 3 weeks later) Ward 5. On the Thursday I visited in the afternoon and was late in arriving. He had been moved to a similar ward just across the corridor. Dad was sitting in a chair at the side of the bed and looked rather irritated. He looked at me and I knew what was coming “where the bloody hell have you's been?”....I spoke quietly to him explaining why I was late. The nurses were changing the bed and Dad was in his underclothes....very soon however everything was ok, he was back in bed and made comfortable. We would visit daily, switching between Mum at Westlands and Dad in the Mid Ulster. After another few days he was moved to the open Ward 3. There were ca 7 other patients, one of whom we knew very well. This patient's brother and wife had given Dad a lot of work after his retirement....driving rental cars to/from the Belfast International Airport....and collecting new cars from the Republic of Ireland. During his stay here it was obvious that his condition was deteriorating and we had regular conversations with the staff, who were always helpful and informative. There was a regular stream of visitors, good friends from the church, the pastor and his wife. Sandy, Evelyn, Alan, Eric, Norman, Ethel were regulars at the well as other family members.

Three/four days days after Dad was taken into hospital, Yvonne & I had a long conversation with the Doctor in charge, Polish and very pedagogical. This could be a long process, and could be short....every individual was different, he said. At this stage Dad was not under palative care, but that would change when he deemed it was necessary. We were put in touch with the MacMillan Nursing team, who also explained their role in the care process. Liz and grand daugher Jennifer were over on holiday during the winter school break/sportlov and came to Cookstown from Coleraine by bus. Yvonne picked them up around mid day. They ate in Cookstown then to the Mid Ulster (on the Thursday,10 days prior to death). Jennifer stayed in the car with Yvonne while Liz visited. Ozzae & Eileen also visited that day. Liz has told me that on that Thursday night, Jennifer couldn't sleep and cried bitterly because she would never see “old Granda again”.

Around 20th Feb, Dad was moved back into that little Ward 5 and palative care was then put into action....about 5-6 days after Liz/Jennifer's visit. We were very fortunate to be allocated that ward, it just had become available when I asked staff how long Dad would have to stay in the open ward? Our concern at this stage was that he wouldn't be suffering pain. We were guaranteed that pain relief was being administered, and as it turned out they inserted a small tube into his stomach, attached to a small pump which would by impulse inject small amounts of morfin based pain relief into the blood system. At this stage it was difficult to communicate. He was aware as to who was there, but the eyes were closed and his speech almost non existent. He tried to mouth words, but, but......You could see his eyes flicker when he heard the Pastor's voice. Malcolm would read from the Bible and pray.

On the Wednesday, 26th I was driving Yvonne into Cookstown....we were planning to do some shopping.....her mobile phone rang just as we entered Union St. It was the hospital, advising us to come, Dad's condition had deteriorated. We turned immediately, back to Clare and then off to the Mid Ulster. This was the beginning of a vigil which lasted until the following Sunday morning, 06.30. I didn't leave Dad's bedside, nor the hospital for the following days.....except for short stints of sleep at night and the occasional short walk around the hospital grounds. We stayed at the bedside all day and all night, taking it in turns. Ron helped by relieving us and making sure Yvonne went home for shower and refreshments. We held Dad's hand most of the time, talked to him and I read Bible verses. The last few days there was no visible contact with him, he lapsed into a mild coma. One of those last nights, as I stood at the Nurses's reception, while they were changing bed clothes and making him comfortable, the night Sister (Kathleen) for that particular night, came over to me and we started to chat. She was so very sympathetic and explained that she understood exactly what we were going through. She had a similar experience a few years previously with her father and a cancer death. She then asked me outright “have you said good bye to your father, have you thanked him for all that he has done for you and have you told him that you love him?” That shook me up, as I looked at her, realising I hadn't....I was confronting death at close range and had never thought of the good bye part! I talked it over with Yvonne, a few minutes was my turn now to sit with Dad. Holding his hand, with no response, I uttered all those words, my voice was breaking, but I got them all out.....I noticed a very slight movement on one of Dad's eyes. Was that him trying to tell me that he had heard me? I really hope so. A few hours later Yvonne did the same thing.

We continued talking to him quietly, visitors continued to come, the Pastor was there regularly. However Dad was not now reacting. It was heart rending to see him in this helpless state, not at all what we wanted to experience. I was happy to be able to accompany Dad, hand in hand to that final breath, almost......I had gone for my shift of sleep around 04.30 on that Sunday morning 1 March 2009. The night staff had just been in and turned him. Yvonne & I usually overlapped for a few minutes, before going for a sleep, in the family room, allocated by the hospital, just a few metres from Dad's ward. At 06.30 Yvonne came into me, touched my shoulder and quietly said “I think it's all over!” Before really being awake I was on my feet and into the ward. One of the nurses was there. She confirmed that Dad had died. She asked for a few minutes....after that she beckoned us into the ward and said that we could stay with the remains for as long as we wanted to. The staff had straightened Dad, put a clean white sheet over him, nicely folded so we could see his face. His arms were outside the sheet. He was at peace. My immediate feeling was “he's gone, he's not here, this is just an empty shell” That feeling that entered me, deep into my soul....cannot be described. Dad was dead, gone for ever and ever. Ron, Yvonne & I stood there at the bottom of the bed. I held Yvonne, saying something like, “thank God it's all over and he's at peace at last”. We stayed 10-15 mins. Ron then suggested that he remove the rings, for which I was very thankful for. Yvonne & I left the ward and Ron came out after 2-3 minutes, gave me the rings and I put both of them on to my little finger on my left hand, where they have been ever since and will remain with me until my end. I rang Liz, couldn't say anything, she got the message and sent it to the boys. I then phoned her back, after I had settled a bit. I contacted the Pastor, just after 07.30 and Robin Steenson the Undertaker, then we returned to Cookstown.

We had told Mum by this time that Dad was in hospital and that he was ill.....we tried to break it all gently to her, by saying “he wasn't too well to-day” and that he was “asking for her”...which he did do. During his days in hospital, up until about 7-8 days before death we would encourage him about Mum's condition and her life in Westlands Home. He got very emotional when Mum came into the conversation.

We had changed the tone somewhat with Mum, explaining that he was now very ill, and then that Sunday morning's trip to Westlands. Yvonne and I went into her room. I sat down on the chair beside her bed, took her hand. Yvonne sat on the bed, or maybe even stood beside me...don't remember! Just said “Mum our news isn't good, Dad has left us!”....words to that effect. She looked straight at me, into my eyes, then buried her head in the pillow. We sat with her for a while, informed the staff in the home, making sure that they would keep a regular check on her.

Then it was home to Evelyn & Sandy. All three of us, Yvonne, Ron and me walked over to nr 2. Evelyn said she knew, as soon as she saw us.........Evelyn, Sandy & Eric left us on Saturday night and I'll never forget Eric looking back at Dad, with a slight wave in his hand. Little did we know then, the first March 2009, that their son, cousin Eric would follow Dad, just 8 months later! Ron was a great help. He took control of organising the wake, car parking, chairs from Derryloran Parish Church and organising seating in the house at Sunnydale. The boys would arrive on the following Thursday, as Steven and family were in Spain on the death day and weren't due to return to Sweden until the Wednesday. We requested Steenson the undertaker, to write into the death notice for the press that the Wednesday and Thursday was strictly private for family only. On the Monday & Tuesday we had approx 200 visitors per day, perhaps a few more on the Monday.

The period between death and the arrival of the boys I experienced as similar to a trance. Impossible to formulate feelings. Relief, sadness, memories, wake talk.....had never experienced mixed emotions like this before.....yes to some degree with the death of my grandparents, many years earlier. All funeral organising went well....good support from the undertaker, pastor, family, neighbours and friends. Then there was the funeral. Dad's remains were kept at the Steenson Funeral Parlour and I/Yvonne would accompany anyone wishing to say their final goodbye. Only a few chose to do so.... Aunt Evelyn and uncle Sandy did and some of their family. The boys chose not to, as they insisted that they wanted to remember their Granda as the jovial man who had made them so happy when they were children....except for Steven who at the last moment, just before the coffin was closed, dashed into the little rest room. Liz, discreetly followed him....

The funeral procession travelled through the town....the town Dad loved so much and where he had so many friends. The immediate family (including Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Sandy) travelled behind the funeral walkers, until we reached the Independent Methodist Church. Our four boys carried the coffin, ably marshalled by undertaker Robin Steenson (whom, incidentally I attended Sunday School with as 8-9 year olds!). The Church was packed. Many old friends from Dad's working life...Bacon Factory, Fishers, Town Hall. Friends from all over the Mid Ulster district. Mum/Dad's best friends over many years, the Devlin's from Moneymore were well represented....Brendan & Joyce's sons attended. The biggest surprise and shock was the attendance of Brendan's elderly sister, Brigit, sitting beside and holding Yvonne's hand and Liz. She had just turned 100 years old. Afterwards she related stories about Dad and their time as neighbours in Coltrim, Moneymore. There was approx 12 years difference in ages. When she left Moneymore as a young woman for the US, she asked Dad to wait for her and she would come back and marry him!

Rev Malcolm Patterson conducted a funeral service matching up to Dad's wishes and I delivered a tribute, the most difficult activity I have ever performed.

 Photo taken by cousin Norman B a few hours after the funeral, in the Royal Hotel, Cookstown


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