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Tuesday, 20 September 2011

I miss Jock Lewis

I read a blog today which started me reminiscing about my dad and now I feel compelled to share my feelings with you. It's all a bit emotional so feel free to switch blogs to something more cheerful. I really don't mind.

In 1998 my father, still working at the age of 74, was at a meeting when he felt unwell. He was carted off to hospital with a suspected stroke, later downgraded to a TIA. Some time later, he had a scan and they found what turned out to be a Glioblastoma Multiforme Grade 4, a vicious predator wrapping itself in and out of the folds of his brain. Within a week or two, I was sitting in the waiting room at the Southern Genera l with my brother John and stepmother Linda, waiting to find out how my Dad had come through the inevitable major brain operation. John and I talked to the surgeon, and his prognosis was that Dad would be killed by this monster, most likely, given his age, in less than six months. I can remember feeling that it wasn't real, because it couldn't be. John 'Jock' Lewis never took a backward step in his life and this of all things wasn't about to beat him. To be honest John, the eldest of four siblings (my younger sister Carol and elder brother Tom weren't able to be there), was the one who took in all the detail, which was just as well, because I was bugger all use at that point.

So there it was. John and I spent countless hours on the internet, desperately trying to find some cure with no luck at all. This particular tumor kills just about everybody it afflicts. We did, however, come across a support group and quickly started to learn the etiquette of being around sufferers. One of the first things we learned was that they don't call themselves sufferers, but survivors. I became particularly attracted to a story being written by a survivor during the period of remission many enjoy before the inevitable return of the beast. This guy actually said he felt better and fitter at that time than he had ever felt. That led me to tell my Dad something I still beat myself up for.

One day, while my wife kept my stepmother occupied, I sneaked my Dad a flies' cemetery (a fruit slice for the uninitiated). Bathing in the afterglow, he suddenly looked me right in the eye and said, "This is going to kill me, isn't it?" Jeez, talk about being forthright. I gathered my thoughts and replied, "Yes Dad, it is, but there will be a period when you'll feel better, much better, for a while. You might even be able to do a lot of things you can't now. That'll last a while, and then the tumour will come back and this time it won't go away." Trust me when I say I genuinely believed that. Everything I'd read made me believe it. It wasn't true. I should have stopped at, "Yes."

Fast forward a couple of months and Dad had gone downhill pretty steadily. He was now completely dependent on others for everything. Once in a while, Linda would allow me to push him down the hill to the Eglinton Arms, the pub he loved. It was there, sitting over a Guinness, the one thing he could drink without his hands shaking uncontrollably, that he said with a smile, "I'm still waiting for the good bit." I know he was trying to make light of it, but it broke my heart. Here I was, healthy and reasonably fit, and I'd promised this man some relief from this dread affliction, relief which never came. It was one of the worst moments of my life.

In the autumn, things began to come to a head. He eventually lost the power of speech, had to have a team of nurses looking after him during the day, and either I or one of my brothers came and stayed overnight with him to give Linda some relief. I'd sleep in the bed next to him, or at least try to. Don't think it was hard for me, by the way. I lived seven miles away. Tom and John both lived in the south east of England, but they uncomplainingly did their best to fit their lives around working and travelling to help out. They were amazing during the whole thing. In a way, I feel I was lucky that I got to spend so much time with him.

At the end of September 1999, Dad left us. As it happened, I was in his kitchen while Linda sat with him. I heard her call my name and I knew. I just knew. He'd gone. I went through, looked at her and sat down. We just sat there for God knows how long. Eventually, I decided I had to call Tom and John. As I started to tell John about it, the floodgates opened. I couldn't control the sobbing. If I'm being honest, I'm crying now, but time does actually help.

The next few days, believe it or not, flew by. We had a send off to prepare, and it was going to be a good one. John and I prepared and printed an Order of Service featuring a picture on the front of Dad on a boat in Florida, smiling, and on the back a picture of him from behind flashing two fingers. I know it's daft, but I imagined the salute was for the surgeon who only gave him six months, when he managed a year. That would be fitting. His coffin came down the aisle to Glenn Miller's 'In the Mood', and later we sang 'You Are My Sunshine'. It was a belter of a funeral. The one thing I would have done differently if I'd thought of it at the time would have been to read out the Dylan Thomas poem which I'm going to use now, because it seems so fitting.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.



Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.



Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.



Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.



Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.



And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.




I still sometimes pass dad's house and I stop and stare at it, as if he's going to step out of the front door. Maybe I should think about quitting that. Maybe it's good for me. Who knows? What I do know is this; Jock Lewis never went gentle. He raged until he couldn't rage any more. I loved him dearly and I miss him every day. This isn't much of a story but it's all I have. If you stuck around this long, thanks. If you didn't, I don't blame you. I even thought about baling out half way through.

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