Saying goodbye

Ralph Franklin Hurt   5th January 1928 - 4th September 2012

My Dad died this week.  It still sounds weird saying that.  He was 84.  He had heart problems and had been slowly deteriorating for a number of years.  Mum had been his full time carer for over a year, but recently Dad required more care.  He spent the last four months of his life in a nursing home.  The last time I saw him, fittingly, was on Father's Day.  I arrived to find out he had recently stopped eating and doctors had advised Mum to switch from medical care to palliative.  His bed had been lowered to ground level (so he wouldn't fall out) and Mum and I sat on cushions next to him.  We held his hands and he gripped back tight.  I cried like a baby as I watched his laboured breathing.  He could no longer talk and I have no idea if he could see us.  But the nurses said he would know it was us.  I left realising that might be the last time I saw him.

A couple of days later I headed down to torquay again, amazed he was still hanging on.  When I walked through the door of Mum's place she said he had died just before midnight.  That was it.  Years of watching him slowly become frailer and smaller had ended.  I didn't cry, but I have many times since.  And I'm crying as I write this.

My relationship with Dad was difficult.  I realised recently I don't think he ever said he loved me.  Or was proud of me.  He was of that generation of men who didn't.  In the last few days I have thought a lot.  I don't need to hope to hear those things anymore.  As Peter pointed out, the way in which Dad gripped my hand said what he was unable to.  I had wondered if I would feel regret for never having a deep conversation with Dad.  But with his death, perhaps I am set free from it all.  I can see Dad for who he was.  Completely.  No regrets.  Just understanding.

I spent wednesday with my Mum and two brothers, sorting things out for the funeral.  We chose music, got clothes together for Dad, and went through photos for the Service booklet.  Packed away in Dad's wardrobe was a box.  It contained his life before us.  We were looking for a photo of him as a young man.  There he was, in his 20s cycling through the Swiss Alps with a couple of mates.  I'm not sure I had seen them before.  As I looked at these photos, into his eyes, I had a realization.  They were the same as mine.  All the weird angles I am familiar with in my own face, could also be seen in his.  And I'd never noticed it before.  Peter laughed when I mentioned this.  'Yeah, you look just like him!'

His funeral is today, and I have written something to say.  I wasn't sure I could, but although Dad could never talk about his feelings, his daughter can.  If I wasn't able to say this to him when he was alive, I can say it in front of his friends and family.

This is for you Dad:

I am certain that if you looked up the word ‘cantankerous’ in the dictionary, you would find a photo of Dad.

He was a man of his generation.  Not one for saying much, especially when it came to his feelings.  A friend and I used to joke about this.  She has a father a similar age to Dad, and we both talked about knowing how to translate the ‘men of few words’.  If you got a stir, it meant you were ok by him.  You just had to know how to take it.  When I was going through a tough time a number of years ago, he came up and put his arm around me and asked ‘How you doing kid?’  Knowing him, made me understand how huge this gesture was, as the man who didn’t talk about feelings, reached out.

Every summer holiday of my childhood was spent at Portarlington, and then eventually Torquay.  This was a blessing and a curse, as it meant getting our giant old 70s caravan from Keilor to the coast.  There was much ranting, muttering, yelling and occasional swearing.  It was a battle of wills between Dad and the canvas annexe, as we pitched our summer home. ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun’ was not written about Dad.  While we were all sun kissed water babies, Dad preferred the shade.  In fact, he became a barometer in the Portarlington Caravan Park.  The weather would have to be so hot and oppressive for Dad to consider going for a swim.  The sight of Dad in bathers meant that the weather was about to change and an enormous storm was coming.

He influenced my sense of humour.  I grew up watching Kenny Everett, the Goodies and Fawlty Towers thanks to Dad.  I have learned to joke and stir from the best.  He is known for his dry sense of humour and I’d like to give him some of the credit for my general smart-arsery.  When it comes to cheek, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.  When faced with adversity I think the whole family, even in the darkest of hours, is likely to find a joke to lighten the mood.  In speaking to the funeral director last week, we smiled at each other as we asked if coffins came in mission brown…Dad’s favourite colour.

I followed in his footsteps and became a Doctor Who fan.  I can’t see a Cyberman without thinking of Dad.  It makes me smile to know that he is currently wearing the Doctor Who socks I bought him for Father’s Day last week.  Craig jokingly said, ‘wouldn’t it be great if the coffin left to the sound of the Tardis!’ Yes, that would have been cool and I’m sure Dad would have laughed. I was pleased to introduce him to Harry Potter.  He was next in line to read all the books and watch the DVDs after me.  I can’t think of a time I didn’t see a pile of books next to his chair in the living room.  I have a similar ‘to read’ pile next to my bed.

Dad grew up in a small town in England.  His world became larger when he began working on the trains.  It became larger again, as he saw England and Europe from the saddle of a bicycle.  He saw more of the world on the trip to Australia by boat.  In retirement, he and Mum went back to the UK and he made the Englishman’s pilgrimage to Spain.  He visited relatives in Canada and saw the Canadian Rockies from a train.  But in recent years his world began to get smaller.  Due to ill health he stoped coming to Melbourne.  Torquay became his world.  Then as he gave up doing things he loved, like playing golf and hydroponic gardening, his world became his home with Mum.  Recently, his world became smaller again, in the form of a room at Geelong Aged Care.  And ultimately smaller again last week when he was unable to communicate with us and could only hold our hands.

He was a difficult old bugger and I have complex relationship with him.  But he was my Dad, and I loved him.

I’d like to thank you all for being part of Ralph’s life.  I’d also like to thank Mum for doing such an amazing job of looking after him.  I hope you will all now help us to look after her.

Thank you.


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