My Dad, Eddy Stone, has just passed away. Not Edward: Eddy. That’s what he liked to be called.
Normally I don’t do euphemisms either, but I like that line: “passed away”. Passed: as in gone passed, moved on, shifted perspective in relation to the rest of the world. And away: a conceptual difference, as in “the funeral is weeks away”, or “the destination is miles away.”
“Away” also reminds me of The Way, the Tao of Chinese philosophy: the indefinable, ineffable is-ness of all existence.
In the words of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu, as translated by Stephen Mitchell:
The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.
The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.
Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.
Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.
Anyway, Dad’s passing was sudden, but not unexpected. He’d been getting increasingly fragile for the last few months. Every day was like some new revelation about how distant from life he was becoming. He was losing his memory, fast. You’d say something to him and he’d forgotten it within seconds. He’d lost interest in everything. Even the telly, that great stalwart in Dad’s life, had become a mere distraction to him, which he usually slept in front of, rather than watched. Sometimes we’d go round in the afternoon, and he’d still be in bed. He couldn’t be bothered to get up. He couldn’t be bothered to get dressed or undressed, and would fall asleep in whatever he was wearing. He couldn’t be bothered to eat. We tried to nag him, but it only got on his nerves. He said, on more than one occasion: “I think I’ve lived too long.”
He was also getting smaller: visibly shrinking before our eyes. Even his feet had become smaller: so small, in fact, that his shoes had become like giant paddle boats that he was always liable to slip out of any minute. We’d been planning to get him a new pair. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective) he died before we had the chance.
He died on Sunday the 8th July, possibly sometime around 10 am. I was on my way home from Sheffield. I’d stopped off at a motorway service station, to get a cup of coffee, when I got a phone call from his neighbour, Roy. He said there was an ambulance outside Dad’s house. I rang my sister, Helen, who then went round. The next phone call came when I was driving, so I couldn’t answer it immediately. I had to pull in to the next service station. I rang my sister, not knowing what to expect. There had been several scares and I’d grown used to the idea that, despite my fears, everything usually turned out all right in the end. Only on this occasion it didn’t.
She told me he had died and I said, something like, “it’s for the best.” And then I burst into tears: a great animal cry of pain. Anyone who tells you that animals don’t feel pain is stupid. It’s your animal body that feels the grief of loss and that unites you with all the other animals in God’s great kingdom. Remember this next time you bite into your burger.
I spent the next few hours frantically racing down the motorway, exceeding the speed limit, as if by getting home earlier I could possibly make things better.
He died very suddenly, and, I like to think, without pain.
There was a lamp beside his chair which he’d knocked over, and a picture of Mum and my two sisters, Helen and Julia, which he had knocked off the mantelpiece. So I can imagine him getting up and then losing his balance, which he was always liable to do anyway, starting to fall over, and, in the effort to grab hold of something to stop his fall, losing his life. I imagine it came as a complete surprise to him: that one minute he was alive, and the next he was looking back at his own fallen body from a distance, wondering how he got here.
I imagine, too, that it was a relief, like dropping a burden that he had held onto for too long. All those merciless aches and pains which had dogged his last few months, and which meant that he hardly got up out of his chair any more. All the endless frustration, trying to turn the telly over with the remote, and not being able to find the right button, or the words he couldn’t remember as the thoughts got clogged up in his slowly seizing brain. He had Alzheimer’s, and his grasp on reality was becoming increasingly tenuous, the gaps in his recall being filled with false memories, of things which never happened, or things which happened to someone else which he had “borrowed” to plug the hole.
So it was a relief, in some way, that at least he died still knowing who all his children were, aware that he was loved. Alzheimer’s was destined to take all that away: yes, and his dignity and self-respect too. In this sense his death was a timely escape and I welcome it, as I hope I will be able to welcome my own death when it arrives.
This is not to say that I’ve not been grieving. I have. It’s just that the grief is complicated and strange, full of contradictory emotions, laughing at some absurdity, while simultaneously crying for my loss; being angry at the cruelty of world, while smiling at its joys.
The last couple of months were characterised by real feelings of tenderness towards him. Like any son, my relationship to my Father had been fraught at times. We hadn’t always been the best of friends. But over the years I’d grown to accept him, especially these last few years since Mum died, as he became more dependent on us: less judgemental, more appreciative of what we were doing for him. He could be an irascible old sod at times. He liked things HIS way, and it was hard trying to convince him that sometimes his way wasn’t the best. But recently, all this had completely faded away: both his resistance, and mine. He looked so fragile, so frail, like a little lost child in a confusing world. Sometimes I’d go upstairs and he’d still be in bed, and I’d look at him lying there, without his glasses, his eyes so soft and full of gentle appreciation that I was there, caring for him, and my heart would go out to him. We were never very physical our family, but I really wish I’d kissed him then, just to let him know that I understood.
So, to make it clear: I don’t want any solemnity at this time. I want you to celebrate Dad’s life, rather than mourn his passing. Dad had an amazing life. He was lucky: one of the luckiest men in all of existence. He had a stunningly beautiful wife – our Mum – and four intelligent, creative, able, occasionally wild and disobedient children. He was proud of us all.
He was born at exactly the right time in history. He had access to our brilliant NHS throughout his life, which kept him healthy. He owned his own home. He had many friends. He worked at a job he loved, and had a really good pension when he retired. He was never short of money and his family never went hungry. We had some great times together, going on holidays in Wales, or in Westward Ho! His children never fell out with each other, and were by his side when he needed us. Although Rob, the youngest, and Julia, the eldest daughter, lived away, they rang him up regularly, and he was always pleased to hear their voices. Helen, the other sister, and I, were around most of the time, and saw him several times a week. I tried to go round most days. He liked a joke, especially if it was on him. He was unintentionally funny at times, and would often make us laugh.
And we can be proud of ourselves too. We promised him, and our Mum, that he would never have to go into a home: that he would die in his own place, surrounded by all his familiar things, with photographs of the family, and of his most beloved wife. The last few years were spent making sure that this promise was fulfilled: that he had everything in his home that he needed to make him comfortable. We would often go out for meals with him, even towards the end, when he was getting increasingly fragile and could hardly stand. He loved that. He loved paying for the meals. It was his contribution to the life we all led, and for which I was always grateful.
So that’s it: my Dad has passed away, to join my Mum, no doubt, and my grand parents and great grand parents, and all the other ancestors. Me: I don’t believe in death. It’s just a passing phase. Life is everywhere, joyous and unbounded! Our personal lives are borrowed from the current of life that flows throughout the Universe, a great tidal surge that rises and falls like the ocean. When we die it’s like the tide has ebbed and we return to our origin: Creation, the Tao, God, the Universe, the Great Life, Nirvana, Gaia, the Great Mother, Brahman, whatever you conceive it to be.
And if you think that this makes me delusional, then so be it: I don’t care. Let me die delusionally happy, rather than realistically angry.
So mote it be, and blessings to you all.
Read more about my parents here:
Accommodationally challenged after a disastrous foreign trip in 2007, CJ Stone was forced to take refuge with his parents. It was the first time he’d lived with them since his teens, and he was surprised to find himself in a war zone. Following are CJ’s bulletins from the front line in the eternal war of age and sex.
It is our mortality which defines our love. It is the certainty of loss that gives our relationships their meaning. If there are immortal beings in the universe they would know less than we do.