It was nine years ago yesterday that my Dad, Keith John Saunders, died of kidney failure. He died peacefully at home, with my Mum, brother and I by his side. I can’t believe that it was really nine years ago, and yet when I look back at all that has happened since it is very possible.
The evening before he died — he died at 23:50 — was like the calm before the storm. Because Dad was so desperately ill, terminal you could say, a couple of nurses came in to attend to Dad and give Mum some rest. Too little, too late? None-the-less it was welcome relief and I remember sitting in the living room with Mum, Jenni, Eddie and Benjamin and feeling supported. It felt like this was serious, serious enough to have professional medical help.
That evening Eddie and I got out our old board games. I really don’t know what compelled us to do this, but we did and it was fun. I remember that we played Zaxxon — The Board Game, first class proof that computer games should never be turned into board games. The excitement of waggling a joystick and jabbing at the fire button while manoeuvering a spaceship over various on-screen obstacles is kind of lost by the clumsiness of rolling a couple of dice and manually raising the height of the plastic spaceship stand.
We also played Mike Reid’s Pop Quiz (name four bands with a colour in the title) and Family Fortunes (name something you might cross the road to avoid), and goodness knows what else. Maybe we were revisiting something of our youth, when Dad was well. Maybe we were simply occupying our minds with something … anything!
Like I said, it was like the calm before the storm. Maybe that’s one reason why this evening stands out in my mind so vividly. The nurses left and we returned to our duties, attending to Dad, supporting Mum.
Then Dad died at 23:50, with Mum, Eddie and I sitting by his bedside, holding his hands. He breathed in. He breathed out. There was silence as we held our breaths. Silence apart from the tick-tick-tick of his wrist watch. And when the sound of breathing began again there was noticably one fewer hush of breath.
Before we did anything else, Eddie and I drove up to see my sister Jenni, who’d gone home about an hour earlier with Benjamin who was only about three years old at the time, and broke the news to them. When we returned to the house Mum had called the doctor in to verify that Dad had died and to sign the death certificate, which we’d need to register the death the following morning.
Then a nurse arrived to help us wash and clean Dad’s body; Mum had done this hundreds of times in her job as a nurse, but there was something both odd and special about it this time. I remember removing Dad’s watch and thinking how wrong it was that it hadn’t stopped at 23:50 too. “Stop all the clocks” indeed.
Nine years on
And here we are nine years on: I’m married, I’m ordained and back in St Andrews; Eddie’s married and has his own son, and Benjamin is about to move to high school this year. Yesterday evening I took the bike out on the backroads of the East Neuk of Fife and remembered Dad. Not just my usual pot of memories — the ones I return to quickly and easily, but I allowed myself to delve a bit deeper and remembered winter afternoons with Dad popping into the house between Securicor runs (a weekend job he had), or making us pie, beans and mash while Mum slept after a Friday nightshift at the hospital, or looping a thread over the unfinished beams in the new dining room so that our Lego rockets could really take off.
I don’t know what to make of this life sometimes or what to do with these memories. But I do know that on the whole I loved my Dad and that he loved me, and that I miss him. And that sometimes nine years feels like a long time.