By: JOHN ROONEY
There’s an old saying that goes something like this, ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him what you’ll be doing tomorrow.’ It’s an adage that I’ve come to believe in greatly over the years and it’s one which has helped me to see the lighter-side-of-life when carefully made plans have gone haywire.
But on that cold, frosty January morning I wasn’t particularly at ease with God’s sense of humour. It was supposed to be the day that I was taking my daughter back to school following the Christmas break; the day that I had planned to clear my office of all the junk I seem to accumulate during the course of a year’s writing; and most significantly it was the day that I had set aside to oil reels and polish rods in preparation for spring and the start of a new fishing season. Instead I was sitting on the backseat of a taxi, on my way to see my dying father.
There’s a magic in fishing that only those with a fervour for it can fully understand. It takes you to a place of mist filled mornings and long summer days where time stands still; a place where myths and legends – the one that got away – lurk in the reed-beds of tranquil pools and bubbling streams; a place where mother nature plots the pattern of the day and where all men – kings, presidents and paupers are equal; a place where childhood dreams are re-lived and new adventures unfold.
So it was for my father and me. We lived and shared our dreams together on lakesides and on riverbanks and through our passion for angling we forged an alliance that surpassed kinship. Our friendship lasted for 40 years and was built on trust and understanding.
He hadn’t been ill long. Just a few days before we shared a family meal of turkey and roast potatoes and he beamed as he watched his granddaughter – my daughter – open her Christmas presents. He laughed as she danced and skipped through the mess of wrapping paper and declared that her favourite present was a pair of Spiderman wellingtons. And later, when she was sleeping, he told me how thoroughly he had enjoyed the day and how special my daughter was.
The taxi arrived at the hospital, stopped, and my mother and I got out. The driver wished us ‘all the best’ and inside the large, grey building a young doctor introduced himself with an apologetic smile. He led us to a small room off the main, brightly lit corridor where we sat whilst he explained how my father’s chest infection had worsened which, when combined with the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease he suffered from, made breathing almost impossible. He was receiving antibiotics and the staff were preparing him for a chest x-ray.
“But he didn’t seem too bad last night,” my mother said.
I had to agree. The previous night my father had sat up in the hospital bed, giggling and chatting with my daughter. He was wearing an oxygen mask but his appearance had improved substantially. Nothing like the man who, just two days earlier, had been taken to hospital sweating and struggling for air. His previously sallow skin was glowing and he eagerly made plans for the New Year.
The doctor fixed his gaze towards the floor and said, “I think you should expect the worst.”
My mother wept. I was too engrossed in disbelief to cry but managed a croaky, “Can we see him?”
“Of course,” the doctor replied.
My partner got the job of leaving our daughter to school and arrived shortly after the shocking statement and together the three of us entered the long hospital ward. We approached my father’s bed where an array of monitors kept the hospital staff informed of his condition and a tall, black cylinder supplied him with oxygen. My mother and partner tried not to appear anxious, though I could see the tears welling in their eyes.
I gently took my father’s hand and said, “You’re going to be fine. We’ll be back catching fish in no time.”
“Oh,” he said, his voice was low and hoarse. “I don’t know about that.”
Numerous phone-calls were made that day. Family members, close friends and acquaintances arrived and when my father drifted into a deep, coma-like sleep he was moved to a small private ward of his own. I held his hand and when the time came I kissed him on the forehead and said, “Goodbye.”
I left the small room, made my way to the bathroom, got down on my knees and through my tears, I prayed.
There’s something terribly un-nerving about watching a parent decline into ill health and eventually death. And the feelings of loss that are part of it emanate from the pits of your stomach to fill every cell and thought of your being. The person you looked upon and relied upon to be there in the stormy seas of life, to be the calming influence when your boat was swamped, is no longer your anchor. More than at any other time in your life you are on your own. It’s something you know will happen. It’s something you prepare for and think you’re ready to deal with, but when it does happen you can never be prepared enough. And praying was all I could think to do.
My father was buried a few days later and as the days progressed and turned into weeks the pain began to subside, though the feeling of loss will remain with me always, of that I’m certain. My daughter was a constant source of enlightenment despite asking all the questions I had equally expected and dreaded.
“Where is granda?”
“Why did granda leave?”
“Will granda be back?”
My partner and I done our best to explain and in her own way, as best a four-year-old can, she mourned the passing of her ‘granda.’
One evening we decided it would be good if we all spent the following day at the Zoo. Preparations were made, provisions were packed and we went to bed early to be ready for the next day. Around two thirty in the morning I was wakened when my daughter climbed into bed beside me. She curled up beneath the covers and in the sweetest voice I ever heard she said, “Daddy, can we go fishing tomorrow?”
God was laughing again and so was I, and as I laughed I knew that somewhere in the heavens my father was laughing with me.
copyright John Rooney 2009
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
JOHN ROONEY of The Ups , Downs and Sometimes Insane World of Writing is a freelance writer and photographer.
He says : “My work has appeared in magazines throughout the UK and Ireland.”
He writes about excellent topics which are very useful to amateur and professional writers. His expertise as a published author lends credence to his numerous articles: