I’ve not blogged too regularly of late, I blame Social Care Curry Club, which has been a brilliant distraction and useful channel of so much energy. That said I felt like today warranted a post, as today is Dad’s 66th birthday. Well it would have been his 66th birthday but he died last year. Do you stop having your birthday? Is it something that is only on lend to you? Is it only valid when you’re living and breathing?
I spent some time this morning musing on Dad’s birthdays, his last few anyway. There was a bitter sweet relationship between his birthday’s and his illness, but we did our best to form good memories around them. It was at a celebration for his 60th birthday that we all realised something wasn’t right about Dad, he was off his food and didn’t feel too good. Weeks later he received the devastating diagnosis that he had cholangiocarcinoma, bile duct cancer. I’ve blogged elsewhere on here about his remarkable approach to that illness, to ensuring he lived and died well, with dignity and determination.
So, just after his 60th birthday Dad knew he was ill. What followed was a year of treatment including massive surgery to try and remove his tumour. We know now it didn’t get it all, but that remarkable 12 hour operation without doubt gave him the next five years. Moved to action by the brilliant people who had supported Dad in that year, and by how little is known about his cancer, I ran a 10k on Dad’s 61st birthday for Cancer Research…..and much to his delight and Mum’s dismay made him pose with me after showing off his awesome scar!
I found this photo again by accident recently. It’s not the best photo but it’s a good reminder. The year between his 61st and 62nd birthday was quite eventful treatment wise, abscess operated on, MRSA and eventually sepsis that was treated with two weeks intravenous antibiotics. Looking back now his admission to hospital in August 2009 was probably the closest we claim to losing him from anything other than cancer, a relatively jumped up young doctor was concerned he had Swine Flu and wanted him out of his casualty department, he refused to listen, wheeled out the ‘with all due respect’ line. I knew Dad was ill, he’d had blood poisoning before, I could smell he was septic, but this doctor (who shall remain nameless but whose name I will never forget) insisted he knew best. Anyway I’m obviously still not past that occasion, but Dad’s 62nd birthday saw him delighted to be at home and recovering. It was December that year we were told he was in remission.
Unfortunately that label didn’t last long, but it did last long enough for him to become a Grandad for the first time, a landmark none of us expected him to see. We found out his tumours had returned the following summer and they were confirmed as inoperable a few weeks before his 63rd birthday. I think that by this time we already totally appreciative that we were on borrowed time, a terminal diagnosis is a strange thing to come to terms with as a family member, and I can only imagine it’s harder for the person with it (check out Kate Granger’s blog for a really unique perspective on this). I struggled to know what to get Dad for his 63rd birthday so I baked him double chocolate brownies. Then a year later, having exceeded all the odds again by living for a full year with his terminal diagnosis, I was still struggling about what to buy him.
At the start of 2012 I booked my Dad’s birthday off work on annual leave. I was confident that I’d want to spend it with Mum, remembering Dad. Should have known that Dad would have other ideas, he had two great motivations, to become a Grandad again and to collect his pension, at least once. Last August Phoebe was born and Dad, recently discharged from a spell in hospital and buoyed up on a recent blood transfusion, and I made the trip to visit her.
I’ll cherish that trip as long as I live, at the time I remember considering whether I was taking too big a risk, and when we stopped at the services on the way home there was a moment when I thought we’d made the wrong call as Dad was too grey and breathless to get out the car. We held our nerve and made it home, and sure enough a few weeks later Dad celebrated his 65th birthday. My brother (who used to be a chef and knows how to cook realllll good) cooked a roast at my house, and Mum, Dad and Gran came over for it. I’m still not sure how Dad managed to eat that dinner, his appetite had diminished considerably by this time, but eat it he did.
Furthermore there was still enough mischief in him to ruin every photo I tried to take afterwards. Well he thought he was being funny and ruining them, what we actually ended up with was a fairly good capture of life with Bobby. Is it just me who seems his spirit in his eyes.
Dad lived to meet Phoebe and to receive his pension. Having worked all his life it was really important to him to get at least one pension payment. I was quite relieved when I heard the news about Royal Mail yesterday that neither my Dad, or my Grandad, both of whom spent many years of their life working for the Post Office, would be around to witness that. To complete his story, in case you have stumbled across this blog for the first time, Dad only received a small handful of pension payments, as he died two months after this photo was taken, at home on 15 November 2012.
So here we are, to come back to where I started this post, I think I’ve answered my own question.
Today is Dad’s 66th birthday.
The fact he isn’t here to share it with us doesn’t take away from the need to remember and celebrate, a life well lived, and a man whose story continues to have an impact far beyond what I think he could have imagined.
Happy Birthday Bobby J.