He was a jazz musician, a lecturer in applied mathematics, fly fisherman, one-time RAF pilot and the husband of Hazel Asher for 57 years. My mother had heard people say that when someone dies it immediately looks like something is missing. We had difficulty ascertaining that he was dead. I visited him and my mother on the morning of the 15th and noted that he seemed not to be breathing. We were only sure he was dead after turning off the anti-bed-sore mattress and the oxygen, and then by putting a mirror to his mouth and checking pupil response. Later we observed that the only spirit missing from his body was the whisky – something he stopped liking a few weeks before in a surer sign that he was on his way out.
I began making phonecalls and available family descended: my wife Caroline, brothers Martin and Paul (our other brother Bob lives up in Chester so the logistics are more difficult for him) and Martin’s fiance Kath. We let the district nurses know what had happened and they turned up to remove the morphine feed and tidy up a few bits. The doctor came to pronounce death and a little while after that I removed his wedding ring from his hand for my mother. Next came the funeral guys to collect him, and very professional they were. The guy who first came in immediately assessed the situation. There was none of this hand-wringing pretense of deep sorrow. They took him away.
The following day I nipped to the doctor’s to collect a doctor’s certificate which then needed to be taken along to the registrar, along with other documents, so the death certificate could be issued. Interesting contrast in the registrar’s job, only an hour or so before he had been marrying someone.
On dad’s death certificate the registrar put ‘non-small cell lung cancer’, which is rather misleading since he had also had cirrhosis of liver, cancer of the pancreas and quite possibly his bones (died before that could be checked) and the therapies he’d received had supposedly reduced the growth in his lungs. I guess it’s easier to put something like that down rather than ‘trauma of operation to put in a bile-duct stent, trauma of internal bleeding caused by arthritis medicine taken while in a weakened state and the traumas of chemo and radio therapy which were pointless for a man just a few months away from his 80th birthday’. Really, in the days when they used to put ‘old age’ on a death certificate they were closer to the truth. Only an extensive autopsy would bring the truth any closer, and what would be the point of that? Next Martin, my mother and me went to the funeral home to organize things there. While there my mother belatedly produced his donor card. After some discussion we decided that his liver might have made a handy sieve but his other organs were probably a no-no. The only part of him that might have been of use were his corneas, and for some reason the word had been crossed out on the card. I then pointed out that unless there was some big push on toenail transplants there was not much left of him that would be useful. Really, it is rather a waste if your body goes into the grave labelled ‘Hardly Used – One Careful Owner’. Dad certainly got plenty of mileage out of his. You laugh and you use humour, and you cry. What else is there?
Solicitous enquiries then about flowers, death notices, limousines and a religious service (this last received with a snort of laughter by my brother). All of these were rejected by my mother. My dad is dead, what is left is a well used-up husk that needs to be dealt with. Next Monday he is being buried in a woodland grave without marker, in a cardboard coffin. All the family will then celebrate his life at a wake. One of the guys who collected the body said, “Look back a little; look forward a lot,” which is about right.