A Visit to Belgium

When I went to see my father, I wanted to tell him – well, what I wanted to tell him is all in my earlier blog post about that. What actually happened was that on Saturday evening, when I finally arrived in Antwerp and got to his hospital room and held his thin hand, I heard the bells chiming the hour at seven in the evening, and felt like a child again, taken effortlessly back to the days when I would marvel at that continental tunefulness, the high-flown, golden notes so filled with bright energy.

On Easter Sunday I sat and watched, listening to my father’s jokes, and bearing witness to his frustration, his simmering despair, and his battle with politeness, decorum and keeping up appearances. The food was awful hospital fare, and when my father gamely ate some – knowing he might choke at any second, the bravery was fairly mind blowing, even for that small act – he offered me a portion, saying, ‘Eat, eat!’ as he would have done when he was at the head of the table at home, watching over his brood. The efforts he took to preserve his normality, stilled my voice and filled my throat with pain.


On Monday, as the family were gathering for a farewell in another room, he wheezed, could not breathe and hated the endless coughing with its squeezing pain. What a crucifix of agony he straddled, as the nurse said, ‘sorry, I cannot give you any more antibiotics, but I’ll give you a sedative…’ and it was painful to watch him begging. There was nothing to his body then, but waste and sorrow, and I wondered, in the stillness, at the forced cruelty of medical treatments.

On Tuesday he died, peaceful and released from a torment that has been building for at least nine months, and from a process of physical frailty that has been gathering pace over the last four years. How I wish he could have gone out as he would have preferred to, in a blaze of glory. Now he is at peace, and there is a relief in knowing that his presence, while not physical, will be with me in the quiet moments, and in every chime I hear of the bells.


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