Nan had slipped away in the early hours. We were half-expecting it but even so, it hurt. So we stayed up all night, talking and drinking milky tea. And as daylight broke, we went to the beach to watch the sunrise.
It was a warm morning. As the sky stretched and yawned, Mum, my sister and I huddled over a piping flask of coffee. The sand was cold and a slight breeze whispered in from the darkness. Even though Nan had only died a few hours earlier, Mum couldn’t stop talking about Dad. She was so worried about his refusal to visit a doctor.
She sipped her coffee. “Dad and I came here when we were courting back in the late sixties. We were sat on that headland over there. We cwtched for hours and with my head on his chest, I could hear his heart beating. I remember thinking even then, what I would do if it stopped beating?”
Late April 2012
Hidden away in the middle room of the Victorian house in Barry sat my father. I hadn't been there for weeks. You know how it gets. Work picks you up like a gust of wind and dumps you months down the line. Dad was never the most social of people, yet seeing him sat on the settee, reading the papers and listening to the cricket on a portable radio seemed poignant. While the house around him buzzed with life and laughter, he'd shut himself away and watched and listened life going on around him.
Looking back, I think he knew then that he wasn't very well. Back in 2008, when my sister Alice was diagnosed with cancer in the knee, my Dad had lost his voice. We thought it was the shock. But even when Alice came out the other side, my Dad's voice never made it. We'd lost the voice of our childhood.
But since early 2012, it wasn't just his voice that was causing concern. His breathing had become a real struggle. We could hear him from the other end of the house. My feeling is that he'd now become such an embarrassment, that he didn't want to impose it on the family. When we'd ask how he was coping with his breathing, he'd act surprised.
"There's nothing wrong with my breathing!" he'd say, like a child lying about not breaking mum's precious statue in the living room.
But eventually, he started avoiding the questions by retiring to the sitting room and making himself a little haven. When I saw him there, he seemed to have shrunk into the settee. He wasn't the giant of a man who had scooped me up in his arms and thrown me up into the air as a kid, only to catch me again and give me one of those big hugs that only dads give.
It was my brother Dan who had finally seemed to twist Dad's arm and get him to the doctor. They had no records of him there - the last time he'd seen a doctor was back in the late 50's. He finally got seen to and they sent him for tests. I'm not sure of the exact series of events but I do know that both him and my mother had planned to head down to West Wales on his birthday. West Wales to my dad is his solace. About ten years ago, when he'd been made redundant, he'd planned to buy himself a static caravan where he could escape the intensity of family life. My mum's family is a big one and he'd often hide himself away when they arrived. They loved him all the same. But West Wales was where he grew up and where he'd sit on a beach at Saundersfoot and picture himself with the family that we no longer there.
So West Wales was there they were heading for his birthday until he had a letter from the hospital informing him that he had an appointment the same day. My dad, wanting to head west to avoid seeing the doctor, was furious. My mum, wanting my dad to face what could be going on, was furious. They called the hospital to rearrange. Later that day, they sat in the car, eating a bag of chips outside a church in Saundersfoot. It was raining and there was a funeral going on.
"This is heaven. Bliss" said Dad.
My mum rolled her eyes in disbelief.