Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Remembering Dad

Remembering Dad, originally uploaded by fotofacade.

Dad died on Saturday 9th February 2008. Until then he had spent over two years battling with the physical, psychological and familial effects of cancer.

Below I have written a record of dad's life with cancer as I remember it. It isn't perfect and it is a very personal record. I am sure that others have their stories to tell too. If you knew dad it would be great for you to add to his story and sign up for free and make a comment.

He was diagnosed as having prostate cancer whilst in hospital undergoing tests. He was told the bad news behind a curtain on a busy hospital ward on the day of his 41st wedding anniversary 2005. Dad shed a tear, and then started to get on with the business of living with cancer.

Further tests revealed that the cancer had spread to a lymph node and that dads treatment pathway was limited to controlling the spread of the cancer over time.

Dad quickly learned to cope with his cancer and he made himself a promise that he would finish off his final months at work before retirement. This thought kept dad focused and motivated during his time off for recuperation. Our first visit out with dad was at the Christmas Markets in Manchester. He was still a little fragile, but with the help of his treatment he became stronger. On Christmas Eve we made a traditional visit to Hebden Bridge and then on Christmas Day, for the first time ever, we had dinner at a restaurant with no extravagance spared.

I was always conscious of dads illness and of his limited time left with us, so I made a vow to spend as much time as possible with him. Thus, on several occasions, I asked Dad to become my 'photographers assistant'. In February 2006 I had a commission to photograph Elizabeth Gaskell's house. Dad and I spent a memorable day cooing over the late Georgian interior (although dad was more interested in the plumbing than the architecture). I took a shaky shot of him setting up the lighting in one of the reception rooms. Dad proved to be an awful assistant. After ten minutes of help he would often get caught up with anybody and everybody. He always found something in common with whoever he met. Invariably, I always completed the commission without my assistant, but dad walked away content and having made many friends.

During his first time in hospital we made a promise that we would all go out to Paris together and we managed to fly out there in March of 2006 with Mum, my wife, brother and his wife. He particularly wanted to visit the Pantheon and an English pub called 'TheBombadier ', where upon a previous visit Dad had declared the day as 'the best day of his life'. Dad was prone to having many days which were prosaically declared as the best day of his life. Such days also included my wedding in Venice, my brothers wedding, Mauritania, Algeria and Grinzing in Vienna. He had so many happy days.

Back in the UK life got back to as normal as possible. I remember a particular visit by Mum and Dad to our home where we went out for a walk around the local park. Here I took a few snaps of dad. He seemed happy yet contemplative. He never, ever took a single day for granted and he seemed to absorb each second of each day and chew it over in his mind.

Dad was only 63 when he was diagnosed. Just over one year off his retirement from work. After his recuperation it was typical of dad to want to get back to work and finish his time there. Here he spent several happy months working as a plumber at the local infirmary.

During his time at the infirmary, my wife, who also worked there, remembers hearing an explosion whilst walking down a corridor. Amidst the deafening tone of the fire alarms, dad emerged pink faced (and splattered) from behind a bathroom door, after mixing a lethal concoction of drain cleaner to unblock a particularly awkward urinal.

In the August of 2006 my family and I rented a cottage within the grounds of Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire and mum and dad came along for a couple of days. We spent a wonderful evening (with the abbey ruins to ourselves) picnicking in the chancel and dancing to jazz music. Once again, dad had a contemplative moment on his own and I caught him on camera leaning against the ancient columns of Rievaulx where thousands had passed centuries before. He wasn't sad - he just wasn't willing to let a special occasion such as this slip between his fingers.

Time seemed to fly by, and soon it was a year since dads original diagnosis. It was also time for dad to retire. Mum and Emily (his grand daughter) threw a surprise party for him at the house. Dad was in his element surrounded by family and friends.

Soon, it was time for another celebration - my brother Paul's wedding to Kath. Just before the wedding Paul had organised for Dad to go to the local health club and have some pampering - he never forgot that, and always talked about it afterwards. It was a day where we all forgot our problems and focused on celebrating Paul and Kath's marriage. Dad, as ever became part of the entertainment during the evening celebrations, donning the best man's kilt and subsequently losing it on the dance floor.

Christmas came around once again and we made our traditional trip up to Hebden Bridge and I made a couple of sketches of our journey. This was a particularly difficult time for Dad because he was also dealing with the news that his sister in law, Joan, had been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. There were times when Dad wasn't quite himself and I remember him coming up to the house and talking things through. Joan died in January in the new year.

In February, I had another commission to photograph some dry stone walling skillfully executed by the late Raven Frankland. Dad came along to Cumbria and met his wife Dr Frankland (an eminent botanist) on her farmstead. The Frankland's had single handedly saved Pendragon Castle from destruction by meticulous archaeology - slowly revealing it's secrets over a significant number of years. Dad was amazed by the C17th farm and interior and also struck by Dr Franklands stories about her late husband and his ancestors. Later we went out with her farmhand who had gained an MBE for services to farming and agriculture, and I remember thinking that Dad should get an MBE for the way that he had coped with his illness. I managed to get a photo of dad taking a photo next to the castle. Dad also helped me on numerous occasions throughout the next months, photographing the interiors of churches and the like. I was always secretly pained by his condition and I think that he realised this. It was during these times that we seemed to form a silent bond of mutual support.

In April my wife and I managed to get hold of an allotment and throughout the next few months dad chipped in every now and again to help us get things into shape. It started out as a bare patch of earth. We managed to get hold of an old greenhouse from my cousin and dad helped us put it together and install the glass. Whilst installing a particularly awkward piece of glass he cut himself and the dried spots of blood remain on the glass there to this day - a secular shrine surrounded by tomatoes, chillies, cucumbers and the faint scent of lavender.

We also stayed over at Beverley in April during the Grand National. Dad and I sneaked out to the Green Dragon on one occasion and had a couple of pints. He also loved an afternoon spent in the Monks after a trip around the Minster. During this time Dad bought a silver cross at the Saturday Market which I wear with pride today. I remember getting up early on the Sunday before leaving and sketching the Bar.

In May I was involved with organising a Heritage Skills event at Fountains Abbey for our skilled Lead Workers, and Dad was asked to come along and provide some tuition for the local visiting school kids. The weather was great and dad thoroughly enjoyed himself chatting to the hundreds of people who were interested in the arts of building conservation. It's comforting to think that dad may have inspired others in their chosen careers and in this way his memory lives on.

During the skills weekend we talked about our forthcoming planned trip to Verona. Dad had been before and he kept telling me of the wonderful architecture. Dreams became reality when we arrived in the home of Romeo and Juliet in early June. He asked me if I had anything interesting in mind for photographing; and he looked bemused when I said the door knockers of Verona. I also particularly remember one balmy night after dinner where we sat in Piazza Bra and whilst listening to the convivial chat of mum, dad and Charlie, I sketched the scene in front of me.

It was shortly after this time that dad had received the news that his cancer had spread to his hips. It was proposed that dad start a heavy programme of Chemotherapy combined with a mind blowing concoction of drugs - but he needed to wait for a little until certain drugs settled. Dad wasn't phased by the latest diagnosis, in fact he seemed to go into overdrive and at the end of July he helped my brother build a conservatory from scratch.

Throughout the summer I had been preparing for a photographic exhibition of Edgar Wood buildings to be shown at the Long Street Methodist Church. The Church is a wonderful grade II* listed building by Wood which is under threat. The exhibition was due in September, and in late August I remember feeling particularly stressed over some shots that I needed to take. Dad, kindly reminded me of his photographic assistancy skills and I (somewhat reluctantly) agreed to let him come out and help me. I took a photo of Dad just before setting off and he looked in the pique of health; in fact, he had just undergone his first bout of Chemotherapy. This didn't stop Dad having a pint of beer with me during our trip out - talking about the fortunes of our beloved Man City. After a slow start I managed to get two defining shots which were put into the exhibition - firstly: F W Jacksons gravestone and secondly Elm Street School. The gravestone is in the crematorium where Dad will be cremated, and whilst there I will remember the good time we had setting up the shot in between funerals.

The exhibition took place in September at the Church. It was dedicated to Mum and Dad. I was so proud to see him there, even though he wasn't well after another bout of Chemotherapy. Later, Dad came along to Leeds to return some exhibition boards to a historic plastering contractor, and it was at this time that I noticed that dad was looking pale and tired.

Dad's health seemed to take a turn for the worst during October, and he spent an anxious time on an isolation ward in hospital after being diagnosed with Neutropenia - which left him breathless for the remaining months of his life. Nevertheless, he still managed to make friends with the staff and patients on the ward. His spirit still remained unbroken after he was taken to hospital again with suspected DVT, but it turned out to be a condition caused by his cancer.

In spite of being told that the Chemotherapy he was undergoing wasn't working (and subsequently stopped) - Dad still continued to try and live as fulfilling a life as possible. I managed to take him out to Neston, Stockport and Manchester. As late as November last year we managed to go out on a trip to a local salvage yard in Yorkshire with his brother in law Tony and nephew Bob. We took a few photographs of him with some statues of the Blues Brothers and these were to be some of the last photo's taken of Dad.

The months of December and January took on a sombre tone.

Dad became increasingly ill and spent most of Christmas and the new year in hospital. I remember a particularly stark day spent at Christie's where he was told that his cancer may have spread further. A later scan revealed that his cancer had spread to his liver and this was a difficult fact to take for Dad. But, he managed to keep going, this time I think more for others than himself.

Just a week before he died he managed to get out to the local for a spot of lunch. I had downloaded a couple of video's of Hulme (where he was born) and Mauritania and Algeria where he worked and spent some of the most memorable years of his life. We watched them on my ipod in the pub. We later went back to the house and he got out his photographs of Algeria and for a short time we forgot about the cancer as we were engrossed in tales of billet life which would put 'Auf Wiedersehen' Pet to shame.

Just before Dad went into hospital I managed to break the patio door and I remember dad breathless and pale as alabaster, crouching down on the floor trying to fix it. He worked and endeavoured right up until the end.

During an earlier trip out to Manchester to pick up some photographic prints we talked about his illness and his thoughts on dying. He told me that he wasn't afraid of dying and that he had had the most amazing time since his diagnosis. He also noted how privileged he was to have had a wonderful life, and a caring wife in Mum. Over the previous year, Dad had made a secret and concerted effort to prepare Mum and the house for his leaving. People who live nearby may have seen Dad tinkering about the house, fixing the guttering, building a new fence and installing a downstairs loo. He traded the old car in for a new one, which was just the right size for mum. He told me that he had marked the quality of his life on a cancer assessment form as 85% during his Chemotherapy. The fact is that dad had managed to defeat his illness in his mind, and value the days he had left. This is not to say that he wasn't always happy, and I must pay a tribute to the never ending work, devotion and care that my mum has given Dad. One of his fondest activities was simply sitting in the back conservatory watching mum in the garden. The garden became dad's refuge and mental stimulant and must have added months to his life. I have fond memories of Dad sitting with his binoculars and a book in his hand recording which birds had visited the garden that day.

Dad died in a hospice nearby. He died on my wedding anniversary (he wished us a 'happy anniversary') - a fact of which I am proud and not sad.

Dad's funeral service will be at Long Street Methodist Church - a fitting place.

Dad, to me, you were a father, mentor, soul-mate and best friend.

I tell people, when asked, that I am fine and put on a smiling face - but I am not, and as I write this, I weep for your loss and what it has done to me inside.

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