It's the last day of the year, of the decade in fact, and I felt it was perhaps time for a post, summing up my feelings on what has been a grim year for me personally, but also to lighten that mood with some wonderful encounters with wildlife, over the last few months. Some readers may wish to skip over paragraphs, as perhaps I'm using this post to aid my grieving process.
My last post was covering the Mull Summer Photography Tours, which given events since then, feels like a lifetime ago. As ever, Mull produced the goods, all the clients were happy and for Andy and me, it was a success, yet again. Leaving the island on a bit of a high, the world came crashing down when I saw my Dad afterwards.
He had been struggling with pains from the cancer that had returned, and had decided to abandon the treatment for it, as it was making him feel utterly miserable, so had made the choice to try to enjoy what he had left with just the usual levels of pain and discomfort. When I had left for Mull, he was looking thin and gaunt, but he looked skeletal when I saw him on my return, though still managing to look after himself at his home.
Normally the weeks after the Mull tours are filled with action, antics and amusing behaviour from the little owls, but it was clear when I visited the farm for the first time in late July that something was wrong. The adult was out as he usually is, but he wasn't taking the food I was putting out back to the nest, just gobbling it down himself. The nest that had been developing before I went away, had failed for some reason.
There was no reply when I rang my Dad's doorbell, so I let myself in. Upstairs he was asleep, thankfully, though you can imagine my dread when I walked into his room after he'd not replied to my voice. I don't have many regrets with regards to how I spent time with him, what I did for him over his last few years, but I do feel strangely guilty at how I tried to rush him out of his house that morning, to get to the hospice on time. For me, perhaps I was remembering when Mum had gone in, they'd helped her to a point where she actually came home where she died, but to Dad he must have known he was leaving his home for the last time. It breaks my heart thinking about it.
The staff at the hospice were as wonderful as ever. He was tucked up in his bed in no time, with attentive nurses at hand for anything he might want. My sister and her husband had joined me by then, and we chatted to Dad, when the doctor was in seeing him. Dad was well aware of his condition, and was typically matter-of-fact about it all. We left him, promising to return the following day with one of my older brothers.
That morning, I was back at Grimley, trying my hardest to keep my mind off what was going on. My brother and I visited Dad early afternoon. He seemed more alert and in comparatively better spirits during the visit, asking me to bring in his electric shaver as he was starting to grow a beard, and he was chuckling at my description of myself being dressed in camo at Grimley, and looking like a massive tit, for want of a better term.
Just two hours after we left, as I was driving back from the local country pub I received a call from the hospice. By then I knew the number, and I knew before the lady told me, what had happened. The nurses had apparently checked in on him, got him another drink and made sure he was comfortable with pillows, and had shared some banter with him, then returned just an hour later and he'd died. I try to make light of it by saying he timed it so my brother and I had had time for a pint before the dreadful news came through, which is the sort of considerate thing he'd have done.
The hours, then days and weeks that have followed have been a blur really. I have since spent three weeks on Mull, initially running a bespoke one-to-one tour, then the fortnight of Otter Photography Tours with Andy. As usual, the wildlife on Mull shone, and the clients left with oodles of images of what they had perhaps hoped for.
Dad had said to me on numerous occasions towards the end, that he'd enjoyed his life, made the most of it, with family and friends, and had no regrets. He was eighty when he died, so in cricket terms (a sport he'd played as young man and watched avidly always as a fan), he had made a decent innings. As a father one couldn't have asked for anything more, nor as a friend and in his twilight years, my companion for some of my most cherished memories, away looking for and photographing wildlife.
This past decade has seen me walk away from a successful career in IT to one where I love what I am doing, and I hope the next decade will see this choice blossom, especially if I can follow my Dad's example, and make the most of every single day.
Happy New Year, sincerely.