My father died last month. At about 4:00 pm on Monday, 27 December, 2010, in the presence of my mother and brother, to be precise. It wasn’t unexpected—Dad was diagnosed with cancer in mid-2010, and my hopes for a miracle from modern medicine weren’t realised.
Since I was advised not to fly because of my own recent surgery (nothing serious, and timed to coincide with the holiday break in New Zealand), I’ve been remembering instead.
Remembering the summer holidays of my childhood, visiting my grandparents and aunt in Burnaby (part of greater Vancouver). We’d drive through the Rockies, camping in one of the many campgrounds along the way, complete with the family cat. When we arrived we would set up the tent in my grandparents’ garden for a week or so. We’d spend the days by the sea (in the early years at English Bay, and later at Lumberman’s Arch, before it was filled in), swimming and having fish and chips for a special treat. I still remember their taste and texture—and I’m sure that part of the pleasure in eating them came from the special location.
Remembering my parents’ visits to New Zealand, where they enjoyed staying at our beach house. We’d spend the weekends there with them, and they were on their own during the week, which worked out well. Since Dad liked to keep busy, they did much of the gardening for us, and uncovered a path we didn’t know we had. We’ve managed to keep it clear of weeds since, so thanks for your efforts, Dad.
Dad’s first brush with mortality came in 1990, when he had a heart attack followed by triple bypass surgery. His strength of character came through in the way he approached his recovery, and in his subsequent determination to stay fit. I liked to describe him as a typical Type A heart attack victim, since in the following 20 years he put as much energy into looking after his heart as he had previously put into his job. Part of his daily routine involved a long walk, and he and Mom became familiar figures to residents of our small beach community as they walked the 4 kilometres to the local cafe and back when they visited, declining all offers of a ride.
Dad was a modest person, and a small ‘c’ conservative. He was happiest in the presence of his family, and led a quiet life. In recent years he enjoyed writing letters to the editor, standing up for the rights of ordinary citizens and tax-payers.
I’ve also been feeling glad that I spent part of my recent sabbatical in Edmonton, so that I saw Dad, and other members of my family, regularly. Despite his illness, he still walked every day, and was usually well on his way by the time I left for my office at the University of Alberta each morning. While there I learned that Dad had developed a late-in-life interest in mathematics, particularly in pi, and how its value is calculated. One of the questions I couldn’t answer was why pi was based on the diameter of a circle, rather than its radius. Since returning to New Zealand, I’ve found out that other people are asking the same question, and came across The Tau Manifesto, so Dad, you weren’t the only one puzzled by pi.
In keeping with Dad’s wishes, he had a private cremation, and there was no funeral. This is my way of saying ‘goodbye’, and thank you for everything.
January 1st, 2011