Iain Pope: The Old Man had his failings – but so did I

Iain Pope considers himself lucky to have been with his father during his last days
Iain Pope considers himself lucky to have been with his father during his last days

As a very occasional ­visitor to these pages, the ­journalistic equivalent of an 89th minute substitution that has you scrabbling for your programme and going “. . . who?”, I am reluctant to lay too much heaviness on you; after all, we’ve only just met.

But the truth is I don’t have a lot else going on right now to talk about except to tell you that my Old Man died on Easter Sunday.

Now don’t be uncomfortable, I won’t get unduly maudlin and I am not looking for sympathy – as someone once said: “If it’s sympathy you’re after, you can find it between ‘s**t’ and ‘syphilis’ in the dictionary.”

But if the good people of the Evening News are going to allow me to write what I want then the least I can do is take advantage of the free obituary space to give a nod to my dad, an Edinburgh man born and bred.

The huge privilege that having this soapbox, even just for today, brings with it is that it will also let me share some recent observations.

So, in no particular order, here goes.

The NHS is a wonderful thing which we must defend. My dad, a lifelong sufferer of bipolar disorder, had been declining for a long time and had been in hospital for much of his last years.

I doubt he would have been a model patient, yet everyone from consultants to cleaners who I saw attending him did so with a level of care, respect and dignity I can’t describe.

I won’t forget the way the nurses, men and women with their own families to go to, held his hand way beyond shift change times as he ­prepared for the inevitable.

I didn’t know what to do afterwards to repay them except to clumsily put some cash in a card from the nearest garage and ask them to enjoy a Christmas drink, but it all seemed a long way short of adequate.

So yes, when you look at your pay packet and wince at how much of your hard-earned cash is going to the taxman, bear in mind that a large (if nowhere near large enough) chunk will be going to supporting the NHS.

Say your piece as soon as you can. I am an only child, I knew my dad was in ill health, that he was in a hospital, but I visited him very rarely. There were a lot of reasons for that, not many of which feel particularly valid right now, but when the call came I managed to get to spend his last days with him. If I am being brutally ­honest I don’t know how much he knew about it, but we did talk, and we did clear the air, or at least I did.

Not everybody is so lucky to be afforded that opportunity, and who knows what tomorrow brings, so why not take the chance to tell someone you love, whatever complicated form that love takes, how you feel?

Dying costs more than you think. According to SunLife the average cost of a funeral in Scotland last year was £3601. Ask yourself this, if you were left carrying the can could you pull that wedge out your back pocket at short notice?

Astonishingly, for he had holes in his own pockets as big as saucers, my dad appears to have prepared for this and somehow had a funeral plan in place, with the very good folk at SunLife, no less. Do you? I know I don’t, although it is now on the To Do list. Watching someone die when their time has come is not as bad as you think. Yes it was hard, and yes, in my case, there was a lot of pain and regret, but that was not because I was desperate to hold on or expecting a miraculous recovery, more sadness for lost time.

But as I watched my dad dying I imagined how it would be if the roles were reversed, and he was looking at me on my deathbed, or worse, if I was looking at my own son, how much more cruel that must be. There is, at least, a natural order to losing a ­parent, and of doing your best for them, in whatever cack-handed way you manage.

Lastly, and most importantly, to the families and friends of anyone afflicted by mental ill health, do your best to try to separate your emotions towards them and the illness which blights their lives. I’m not ashamed to admit I had difficulty all my life doing that with my dad.

But sifting through his affairs as we prepare to send him off I am focusing on the positives.

Yes, he had his failings, but as a lawyer working some of the less salubrious Sheriff Courts of Scotland he was on the side of the underdog, he liked a laugh, a pint, he loved to sing (God knows he loved to sing), and he liked to spend time with his friends, he was a good neighbour, brother, uncle and yes, not a bad father all told, and not at all a bad man.

If they can say that about me when my time comes, I’ll take that.