A dance to the music of time

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Writer Harry Reid

Writer Harry Reid pens a few lines about his father Bert and his strong desire to die in his own home. His dad died in 2018

Time is a healer.


Sometimes, the flipped coin glints, landing tick side up. Sometimes, it shows the dull time-worn face of tock.

Life turns on a sixpence after all.

Time is a currency.

We get the choice to spend it wisely or foolishly.

We do not get to decide when time’s up.

Nor can we know in advance when our game will move into injury time. Today, determination to avoid being late propels my ridiculously early arrival.

Time to spare.

Punctuality is essential if I am to intercept my father’s consultant on her morning rounds, conducted as they are in clockwork fashion.

My ambush on the ward has to be dead on time.

Exiting the bus that has brought me, I enter the compound of hospital buildings strewn hugger-mugger to sprout a maze-like concrete forest.
Unlike Ariadne, I have no need to trail a red thread behind me, for I am wearily familiar with this particular labyrinth.

The rhythmic tread of my trudging feet pound out a regular two-step, clip-clop that clatters through the early morning January air that feels more brittle than crisp.

Echoing off the sides of the mish-mash of high and low rise structures I’m passing, my progress sounds disconcertingly militaristic to me in its left, right, left, right, rat-a-tat-tat.

Heading to the only café that is open to visitors at this early hour to this city within a city, I hunch my shoulders against the chill and console myself at the prospect of the surprisingly good coffee on offer at the end of my walk.

It will be welcome fortification ahead of my encounter with an authority that can grant or refuse my request.


Weirdly, I feel an incongruous smile invade my face.

My subconscious exhales a memory of a past time.

A child gasps for breath in the night.

Panic takes asthma’s hand to pull the small boy up the spiral staircase of annihilating terror that breathing is about to stop forever.

My whimpered siren summons Daddy to my caravan holiday bed.

Stepping outside we drink in the starlit duvet blanketing the moist grass of a County Down field and the gravelled path across it.

His sonorously voiced stories of the constellations above, gently guide my mind from fear’s prison.

Breaths gradually come less strangled, then shift into the natural ebb and flow of their own time.

Squeezing my hand with gentle pulses matching the rhythmic march of our paces and their tandem synced crunch, he says: “Always march to the beat of your own drum son, that way you dance to your own tune, and escape the steps others think you should take.”

Nodding an earnest agreement, my smile surely betrayed my incomprehension.

Walking half a century later, I understand what a self-willed Houdini act my father’s life had to this point been.

Escaping the Luftwaffe’s wrathful visitations to his childhood city by evacuation to Crossgar, then the poverty of forced unemployment threatening his young family by enduring lonely spells on the oil tankers of the merchant navy, and later, by taking work in Africa, the home-grown berserkery of a place seemingly intent on eviscerating itself.

Later, after a life blessed with rude health, retirement initially brought more of the same.

But times change.

I walk past A&E where he escaped with his life from a heart attack only to have a stroke during follow-on surgery.

Then past the Stroke Unit he escaped from after a gruelling and protracted rehabilitation.

Finally, I walk past the building where Macmillan have an information centre where my mother and I discovered that there was no escape from the particular bowel cancer diagnosis he had received.

Time was running out.

Waiting to talk to the consultant, I see my father through the window of the room that has been his lodging for the weeks since a surgeon told him his cancer was inoperable.

My father sits alone.

The morphine he is being given leaves him periodically in a cloud of confusion, but he is clear that he does not want to die in this clean but antiseptic room.

Time for him to go home he says.

The consultant listens while I speak.

Her own father is in hospital too, she says, and she listens intently.
She agrees to put her weight behind him going home.

Seven days of unrelenting family, medical and social services advocacy spawn a tapestry of palliative care, woven from the decisions of many people in various agencies working with limited budgets in the face of much greater demands.

My father is fortunate.

Equipment and personnel are organised.

In the event he only lived for a short time after getting home, but his choice to die at home was honoured.

Surely it is time that a simple choice such as this is a right not a matter of
good fortune?

But that will take a change of tune away from the droning dirge of a politics in thrall to market forces, begging the question where the drum beat of a politics of decency is going to come from?

• To read our latest issue of VIEW on Palliative Care – go to – https://issuu.com/brianpelanone/docs/view_edition_-_issuu_53

• To sign up to receive regular issues of VIEW and digital training updates – go to –http://viewdigital.org/sign-get-view/


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