Still Death: The objects of optimism

He was a true optimist, my Dad.

He died a few weeks ago. On the 25th of April.

He was 64 years of age. He died of bowel cancer.

Watching my fat, healthy, funny Dad get thin and sick (but still funny) was awful.

One of the worst things about it was watching all his hope gradually get taken away from him. It’s really hard to be an optimist with no hope.

His optimism took the form of looking forward to things and making plans. As he got sicker it got harder to make any plans, because he couldn’t be sure he had enough future left to see them through.

His policy in the last few years of his life, once he knew he was really sick and getting better probably wasn’t on the cards, was to “go to everything”. Can you come to my party? Yes, I can. Would you like to come on holidays? Yes, I would. A day out at the races? Oh god yes, what could be better?

But as time and cancer went on, more and more of the plans had to be cancelled because he wasn’t well enough. And gradually it stopped being worth making the plans at all.

But still there were things to hope for and look forward to. It’s only now that I can see how tiny our hopes became: just a few more weeks. Just to get him home, even for a short time. Not a lot to ask. But too much, as it turned out.

The photograph above I took some time in the last weeks of his life, when he was in hospital. I call it Still Death. Like a still life, except of objects from beside a death bed. Objects that didn’t really move because they were no longer useful and so nobody picked them up.

Every item on that table was redundant by the time I took the picture. And each one represents a tiny hope that was ultimately denied.

Every time you start a book, it is an act of hope that you will get to finish it. He finished many books in his life. But not those two.

The 7Up and Lucozade were bought in the shop when he started back on a liquid diet. After weeks of nil by mouth, he was so looking forward to a nice cool fizzy drink. But the fizz was too much so he drank it flat, diluted with water, and warm from sitting on the table.

The flask was my mother’s plan — that he could use it to keep cold water by his bed so if his mouth was dry at night, he would have some right beside him. It was never used.

The Fortijuce was to give him some calories once his TPN (feeding through a drip, basically) was removed. He tried one. It was the last thing he drank. Let’s just say it didn’t go down well.

The glasses were just his glasses. He didn’t wear them much at the end because his eyes were mostly closed.

After he died he didn’t really look like himself. So we put the glasses on him to see if they would make him seem more familiar.

A dead man with closed eyes wearing glasses. Not familiar. But weirdly comical.

Now it’s a different world for us, without him in it. Where we think of things to tell him and then remember that we can’t.

Where we know he’s dead but can’t really believe it, or understand it.

And those objects that sat on that table beside his bed untouched for so many days were finally moved, and tidied up, and the room he died in was made ready for someone else to hopefully get better in.

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