When I was a child, my GP father took us to visit lonely patients in hospital each Christmas Day. I was so grateful to see the care he was given in return
Mummy, when Grampy’s burnt will there be fireworks?” my six-year-old demanded. My heart sank as I realised I’d made a terrible job of explaining cremation. We were racing down the motorway so that Abbey and her older brother could see their grandad – my father – one final time. But it was only a few weeks after Bonfire Night. Abbey’s one frame of reference for setting people alight was the guy that had so enthralled her on the school playing field, going up in a blaze of sparks and cinders.
As soon as we arrived – on an icy Christmas Eve in 2017 – the children stampeded into the dining room where Dad lay on a hospital bed being drip-fed morphine, yellow with jaundice and skeletal. I’d worried that the sight of him might frighten them. But no. “Grampy!” they squealed as they raced to his bedside. Abbey instinctively leant downwards to kiss his forehead, while Finn took the bare bones of Dad’s hand in the plumpness of his, and gently, tenderly, squeezed them. Tinsel and fairy lights twinkled around them. He was too weak to speak, but Dad’s eyes danced with pleasure. My heart cracked as I watched his face – so very gaunt, stripped bare by cancer – glow with an unmistakable smile.