Wednesday, 23 March 2011

My Feature about how Dad predicted the date he'd die and then popped back from the dead...

... is NOT now going to be published. I know, I know... talk about pride before a fall, blowing my own trumpet so loud I make my lips fall off, or something dumb like that...BUT the upshot of it is, the magazine rewrote the thousand words I sent them, even though they'd told me it was a "lovely account" AND they cut the piece by half. Half! I'd had a hard job getting it down to 1,000 words so this will tell you how 'brief' they'd made it. And it made me sad that they'd taken what was left of the real emotion out of my dad's story, so I pulled it.
Anyway, I thought I'd post it here, in case you wanted a read. It's all true, by the way. Nothing sensationalised or anything... hope you enjoy:


My dad turned the next playing card over. The Queen of Clubs.
‘There’s a journey. Not far, but it shows travel.’
He turned another one. The King of Spades. He looked up ‘An older man. He’s not well. He might not have long….?’ I frowned and shook my head. I didn’t know any older men who were sick, although… ‘Oh, wait – I know.’ I thought of a friend’s father who had Alzheimer’s and was in a Nursing Home.

Dad returned to the cards. The next ones were the Nine of diamonds and the Ten of spades. ‘In 9 or 10 weeks…’ he tapped the cards, ‘9 or 10 months maybe… that’s what it’s saying… oh and there’s money,’ he smiled as he turned over the last card. ‘Don’t look at me young lady – you know you won’t be getting anything from me.’
That’s when we both laughed. It wasn’t that my dad was tight, but he’d always had a firm rule never to lend or borrow money – friends or family. He didn’t even like to talk about it.

I loved it when Dad came to stay with us. And although we lived 200 miles apart, I’d felt closer to him since mum died 5 years before. I think he enjoyed the break from having to look after himself a couple of times a year.

Dad always said that his own father, my Grandad, could tell fortunes and that afternoon we thought we’d kill some time before my daughter came home from school.

A few weeks later, during one of our Sunday evening telephone calls, he told me he had to have a heart operation. I was a bit shocked because he’d told me he had Angina, which I thought was to do with his breathing. He said not to worry, but that it wouldn’t be a good idea for my daughter and I to go and stay with him in the summer holidays. He’d been feeling tired, and didn’t want to worry about looking after his guests. I understood, of course, but I was also concerned.

The night before the operation he joked on the phone about how the nurse’s skirts weren’t as short as he’d have liked and I said I hoped he understood that because I wasn’t there didn’t mean I didn’t love him. This was the first time I’d ever said the word ‘love’ to my dad – that just wasn’t the way we were. He said he knew; that he loved me too and I knew then that he was scared. He hated hospitals and the last time he’d been in one was the night he held my mum’s hand as she died from a brain tumour.

When I went to visit him in hospital he looked like Homer Simpson, with his chest all yellow from the chemicals they’d painted on. His legs were all stitched up from where they’d taken veins to replace the faulty ones in his heart. He looked tired but cheerful and joking with the nurses still. I left feeling optimistic but wishing we lived closer.

When he left hospital, I was worried about making him get up to answer the phone and I guessed he’d be sleeping more during his recovery. But I knew there was something wrong when I could hardly hear his words. He sounded breathless and said he hadn’t been able to keep food down for over a week. Typically, though, he’d been telling the visiting Nurse that he was fine, making a joke of it as usual.

Quickly, I phoned my cousins who lived down the road and told them I was worried. They went straight round. Soon after he was airlifted in a helicopter to Harefield Hospital in London for an emergency heart operation. I could hardly believe it.

At a Surgeon called to say that Dad had decided he didn’t want another operation. He just wanted to die in peace. Then he put Dad on the line. He told me that he was proud of the way I was bringing up my daughter on my own, that although he’d never said it, he’d loved me from the minute I was born, and that he was sorry but he wanted to be with my Mum now. And even though we didn’t believe in Life after Death, he promised he’d give me a Sign once he got there.

Dad died the following morning, on the 9th of October. 9.10. The cards had been right. About everything.

As my daughter and I left Dad’s body at the Chapel of Rest, she looked up at me and said “I think that’s the first time we’ve been with Grandad when he hasn’t moaned” and we both laughed. She tried to cheer me up again when we were on the beach a little while later, saying “Don’t be sad, Mummy, Grandad’s watching over us; he’s here somewhere.” And although I knew she was just trying to say the right thing, I hugged her tight.

Then, just as we were about to drive away from the beach front car park, I suddenly froze. In a white van, parked just ahead of us, was…..
“Mummy, there’s Grandad in that van!”.
I went cold. My brother, sitting in the back of the car gasped and said: “Jesus, it’s Dad!”
The man in the van leant over the steering wheel, watching the stretch of beach where we’d been minutes earlier, and then scratched his beard the way Dad always did. He was even wearing his favourite shirt.
“It can’t be. He hated white vans. Just drive,” my brother said, shocked.

As the cards had predicted, there was a journey. With the money from the sale of Dad’s bungalow, my daughter and I moved house 6 months later, not far from where we were. And the day the carpenter turned up in his white van to repair the kitchen at our new home, I had no idea that he would turn out to be my future husband.

But I think Dad knew.
My Girl.  My Dad.


Anonymous said...

Oh Debs, I have tears in my eyes. What a lovely story and an excellent piece of writing. Bah to the magazine for ruining it and good for you for pulling it. x

Debs Riccio said...

Thanks Sarah, bah indeed (although that'll teach me for getting all *squee*ly about something before it happens!)

Stephen said...

What a wonderful story Debs, so well written and so moving. Can't believe their not printing it, but well done you for pulling it. Zoe x

Debs Riccio said...

Thanks Zoe. I'm actually glad they're not now, they'd missed the whole point and there was hardly any emotion left at all. I guess I'm not cut out for these magazine pieces.... Dad would've hated it!

Marilyn said...

I'm sorry I've only just found this excellent piece but then, as my family will tell you, I'm usually late for everything. I think the magazine didn't print it because it made them cry, as it did me. Your family's experiences are so like my own. I've a brother, my Mum died four years before Dad, I'm divorced with one daughter - and we were never big on displays of emotion. (Well, it's just not the Yorkshire way.) In the end my Dad, who was lost without Mum, just gave up after he had a burst ulcer and didn't want to go on, even though he'd had an operation. As we waited for him to be taken to surgery, one of he hospital admin staff asked him if he'd brought any valuables with him and he said 'only my kids', then looked at my brother and me. It's all the more poignant when you're not used to that sort of thing. He died the next day. I like to think he's with Mum now, though I don't really believe in such things. Sorry I've rambled! Oh, I just have to add that we're not almost the same since I haven't met my next husband yet. I live in hope?

Debs Riccio said...

oh Marilyn, bless you..... thanks for reading and thanks even more for commenting.... gosh, aren't we leading a kind of parallel existence? (don't worry about not having the Husband yet, I'm beginning to think it's a bit over-rated!. I still go over dad's death in my head most days (even after 7 years) and wonder if I should've 'talked him into staying' and berate myself for not even thinking of it at the time....I worry (as does the H) that I'm not 'moving on' properly... keep in touch?

jc said...

A really moving piece about a piece of family history of which I had only heard third hand accounts. Great courage on your Dad's part and on yours to write about it.

Debs Riccio said...

Thanks John, yes that's exactly what the surgeon said about dad before he passed the phone to him - that he was a 'real character' and 'very courageous'. I'll never forget it.