A few nights later I was jarred from my sleep by the sound of the telephone. Reaching for the cordless receiver on my bedside table, I peered at the luminous hands of the clock; it was about one-thirty in the morning. In the darkness of the room I pulled myself up into a sitting position and put the phone to my ear. “Hello?” I said.
“Tommy, it’s Becca. You need to come down here right away”. My sister was covering the overnight shift at my father’s bedside.
“What’s happening?” I asked.
“He’s fading fast. I don’t think he’ll last the night”.
“Does Mum know?”
“As soon as you get down here, I’m going to go and get her. Please be as quick as you can, alright?”
“Do you want me to pick Mum up at your place?”
“I haven’t talked to her yet; I wanted to tell her in person”.
“I’ll do that if you like”.
“If you don’t mind, I’d rather be the one”.
“Okay; I’ll wake Emma up, and we’ll be down as fast as we can”.
“Right; see you in a few minutes, then”.
“Okay”. Pressing the ‘end’ button, I turned on my bedside light, got out of bed, pulled on my dressing gown, and went down the hall to Emma’s bedroom. Knocking softly on the door, I called, “Em?”
“What is it?” came the sleepy reply.
“We need to get down to the hospital”.
I heard the creaking of the bed, and after a moment the door opened; Emma’s hair was messy from sleep, and her eyes were screwed up against the hallway light. “Is it Grandpa?” she asked.
“Yes; Becca says he’s fading fast”.
I saw the sudden stillness on her face; “Give me five minutes to get dressed and brush my teeth”, she said quietly.
“Becca wants us to hurry so that she can leave the hospital to go and get Grandma”.
“Right – I’ll be as fast as I can”.
Ten minutes later I was backing my car out of our parking spot; it had been raining for several hours, and the water was lying in puddles on the surface of the road. As I put the car into gear and pulled away, Emma took out her mobile phone; “Do you think we should call Wendy and the kids?” she asked.
“I was going to do that when we got to the hospital, but you can do it now if you like”.
I heard her keying in the number, and a moment later she said, “Wendy, sorry to wake you up; it’s Emma. Dad and I are in the car on the way down to the hospital, and I thought we’d better call you… Yes, Becca called us a few minutes ago and told us he’s fading fast”.
She listened for a moment, and then said, “Well, I can’t see why not”. Covering the phone with her hand, she said, “Dad, is there any reason why Wendy and Lisa shouldn’t come down to the hospital?”
“None whatsoever”, I replied; “Tell her my Dad and Mum would want that”.
Emma spoke into the phone again; “He says I’m to tell you that Grandpa and Grandma would want that… Right, we’ll see you down there”. Closing the flap on the phone, she said, “Lisa’s at Christ Church tonight, but Wendy’s going to call her and then go and get her; apparently they’ve already talked about what they would do in this situation”.
When we got to my father’s room we found a nurse standing beside the bedside talking quietly with Becca. My father was wearing an oxygen mask; his eyes were closed, and I could hear the sound of his laboured breathing as we entered the room. My sister greeted us both with hugs and said, “Right – I’ll go and get Mum”.
“Wait a minute, Becs”, I said; “What’s happening?”
“He’s never really shaken off the pneumonia; there are a few other factors as well, but the pneumonia’s the main thing”.
“He’s not in a coma, right?” Emma asked.
“No – he doesn’t appear to be conscious, but we assume…”
Emma nodded; “I remember”, she said softly.
“Of course you do”. Becca reached out again and gave her another hug, then stepped back, looked her in the eye, and asked, “Are you going to be all right?”
“I’ll be okay”.
“Becs, does Rick know?” I asked.
“He’s on his way; he should be here before I get back”.
“Wendy’s coming too”.
“Good – I was hoping you’d let her know. I’d better go, Tommy”.
She turned and went out, and we sat down in chairs on either side of my father’s bed, holding his hands, now and then talking quietly to him, not knowing whether or not he could hear us, but wanting to believe that he could. From time to time I stole glances at Emma; her hair was tied back in a ponytail, her eyes were red from lack of sleep, and I could see the emotion clearly on her face as she watched my father’s tortured breathing.
Alyson and Rick joined us a few minutes later, slipping quietly into the room and moving over to stand beside Emma. When she saw Rick, she got up quickly; “You sit here, Uncle Rick”, she said.
“No, no”, he replied in a quiet voice, putting his hand on her shoulder; “I’ll take my turn in a minute, but for now you stay right where you are”. He glanced across at me; “Has Becca gone for Mum?”
“Yes; she should be back in fifteen minutes or so. Are any of your kids coming?”
“We woke them up and told them”, Alyson replied, “but Anna seemed a bit scared of the idea of coming, and Eric said he’d stay with her”.
“We rang Sarah too”, Rick added; “She can’t come, of course, but I thought we ought to let her know”.
“Was she okay?” Emma asked.
“Sleepy, and of course a bit sad”, Rick replied.
“I’ll call her in the morning”, Emma said.
We lapsed into silence, Emma and I continuing to hold my father’s hands; my brother moved around the bed to stand at my side, and I saw Alyson put her hand on Emma’s shoulder. After a few minutes the nurse came back into the room, checked the monitors, glanced briefly at my father, and left as quietly as she had come. A couple of times Emma reached out and stroked my father’s emaciated face, whispering, “I love you, Grandpa”.
My mother and Becca arrived a few minutes later; I could see the tiredness in my mother’s face, and as she came around the bed toward me I stood up, held out my arms and gave her a hug. “You look exhausted”, I said.
“I didn’t sleep. Somehow, I think I knew this might be the night”.
I stepped back from the bed, and she took her place beside my father on the chair I had been using. Taking his hand, she said, “I’m here, Frank; the children are all here, too, and Alyson and Emma”.
I put my hand on her shoulder; she glanced up at me and said, “Did you ring Wendy?”
“She’s on her way, but she had to go into town to get Lisa at Christ Church”.
Wendy and Lisa arrived a few minutes later, both of them showing evidence of hasty dressing. By then Rick had taken Emma’s place across the bed from my mother, and Emma and Lisa stepped back into a corner together, talking to each other in low tones. Wendy came around the bed to where I was standing; I put my arm around her shoulders, and felt the answering touch of her hand on my back.
We kept vigil at my father’s bedside for the rest of the night. At around three o’clock Mike Carey came in and took his place at Becca’s side. Nurses checked the monitors by my father’s bed at regular intervals, and a doctor in a white lab coat spent a few minutes in the room, checking my father’s vital signs and talking quietly with Becca. At some point Emma resumed her place at my father’s side, holding his hand, and now and then talking quietly to him.
At about four-thirty Wendy and I went out to the parking lot for a breath of fresh air. The eastern sky was beginning to get light, and the rain had stopped. We leaned against the back of the same bench Lisa and I had used a few nights before; “Are you okay?” she asked me.
“Yeah; sad, of course”.
She took my arm; “Sad is okay”, she said.
We were quiet for a moment, and then she said, “You and Rick seem quite relaxed with each other – not at all the sort of distant relationship you had a few weeks ago”.
“I know. That’s partly Emma’s doing, with all the time she’s spent with Sarah”.
“And it looks to me as if there’s been some sort of reconciliation between Rick and Alyson, too”.
“I haven’t had time to ask Rick about that. I’m not sure what’s happened there”.
“Your dad’s got his family all around him tonight”.
“Yes. I think he’d have preferred it to be at home, but we all knew that wasn’t going to be possible. It was the same when Kelly died. She’d spent the better part of the previous six months at University Hospital in Saskatoon”.
“Was that where she died?”
“Was the family all there?”
I opened my mouth to answer, but suddenly Wendy frowned and shook her head in annoyance. “I’m sorry, Tom”, she said; “That’s a very insensitive question for me to ask you on a night like this”.
“I will tell you about Kelly’s death soon, though”, I replied; “There was something really special and unusual that happened at the end”.
At that moment Lisa emerged from the doors of the hospital and walked slowly over towards us. “Am I intruding?” she asked hesitantly.
“Not at all”, I replied. “Everything pretty much the same in there?”
“His breathing’s getting a bit quieter”.
“Are you all right?” Wendy asked her.
Lisa nodded; “A bit tired, and a bit sad”.
“I’m glad you’re here”, I said.
“Thanks, Tom. It seems somehow unfair, doesn’t it?”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, I get a new grandfather, and then a couple of months later I lose him”. She smiled at me; “I actually rather like him”, she said.
“Yes, he’s rather grown on me, too”. I straightened my back, stifled a yawn, and said, “Well, perhaps we’d better go back inside”.
My father died just after six o’clock in the morning. For the last hour of his life, we could clearly hear his breathing getting shallower, and eventually it just seemed to fade away into silence and stillness. Emma and my mother were sitting on either side of the bed, holding his hands; Wendy and Lisa and I were standing behind my mother, with Becca and Mike beside us, and Rick and Alyson on the other side of the bed. A doctor had slipped into the room at around five forty-five, and it was he who finally checked my father’s vital signs, looked up at us, and said, “It’s over”.
Becca crouched down beside my mother and put her arms around her, and for a few minutes they held each other; I could hear the sound of my mother’s quiet weeping, and I could see the tears on my sister’s face, too. Emma had gotten to her feet on the other side of the bed, her face stricken; I moved around the bed and took her in my arms; I felt her body begin to shake, and I held her close. “You were with him all night”, I whispered; “That was exactly what he would have wanted”.
I felt her nodding her head against my shoulder. “I wanted to do that for him”, she sobbed; “I really wanted to stay with him to the end”.
“And you did”.
After a few minutes, I felt the shaking of her body subsiding; she stepped back, wiped the tears from her eyes with a Kleenex from her pocket, and said, “I need to go out and call Sarah”.
I felt Becca’s hand on my shoulder, and as I turned to face her she spoke to me in a low voice; “We need to give Mum a few minutes here by herself”, she said.
“Right. I expect there are some formalities here that need to be looked after, are there?”
“Nothing that can’t wait until later in the day”.
“Okay”. I glanced around at the rest of the family; “Where shall we go?” I asked.
“Come to our house and have some breakfast”, Wendy replied; “You all know where it is by now”.
My father’s funeral took place five days later at the Oxford Crematorium. His two brothers and his sister and their spouses were all present, along with my mother’s sister Brenda, and a number of my father and mother’s friends. All of our immediate family members were there, including Sarah who had been brought from the rehab hospital in her wheelchair. Rick had managed to have his sentencing postponed for a few days in order to be able to attend the funeral; he sat at the front with his family, Alyson’s hand in his. Becca and Mike sat beside my mother, and Wendy, Colin and Lisa sat with Emma and me. Owen and Lorraine were a little further back in the chapel, and Owen’s father and mother were with them.
My mother had surprised me the day after my father’s death by handing me a sheet of funeral instructions in his handwriting. As I had expected, he had not wanted a standard church ceremony, but in a short note addressed to me at the bottom of the page he had said, “Prayers and observances according to your Mennonite religious tradition may be added at your discretion, Tom”. We had asked my father’s old partner, Jack Marlowe, to lead a short memorial service with stories and remembrances of my father’s life, and at the end Emma read a short passage from the Bible, and I led a simple prayer of thanksgiving. Afterwards there was a reception at Northwood; my mother had insisted on making the arrangements for it, and she had hired a catering company to provide a stand up lunch in the large piano room at the back of the house.
Late the next afternoon we went to the offices of Masefield and Marlowe in Oxford for the reading of my father’s will. My mother had insisted that I bring Wendy with me, which was why we were meeting late in the afternoon, after her last tutorial of the day. As we gathered in my brother’s luxurious office I saw that Becca had brought Mike as well; Jack Marlowe was sitting behind Rick’s desk, and the rest of us took our places on various chairs and sofas around the room.
The will was much as I had expected it to be. He left his share in the house to my mother, and he left educational bequests in the amount of £25,000 each to all of his grandchildren, including Lisa. I had not said anything about this to Wendy beforehand; I heard her catch her breath when she heard it, and I felt her grip tighten on my arm. Various smaller bequests were listed in the will, and at the end my father left the remainder of his investment money to be divided equally between Rick, Becca, and me. At this point Jack looked up from the document in his hand; “I haven’t got the exact figures yet”, he said.
“I don’t expect there’ll be much after the inheritance taxes”, Becca said.
“No, actually, your father was wealthier than you think”, Jack replied. He told her what my father had told me, about the money he had received from his father and had left in investments. “Inheritance tax doesn’t apply to what he’s left to your mother”, he continued; “bequests to spouses are exempt. For the money he’s left to you three and to the grandchildren, the first $325,000 is tax-free; after that it’s taxed at 40%. As I said, I haven’t got the exact figures, but I’m pretty sure that after taxes and the other bequests, the three of you will be dividing a sum of approximately £550,000 between you”.
There was a stunned silence in the room; from the expressions on the faces of my brother and sister I could tell that my father had not said anything to them beforehand. Becca’s face had gone white; she gripped Mike’s hand and whispered, “Oh my God! I had no idea…!”
“But what about you, Mum?” Rick asked.
“Your Dad and I have had joint bank accounts for years”, my mother replied; “There’s more than enough money in those accounts for me to live comfortably for the rest of my life. Don’t worry, Rick; your Dad and I talked this over very thoroughly before he died”.
Jack Marlowe folded the document in his hands and replaced it in its envelope. “These things take time to wind up”, he said, “so it’ll probably be a couple of months before we’re in a position to actually make any of this money available to you. Meanwhile, if I can be of any help to any of you, don’t hesitate to ask”.
Wendy suggested that I tell Lisa myself about my father’s bequest to her, and so I invited them up to our house after supper. Emma and I had a quiet supper together; I didn’t say anything to her about my father’s will, and she seemed to know instinctively that I didn’t want to talk about it. I mentioned to her that Wendy and the children were coming around later, and she said, “I’ll make some oatmeal cookies if you like?”
“That’d be fine”.
Wendy and the children arrived at about seven-thirty, just as Emma was taking the first batch of cookies out of the oven. Colin came into our living room, sniffed at the air, and observed, “Something smells very good in here!”
“Fresh oatmeal cookies!” Emma replied with a smile as she came into the living room from the kitchen.
I made a pot of coffee and we sat around the living room, talking quietly about the events of the last few days. The evenings were getting longer now, and Emma had a fondness for natural light, so we had left the curtains open and only had one small table lamp burning in the darkest corner of the room. Eventually Lisa said to me, “You and Mum haven’t mentioned anything about your meeting today”.
“No”, I replied; “We wanted to get you all together so that we could tell you about it”.
“Were there some surprises, then?”
“Not for me”, I replied, glancing at Wendy; “My Dad had discussed it with me a few weeks ago. I could tell that it came as a surprise to almost everyone else there, though”.
“What did he do, Dad?” Emma asked softly.
“Well, he turned out to be a much wealthier man than I had known. He’s left the house and all of his money from his own business earnings to my mother, and apparently it will be quite adequate for her to live comfortably for the rest of her life. Nothing unusual about that, of course, but there’s more”.
I paused, took a sip of my coffee, and continued. “Apparently he received a pretty substantial inheritance from my grandfather when he died eighteen years ago, and he never touched that money; he simply invested it. Out of that money, he left bequests to all of his grandchildren to help with their education. That includes you, Lisa, and Emma too. Emma’s already received some money from him, so her bequest is a bit smaller, around £19,000. He left you £25,000, Lisa”.
Lisa’s face went pale; “Oh my God!” she whispered.
“That will pay for your postgraduate degree, if you still want to do it”, Wendy said softly.
“I’d be an ungrateful idiot not to do it, wouldn’t I?” Lisa replied.
“There’s one more thing”, I said. “That investment money of my Dad’s turned out to be a very large sum. Of course, there will be inheritance taxes to pay, but when all of that has been taken care of, he’s left the rest to Rick, Becca and me. It’ll be about £180,000 for each of us”.
There was a stunned silence in the room for a moment, and then Lisa said, “Mum, would you please marry this man, or something?”
We all laughed, and I saw Wendy’s face flush. “I’m not so desperate that I need to marry a man for his money!” she said.
“No, but it does add to his many other attractions, doesn’t it?”
Wendy shook her head with an embarrassed smile. “You’ll be in a much better position to be able to buy the house you’ve wanted”, she said to me.
“Maybe; we’ll have to think about that”.
Later on, after Wendy and her children had left, Emma and I sat in our usual places on either side of the fireplace, drinking our hot chocolate. Emma had been unusually silent after I had broken the news of my father’s bequest to me, and now I looked across at her and said, “You don’t think I should keep it, do you?”
“It’s not my business, Dad”, she replied; “He left it to you, not to me”.
She shook her head. “We’ve got enough, especially with the money he left me for university”.
“So do you think I should give it away?”
“Well, to start with, I’d give Colin the same amount of money for his education that Lisa and I got”.
“I thought about that. Have you got any other thoughts?”
She shook her head. “I’m still coming to terms with it, Dad. It’s a huge amount of money, and we were getting along fine before Grandpa left it to you. We didn’t have a lot, but we had enough. And what about all the people in Britain who don’t have fathers who can leave them £180,000 – what do they do? They live modestly and do the best they can. Why shouldn’t we do that? Isn’t that what Jesus taught us to do?”
I got to my feet slowly, and went over to the back window; it was dark outside now, but still we had not closed the curtain. I took a sip of my hot chocolate and said, “Yes, it is what Jesus taught us to do – although I can’t deny that the thought of buying a house and having a very low mortgage payment is pretty attractive to me”.
“If we stay in England”.
“Yes”, I said, “if we stay in England. We have to think about that one now, too, don’t we?”
“Yes, we do”.