It was cancer of the stomach that killed him in the end and it came on very, very suddenly! He was only taken ill at the beginning of December and after initial tests they thought they might have caught it in time. It turns out that that gave him cruelly false hope as they quickly discovered it was a quick-spreading, very aggressive cancer and there was no hope! When I got to Wales to see him he actually looked a lot better than I expected (terribly thin of course but then there wasn't much of him to begin with). My sister and her husband and other brother drove up from Dorset the same day and we all went to the hospital together. There was some thought that maybe he had just been "hanging on" knowing we were coming but as I say, apart from being terribly thin, he was on good form, cracking jokes and being his usual self. We were all there when the doctor came in to talk to him and he gave his permission for us to stay so that we could all hear what was going on. The doctor very gently explained that there was no hope and said that he maybe had a week or two at the most. Then he asked if there was anything else he could do for him and my brother said "yeah, just one thing. Can you keep me alive till the end of the cricket season!" The doctor was Italian and I don't think he knew where to put himself but we all burst out laughing - that was my brother to a "T", always joking and, I suspect, trying to put us all at ease. In any case, it worked!
I went in to see him every day but you could honestly only stay so long as he just wanted to sleep. Still, he was compus mentis right up until the last days and we had time to have a good talk. Margaret and I made the difficult decision to ask him to talk about his final wishes - which he was happy to do - so as she gently questioned him I would write it down word for word. Occasionally they went right off tack and they would start reminiscing! "Hey Maggie, do you remember that time we went out for dinner and I had that poxy Moroccan tajine and you had four beautiful pieces of sea bass and you wouldn't give me any, you miserable bugger"! Then off they went in guffaws of laughter! It was really nice to hear and I wrote it all down, with the intention of writing it all up afterwards - which I did, "poxy Moroccan tajine" included!
He told us what clothes he wanted to wear, what music he wanted and the fact that he wanted his ashes scattered with his late wife's ashes in South Wales, then a few small things that he specifically wanted each son to have. They only have two sons so there will be an easy 50-50 split of assets of course!
Then he got on to the subject of where his will was, who he wanted to sell the house and his various bank accounts. One account had quite a substantial amount in it so at this point I put my pen down, took his hand and said "you do know you've always been my favourite brother don't you"! He burst out laughing and told me to piss off, so yep, he was still on the ball. He said that I could take anything I wanted from the home and I did indeed take a pretty china teacup and saucer (one of many that my sister-in-law had) as the boys wouldn't want most of it and it would go to charity. I then asked him for a very special item - his egg poacher! You know, the ones that cost £1 from Poundland (I couldn't find one) as I can't for the life of me poach an egg! He just gave me the evil eye and I successfully got that poacher through customs and safely stored in my cupboard now!
Armed with this knowledge I typed everything up and had him sign it - with me witnessing it - and then Margaret and I decided to head off to his bank to find out about the administrative formalities his sons would have to complete upon his death, as we knew they would be overwhelmed when the time came! Well believe it or not we walked out of there with a fully paid-up funeral plan (he had the choice of three) and had everything set up for when the time came. I know this might sound a bit ghoulish but we wanted to get as much done as possible and take that burden off the boys. Phil was happy with it all and so signed all the paperwork and as it turns out the boys are greatly relieved. They, of course, get to make final decisions regarding flowers and coffins and so on but the bulk of the admin has already been done and they are so grateful.
As I mentioned previously my oldest son and his wife flew out for the weekend. My youngest couldn't as he had just started a new job but Phil was ok with that. Then, quite unexpectedly, my niece showed up from Dorset, driving a total of 15 hours in one day to come up and see him with her family. You see, he really was loved!
Actually, Phil was a big kid who never seemed to grow up. Or at least, he always loved kids and was the "favourite uncle" who ended up playing water pistols and so on with the little ones - they all loved him. The little grandson from next door used to knock on his door and ask if he wanted to play football and the neighbours also have a video of him playing squirt guns with their granddaughters!
My niece's children made him a "get well soon" card which showed him playing water pistols with them in the garden.
I have a picture of him somewhere "teaching my two year old to smoke a pipe". Well he had Jordan toddling around Annecy with Phil's pork pie hat on his head and (unlit) pipe in his mouth. I'm not sure everyone would have approved but that photo is hilarious (and - no thanks to Phil - Jordan has never smoked!). I just hope that photo shows up some day!
|Stuffing grass down my oldest's back!
Once we got our tears out the way we all started telling the stupid stories of "do you remember when ….". His son said he remembered one day walking through a muddy field with his mom and dad and Phil was going to show the boys how to jump over a muddy puddle. Which he did. Only thing is, his shoe got stuck in the mud on take off and he landed in the mud on the other side in his bare feet, with them giggling so hard his mom almost peed herself. And another time when they had been travelling by car and Phil had wound the window down because it was too hot. Then he turned to his wife and they got chatting away while driving along and he decided he was done with his coffee so pitched the dregs out the window - only he forgot he had just wound the window back up and he ended up with coffee dregs all over him. Cue more subdued giggling from the back of the car!
So I pitched in how my family had all driven down to the west coast of France and we drove over from the east of France to spend a 10 day camping holiday together. One day we decided to walk into town to get some groceries, but it was scorching hot and we had to wade through the sand to get to the supermarket. It was bloody hard going I can tell you, so we were all aghast when dingbat (Phil) showed up at the check-out with the most enormous watermelon which he insisted we had to have - so we made him carry that thing all across the sand dunes back to the camp site. Turns out he sank so much into the sand that he burned his ankles. My niece, Rachel, actually posted the following in-joke on Facebook!
A photo of Rachel and Phil on that holiday!
Phil was naturally devastated when his wife died suddenly three years ago. We all were, but none more so than him of course, but weirdly he was desperate not to die on 18 January - the anniversary of her death. Hopefully he didn't realize that he did indeed die on that day!
|Phil with his wife, Brenda
So meeting Margaret 18 months after her death was, as he put it, an added bonus that he never expected. And they made each other so happy. Margaret has been an absolute rock since he became ill, moving into his house to take care of him and visiting him every day while he was in hospital. Yesterday she drove Darren into Llandudno to show him where he will have to register the death and then, I believe, she will finally go back to her own home 150 km away to try to get some rest.
|Phil and Margaret
As I was waiting for my train to Manchester in order to fly home on Thursday a seagull came wandering brazenly up to me. I tell you, those buggers are massive. So massive in fact that, as Lee Evans said, they've even got bloody tattoos on their legs! So I took a picture of him - Phil would have liked that!
We both believe in the after life and he promised me he would be sending out white feathers, the symbol of your guardian angel, when he was strong enough to do so. But he made it quite clear that we wouldn't find them outside - he would be putting them inside so we could be sure it was from him!
I'm so glad I got to say my goodbyes Phil. You were brave to the end. I love you and miss you as one should miss a brother of course, but what I will really miss is our conversations because you were such an interesting, well-read man. Oh and I will miss your lousy jokes too. Love you so much. Until we meet again on the other side! Love from your little sis!