Nothing can quite prepare you for the phone call you’ve always dreaded. The panicked voice from a parent, relaying direct information down the phone.
“There are three paramedics resuscitating your Dad”
It was all my Mum had to say.
I got up from the cafe I was sitting in and heading down the escalators with the phone to my ear.
“Ok. I’m leaving now. I’ll be home in 3 hours”
“Ok” She replied and hung up.
I called my brother, he was on his way home too. It would take him 1 and ½ hours to get to our family home and in the space in between my Mum would sit and wait. Luckily a neighbour and friend went round to comfort her. The ambulance outside giving something away.
It took me 3 and a ½ hours to get home. Straight up the motorway from the bottom of England to the middle. I have no recollection of the actual drive apart from the vague feeling of the rush I had within me to get there and get there fast.
As I pulled up, there was a silver van outside my house. There were two men sitting in the front seats wearing black suits. Men from the morgue. I knew. I’d known all along. I’d known he’d had died before I got in my car and drove, but I hadn’t allowed myself to entertain those thoughts in case they sent me off the road spinning.
The rest of the evening was a blur. Each one took our turn to say goodbye to him before the men from the morgue took him away. Some family friends came round, someone made us food, and then all of a sudden it was dark and it was just the three of us. My Mum, my brother and me. Standing outside the house in silence.
I remember the night clearly. The moon was a waxing crescent and the sky was clear, the stars shining through sharply. We all paused there, outside the back door, my Mum lighting up a cigarette. We stood in silence at first, no one really knowing what to say about the loss of someone so great. Not just for us, but the world. To lose a man of such good values, a local hero. Before long we were talking about what my brother and I had learnt from him, values which had been installed in us to live through a legacy. Values demonstrated without words and through actions. Values that will stay with us forever.
- Have integrity. No matter what the circumstances, my Dad would always come through on his word. Even in the most difficult situations, and trust me if you’re a community Doctor there are many difficult situations. Integrity was something that was installed in him and he expected of those around him, his children included. It was practised daily in our family life, something that my brother and I thought was the norm of society. It’s only now, as adults that we realise that it’s somewhat of a rarity in the world these days.
- Be compassionate to others. I never truly understood what compassion was until my Dad passed away but looking back I know that he completely embodied it. There was the time that a grief stricken family tried to sue him for an error that wasn’t his, only for him to say that “People act in unusual ways because of grief”. There’s also the time when a patient with psychiatric problems waited in his surgery car park to attack him, by slapping him across the face with a belt. All he would say is that it wasn’t the patient’s fault, and that they just needed some help to get on back on the right track. At the time I felt puzzled with him and angry at the people trying to do him harm but I can hear his voice clearly respond to me “You never know what someone else has been through, and maybe if you did, you might see things differently”.
- Have courage to stand up for what you believe in. The most admirable thing about my father was that he always stood up for what he believed in, no matter who he was up against. Amongst many strong and positive beliefs, he believed in providing the best health care possible for his patients, a value that would often come up against boards of directors when discussing health care budgets. My Dad would never compromise his values and he wouldn’t sell out on his patients, even if it meant losing his job over it. It took a tremendous amount of courage for Muslim Egyptian man to exercise these values in predominantly White, Catholic, ‘old boys school’ type environments but my Dad didn’t see the differences on the surface that many of us do. He just focused on what was important at the time – ‘what’s the best for the patients?’ Then he stood by it and fought for it.
The death of a parent, a spouse or any family member is always a difficult part of life, but what got us through the darkest parts was the reflection that we had such a decent man in our lives. Of course I would have loved to have my Dad around for another 30 years, and I miss him every day. But in the 30 years that he shared with me he gave me some of the best gifts I could have ever wish for – good values, and for that I’m grateful.