Today, my father would have been eighty-seven. It also would have been my parents’ fifty-ninth wedding anniversary.
They made it to their Golden Wedding, despite my dad’s increasing physical frailness and my mother’s worsening Alzheimer’s Disease. They, their five children and eight of what eventually became ten grandchildren, celebrated at the hotel where they had had their honeymoon fifty years earlier.
It was a lovely day – though my mum did not always seem to know what was going on and Dad’s hand was heavily bandaged.
I am so glad we did have that celebration. Three months and one day later, my father – fifty years an insulin-dependent diabetic – went into what turned out to be his final hypo and died very suddenly.
Within a year, my mother was in a home for people with dementia. There she remains. She no longer knows who her children are.
My parents were not perfect. Who is? Like all parents, they struggled, made mistakes, lost the plot from time to time.
But they gave us a huge gift of love and imagination and books and writing and festivals and humour and all manner of other important life tools and delights.
I miss my father hugely. It is now nearly nine years since he died. A picture (the last one ever taken) of him and Mum is pinned to the cork board in my Study. He wears a red shirt, trousers and a sports jacket (as he so often did) and has his left arm protectively around my mum’s shoulders. They are both smiling, though she looks lost and he, beneath the typical Dad beam, tense and stressed.
I miss them both, for my mother is a shell now – no longer the person she once was.
But I have memories. I have photos. I have a CD of my father talking about his life as a diabetic – so I can still hear his voice.
Seventy-eight was a good age to reach given his many medical problems – but, oh, how I wish he were still alive, that he had reached eighty-seven, that I could ring him up and wish him a happy birthday.
I will never speak to him again. But his essence is there, somewhere. The John Browning who married his wife on this day fifty-nine years ago, whose mother gave birth to him on this day in 1929, will not fade as long as there are still people who recall who he was; as long as his offspring, and their children, still think of him with love.
Happy Eighty-Seventh birthday, Dad!