May 4, 2008

My Dad

DSC_6343-At-the-golf-clubIt's taken me a while to put this post together, I've started on it a couple of times but deleted my thoughts simply because I wasn't sure I wanted to put it out there on my blog. This is going to be a mixed-up post - some funny images and day to day kind of stuff mixed in with sad news.

The sad new is my dad passed away a few days ago, it was no surprise, it was a difficult time. At nearly 70yrs of age he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer approx 6mths ago. When we found out at Christmas time I flew out a few days later to spend time with him in Omagh, Co Tyrone, N. Ireland where my mom and dad have lived for over 25yrs.

One of my dad's favorite events, besides golfing with his buddies, would be enjoying the craic with his pals. He enjoyed spending an evening or two up at the golf course, sitting with friends and having a pint. This image was taken during my visit in January as were the two images below.
Many years ago Frank invented a game to be played on a snooker table with snooker balls (for you keened eyed observers there's a reason he's shooting the red ball) and the game included a devilishly tricky set of rules that would be the cause for much laughter and head shaking.

Some of the best laughs I've had were spent on a Friday night up at the Omagh Golf Course in the snooker room playing my dad's game with 10 or more guys, as they would say "the craic was mighty".

DSC_6376-Shooting-the-red

DSC_6381-Stretched-shot

HeathrowA few months after that trip and my dad's health was deteriorating to a point where we wanted to be sure Frank would get to see his grandsons and Doreen. We threw some jeans and t-shirts into a suitcase and headed for Houston International airport.

We arrived on my parents front doorstep just under two weeks ago. In the days preceding our arrival my dad spent his time out with good friends during the evenings, even though he was suffering. When we landed in Belfast we headed straight for my parents cottage, as we entered the cottage my dad sparked up visibly when he saw Doreen and the boys.

DSC_9256-Cottage-front

It was handshakes and hugs and some back and forth-ing. Within 30mins of arriving my dad started to take a rapid nosedive and his health changed dramatically. Pretty quickly he couldn't talk, open his eyes and his breathing became extremely labored. That's the last time I heard my dad talk.

DSC_9214-Forest-walkFor nearly four days he fought a brave battle in the Critical Care Unit. During that time we walked through forests and drove amongst the Sperrin mountains. We spent as much time as we could by my dad's bedside. Though he was in a coma-like state, Doreen would read the boy's storybooks to Evan, Keegan and my dad. Difficult times indeed.

I mainly spent my time at the bedside watching my dad, reflecting on the years, trying to make sense of things both big and small.

Doreen and the boys spent a lot of time wandering the hospital hallways or waiting in the visitor's waiting room, allowing me as much time as possible.

There were hours at the hospital when we had to leave so they could go about their routine. During this time we found ourselves walking around the town of Enniskillen looking for places to eat. The somber contrast of sitting next to my dad one minute, then sitting down to a traditional Irish dinner in a nice restaurant 30mins later, was striking.

DSC_9224-Traditional-meal

When we weren't in Enniskillen we were back in Omagh, getting the boys out and about. There was no shortage of things to do with them, just a shortage of time. My cousin Brian is a Fireman in Omagh, one afternoon he took the boys down to the Fire Station, no doubt it was a highlight for Evan and Keegan as they climbed all over the engines. Uncle Brian even took the boys for a ride and put the lights on (ok, he pulled the engine out the door, a full 18 inches) Uncle Brian was very popular, the iPhone came in handy for this one.

Fire-engine-Ireland

DSC_9230-XTR-upgradeWhile we were spending time in Omagh, I got a chance to clear my head a bit with some riding. Brian let me borrow his mountain bike, it didn't fit very well at all and it might have weighed twice as much as my Texas mountain bike but with my XTR spd pedals wrenched on there I was set for the Sperrin mtns.

Heading to the top of the nearby mountain was a fairly steady climb and I got to tear it apart for just over 90mins, not a long ride but intense with a capital I. Unfortunately I only got two rides on Brian's bike, but they were worth their weight in gold - thx Bri.

My bike training consistency has been suffering lately, these two rides were not only good rides, they were also cathartic.

My dad's obvious decline in the Critical Care Unit gave the final couple of days a sense of quiet urgency for me. And though it was obvious how this was going to play out, it's still hard to completely understand how you will feel, until you are in the moment. Frank Taylor passed away at approx 1730hrs on 27 April, 2008. He went quietly and pain free, we were there with him.

DSC_9239-Cottage-side

The following day we went to the funeral home to remove the “wake-preserved” body which was carefully displayed in an open casket and allowed for a small group of family and friends to pay quiet tribute. Shortly after the tribute myself and three other men carried the casket to a Hearst and from there a procession of cars followed the Hearst to my parent’s house whereupon myself and my cousin carried the casket into dad's bedroom and put the casket on his bed. The open casket remained there for the next two days with hundreds of people dropping by to sit in the bedroom with him from morning till night; talking, laughing, reminiscing, crying and praying.

We had spent some time wondering how Evan and Keegan would deal with all of this. Luckily, during the Wake, the boys were well looked after by some really good folks. Here you can see Keegan sitting on David's lap and trying out David's glasses.

DSC_9284-Davids-glasses

With an open casket in the adjoining room, the living room still made for a life-filled place and no matter where he is, Uncle Brian doesn't need a Fire Engine to be popular.

DSC_9288-Uncle-Brian

Late in the day I took an hour away from the Wake to go for a walk down a country road and shoot some images. These two images came from flowers that were growing in the wild at the road edge.

DSC_9248-Dark-three-flowers

DSC_9251-Large-flower

Upon returning to the cottage I managed to get a shot of this pheasant which stands at the back of my parent's cottage nearly every day to get fed.

DSC_9264-Pheasant

I was torn on how much to capture with my lens and so I didn't shoot more than a handful of images in my parent's cottage but these two images are representative of this time and speak volumes to me.

DSC_9294-Into-the-kitchenDSC_9298-Dads-bedroom

When the wake was officially over, myself and my cousin Brian carried the closed casket out of my parents cottage and with two other family members we carried my father’s casket down the road on our shoulders, behind the Hearst, with a procession of family, friends and acquaintances behind us. Traffic was at a standstill on both sides of the road. There were five separate carries of four men on the casket, for a total of 20 different family men or close friends making the carry. As the carry concluded we placed the casket in the Hearst and followed on to the church for a service.

At the service one of his closest friends stood up to give the Eulogy, Gerry provided a moving and powerful representation of Frank's life. In it he described what he thought were my dad's three strongest characteristics. Forthrightness, Humor and Grit, I think Gerry nailed it. I believe I possess these same characteristics, they've certainly helped me through some tough times in the past, if I can even come close to the same level as my dad demonstrated in his life then I'll be happy.

After the ceremony it was on to the cemetery where myself and three other family men carried the casket down to the graveside and lowered it onto some wooden braces resting across the grave site. At the end of the service, myself and three other family men each gripped a length of well-worn six inch heavy-duty nylon webbing that rested underneath the front and back of the casket, lifting the casket the wooden braces were removed and we manually lowered the casket in unison into a 10’ hole. Rather than doing a hand over hand method I used a tight two handed grip as a friction brake, letting the webbing carefully slide through my hands as it lowered. I gained a certain satisfaction in feeling the quiet friction burn of the webbing on my fingers and palms, the burn somehow gave the moment a sense of aliveness, in the moment, attached to the event. Upon dropping the webbing, after the casket was grounded, I rubbed my hands together on that grey and windy day and stared at the light smearing of mud that had been embedded into my palms and in a single heartbeat I reflected back on the days prior and knew my dad had been given a good send-off.

Doreen said one of the most powerful visual images she saw was of me wearing a suit, carrying the casket of my father out of the front door of my parent’s cottage and carrying it down the road. It was that moment that made her realize how sterile and impersonal the grieving and burial process can be in N. America. As N. Americans we initially thought some of the things done in an Irish-driven Wake were a bit odd, in reflection I think the Irish have it right.

I wouldn’t have wanted to do it any other way.

Laying-downThe next day I flew back to Texas with the boys and Doreen continued on to India for business meetings. The boys were a handful, with the time change and Keegan getting a fever it made for a challenging return. They were both cooked by the time we finally got home. I had to put Evan down to get the house key out of my backpack, he would have slept at the front door for hours and not known it.

We've been back four days now and things are slowly starting to creep back to normal. Looking back on the last two weeks I realize how lucky we were with the timing, that we got to see my dad in his last moments.

Rest in peace dad.

13 comments:

bigsky said...

What a beautiful tribute to your dad. I have enjoyed reading your blog for more than a year, but this entry really moved me. Jane

Shaun Taylor said...

Thanks for letting me know.

Bob said...

Shaun
A heartfelt and eternal tribute. So glad you were able to spend time with him. I will have prayers said for him at Mass.

Off to Israel on Friday, will be in touch. Bob.

Shaun Taylor said...

Hi Bob,

Good to hear from you. Trust everything is well at your end. Enjoy Israel, be sure to get a stroll through the medina and on to the Wailing Wall, as it's quite an experience.

Drop me a line when you get back to let me know what you are up to.

Dave Coish said...

Shaun,

I read your fond tribute to your father, one day after a good friend from the old days, Mike Starker 2 CDO, was killed over here in a Taliban ambush. The same day my own father had a stroke and is trying to recover most of his memory. Let's just say it helped me quite a bit, just reading how fondly you remember you dad. I'm glad you got to be there for him. Take care amigo, as always your friend Dave

Shaun Taylor said...

Good to hear from you Dave, sorry to hear about your tough news.

Hope things are going well for you over there (drop me a line when you get a chance as I'm out of the loop - staylor@attglobal.net).

If you bump into someone I know over there, be sure to slap them on the back for me.

Keep your head down.

cxgeezer said...

I'm very sorry for your loss, Shaun.

A very moving tribute, and it brought back a lot of sharp memories for me--I was also very close to my dad. 1996 wasn't a good year for us, as my wife and I lost our fathers six months apart.

Since you said so much so well, I won't rehash what you've put so eloquently, but I must say they do things right in Ireland. Your personal involvement in the memorial services was very different from what the "funeral industry" has established as the norm over here (as your wife correctly pointed out).

One thing to be grateful for: your dad got to know his grandkids. And playing golf where it's meant to be played--sounds like a life well lived.

Shaun Taylor said...

Thanks for dropping by and leaving those thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Such a moving story. Thank you for sharing and may your father rest in peace.

God Bless you and your family.

carmen said...

Shaun
I have only just caught up on your blog. Sorry to hear about your dad. It was nice that Doreen and the boys got to see him. My mom's boyfriend was recently diagnosed with lung cancer. He is in palliative care. It does make you evaluate our time here...

Shaun Taylor said...

Thanks for dropping by Carmen and taking the time to write. Trust things are going well in Africa???? if that's where you are at the moment.

carmen said...

I have been back in Canada for 1.5months getting my Angolan work permit. Took some leave without pay to spend some time with my mom. Currently visiting the Ekati Diamond mine for 2 weeks and leave 2 morrow for Edmonton and then Ottawa. Hope to go back to Africa the following week and then back to work in Angola. I really like Africa but there are hazards there and I do take the risks. However, I do keep my exposure time down since I work 6 weeks away and 2 weeks back. Good jumping point to see a lot of amazing animals and scenery. Nice to see if you come as a tourist. If you decide to visit let me know. If it wasn't for the crime we would by a place there, settle and stay for a while. But that won't happen. Sugarland seems like a nice place with plenty to do and see. I love all of you blogs. You are so descriptive without making it sound like a long boring journal entry.

Shaun Taylor said...

Carmen I would love to read waaaaayyyyy more about what you guys are doing on a monthly basis. If it wasn't for the kidlets we'd probably be kicking around in the same parts of the world as well. Get a blog going, ya slacker. ;-)