Over eight years on and he still speaks about it. How he sat with his wife as she took her last breaths. Their two sons had joined them at the hospital after the urgent phone calls. Two daughters lived too far away. They wouldn't have got there in time.
He reflects on how, when both sons arrived at the hospital, he said in a hushed tone to his wife "that's them both here now, pet". She had been drifting in a semi-coma, unresponsive, for some hours but he describes how she squeezed his hand seconds before slipping away. He's convinced it was her way of saying good bye.
Who could argue with him? Who would want to? It was the final instalment in the story of their lives. The most poignant moment in fifty-five years of marriage.
This was my dad and I was one of the daughters who didn't get there in time.
Daffodils mark the spot
A number of things came together to bring my mum's death uppermost in my consciousness this week.
Firstly, April holds the anniversary of her death. The daffodils would remind me even if I forgot the date.
The other was reading Maria Popova's brilliant blog on what Shakespeare can teach us about overcoming grief. Citing Meghan O’Rourke in 'The Long Goodbye', she speaks about Hamlet being
"…radically dislocated, stumbling through the days while the rest of the world acts as if nothing important has changed".
The third was a clip played at the IHI/BMJ International Forum on Quality & Safety in Healthcare in London this week. It was on the power of heartbeat music therapy in helping families cope with the loss of a child. Watch it here here. It's achingly beautiful.
The things that sustain us
For my dad the 'squeezing of his hand' is the thing that kept him steady through those early dark days. It was his anchor in the radical dislocation of grief. We all hold ourselves in different ways.
Not 'being there' troubled me initially but I was able to set that aside. I had seen my mum the month before. A wise woman, she knew she was deteriorating. Parkinson's Disease had taken its toll on her sparrow-like frame. It was her time.
In a tender conversation one afternoon, she told me how proud she was of the woman I had become. It was this conversation I kept returning to. Her precious words helped me work through the discombobulation of her loss.
Through the neutral zone
Coaching people as they navigate through change at work is a large part of what I do. William Bridges, in his book Transitions, reminds us that living through change, whether at work or at home, is similar to dealing with loss. The period of discombobulation after an ending, which he refers to as the 'neutral zone', can be profound.
The natural life cycle - whether it be living beings or organisations - holds that, for there to be new beginnings, there have to be endings. The things that make sense to us at these cataclysmic times in our lives are surprisingly simple. They are about human connection, conversation and holding central the things that sustain us.
Of course, not everything that happens during the turbulence of loss and change is negative. There are treasures that can lead to profound growth.
Never underestimate the power of conversation. The words may seem mundane at the time but to someone grappling with loss, whether personal or work related, they can be a life line.