An inevitable accompaniment of living to a ripe old age is the gradual loss of one’s friends and family.
A couple of years ago, my father attended the funeral of an old Fleet Air Arm chum. Chatting with the widow outside the church afterwards, when she asked him “You are coming to the drinks party at the house, aren’t you?”, he had to apologise and admit not. He was about to drive straight off in order to attend another funeral in the afternoon.
In recent years my father, who will be 89 in October, has gradually developed a tendency to show his emotions more than he did. When perhaps recounting an anecdote showing himself in a favourable light, or describing an affecting scene from a television programme, he can easily well up and develop a crack in his voice.
However, currently he remains upon ebullient form despite having lost two of his closest business colleagues and friends within the past four weeks. My brothers and I are uncertain as to whether he is either temporarily putting on a brave face for public consumption, or is genuinely matter-of-fact about mortality.
One of my father’s recent commitments has been to organise friends to attend occasional lunches with A, a former senior industrialist who is now 95, frail, lonely and desperate for company. Unfortunately, each time they happen, my father is required to travel from the coast to London and back again, a not inconsiderable burden given the state of his legs and balance.
Let us call my father’s recently-deceased friends B and C.
When we learned that B had died, my father called C – then on holiday in the West Indies – to tell him the sad news. I was in the room at the time and heard my father’s end of the conversation. It included the quip that B was a swine (“Some people will do anything to get out of one of my lunches with A”).
C died suddenly last week and yesterday we attended his funeral. Because of his difficulties in walking, my father was allowed to sit in the second row of the chapel, which was packed to the rafters. Afterwards, I mentioned to my father that I had seen him talking to another old business colleague in the pew behind him, now aged in his early nineties.
“Yes …” said my father, “… I told him that every day I look in The Times to see if he’s dead yet!”