The beloved author of this blog, David Parsons, died on Tuesday.
Realistic as he was from the moment he received his diagnosis, Dad warned us ten days earlier not to expect much more. He was already very weak then, and there was concern he would not make it far beyond that weekend. And yet, as you will have read, Dad rallied during Holy Week, buoyed by the company of family and friends, and with a clear determination to experience the joy of Easter one more time.
Mercifully, Dad's pain relief continued to be very effective, but the wasting effects of the disease meant that any kind of movement was becoming more difficult by the day. Nevertheless Dad was set on celebrating Easter in church on Sunday. With great courage he endured the preparation and the journey, and we arrived on time (a first for the Parsons family?!) at the Parish Church, which was bursting at the seams with an unexpectedly large congregation. Dad followed the varied and entertaining service attentively, spoke prayers and responses with a strong voice, and took communion.
After the service many people came up to greet Dad, and we stayed socialising for a good while. Then it was back home, to relax all afternoon in the back garden and talk with visitors and with friends on the phone.
On Monday, the effort of the previous day had clearly taken its toll, and Dad was completely exhausted, having the energy to contribute only infrequently, for instance to greet visitors with a smile, before closing his eyes again to continue listening and resting.
On Tuesday, Dad woke in an agitated state. He asked for some pain relief, which we gave him, and he soon confirmed that he was no longer in pain. His breathing continued fast and shallow, though, so we called the nurses and doctor to help. They came quickly, made him as physically comfortable as could be and gave him something to calm him. It worked to some extent, but I was struck that, in the midst of talk of milligrams of this and stat doses of that, the nurses' most urgent request was for music. While their work to comfort the body was important, they recognised that the soul's requirement was far more pressing.
With Dad calmed somewhat, the nurses left, saying they'd return later. Shortly, visitors arrived, whom I talked with briefly in the kitchen until I realised that Dad was on his own. I excused myself and went back in Dad's room. He was looking ahead into the distance, breathing quickly, as if in anticipation. I played him Alfred Deller's rendition of Purcell's 'Music for a While'. Beautiful and soothing, undoubtedly, but as the song finished I knew that canned music, however sweet, was just not real enough.
I remembered that dear Dolly had told us that she asked Dad a couple of weeks ago what he would like to have read to him in the event that he couldn't speak any more. She expected him to reply with chapter and verse from the bible, but he surprised her with "Narnia!". I was expecting that information to be useful over the course of weeks, not minutes, but never mind. I searched the blog for Narnia, and found the passage Dad had copied out and entitled 'A valiant mouse'. Taking The Voyage of the Dawn Treader from the boxed set bought for Dad by Charlie, I turned to the end of the book, and read him not only the bit about Reepicheep, quivering with happiness as he disappeared over the horizon in his coracle, and the author's opinion that he had come safe to Aslan's country, but also on to the breakfast with the Lamb, who awesomely turns into Aslan.
Dad's response, and the calming of his breath, convinced me that he was listening, and drawing inspiration from these words which he had in any case chosen. Next I searched for 'pilgrim' on the blog, and up came 'Encouragement from John Bunyan'. No paper version of Pilgrim's Progress being to hand, I just read from the screen.
"Now you must note that the city stood upon a mighty hill, but the Pilgrims went up that hill with ease, because they had these two men to lead them up by the arms..."
In the last few days, Dad had been rather losing patience when we his carers showed any lack of clarity. He didn't want to be bothered with our trivial questions. He wanted to hear conviction from us. The day before, he had told Barbara that he wanted to know how to die. We couldn't provide an answer, but I think that the words of the Shining Ones did.
"You are going now, said they, to the paradise of God, wherein you shall see the tree of life, and eat of the never-fading fruits thereof; and when you come there, you shall have white robes given you, and your walk and talk shall be every day with the King, even all the days of eternity."
When I had finished the Bunyan, I had nothing more to read. Sensing that Dad's time was close, I reached for the nearest thing in my head, and fumblingly said the Lord's Prayer. As I said “Amen”, he released his last breath.
You might say that it was a coincidence, that Dad couldn't possibly have been registering, that the timing was a fluke. But I am sure that it was the power of the Word that gave him the confidence to let go of this life in certain faith of the next. I was just fortunate to be there at the right time to speak it.
In the time since, the family has gathered. We have cried, hugged, laughed, told stories and remembered, and we will continue to do so.
Dad's funeral will take place at 1.30pm on Wednesday 22nd April at Street Parish Church. The service will continue briefly at Yeovil crematorium. All are then invited for light refreshments, kindly provided by members of the church, from 4.30pm at the Mission Church, Vestry Road. Please come and help us celebrate a life well lived.
If you would like to write something about David for others to read, you are encouraged to add a comment to this post. You can read other people's comments by clicking on the 'n' comments link at the end of this post.
Messages for the family, including any favourite photos of David you'd like to share, can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Trevor, for the family.
For all that has been, thanks; for all that will be, yes.