We don’t know who coined it but somewhere along the line Dad became known in Ilfracombe as Lord Loon of Lundy for his lust for life, madcap carry on and his love of and ties to Lundy. By happy association my Mum is known as Lady Loon and my brother and I are known as Miss and Master Loon. (It is normal for me to be addressed as such by people I know and don’t know!)
Ilfracombe, our home town for the last 30 years, is a small harbour town on the North Devon coast. We ended up here as it was where my paternal Granny retired to. My Dad had been round the world a few times in the Merchant Navy and when he came to visit her he;
1) Fell in love with the Bristol Channel and secured a job with the steamers trolling their trade up and down the North Devon coast and the South Wales coast.
2) Fell in love with Lundy and snapped up the job as Longshoreman for them (and coastguard, maintenance and baker later on.)
3) Fell in love with a young Mary Edwards who came to visit the island and ventured ashore to woo her and bring her back to Lundy as his bride.
He spent a very happy 6 years living on Lundy with Mum and in due course I came along and my brother Richard 16 months later. It was the happiest time of their lives and it is where we will scatter his ashes next summer.
Detail: For his 30th birthday (I was 18 months old and Rich was 2 months old) on July 8th 1975 the whole of the island population was at the Marisco Tavern which is the pub on Lundy and had turned out in fancy dress-well the men were dressed as women and the women were dressed as men-I guess that was the best dressing up they could manage with the resources they had! They coated dad’s shoes (his shoes not Mum’s!) with coal and walked him over the ceiling of the tavern. The footprints were there until about 1995 when they refurbished the tavern.
When the aforementioned paternal granny became seriously ill they left the island with a great deal of angst to take care of her and they made a life in Ilfracombe. It was a great life for me, but I knew then and really feel it now that he took a factory job and mum went cleaning to make ends meet. They had those sorts of job which are perfectly honourable and they did them with no moaning, to look after their family.
Dad gradually got himself skilled as a carpenter, he took great pride in his work and he was never short of work. We moved to a lovely house in Chambercombe in the east part of the town and they both worked hard to give my bruv and I the best they could.
He was never a business man though, never charged enough for his jobs and when things got tight they lost their beautiful house and moved to a smaller terraced house.
That would have been ok though if it hadn’t been for the fact that his daughter (me!) made bad choices and ended up needing a safe haven to bring her funny little mismatched family to. Before I was even ready to say that I had made a mistake, he was on the phone asking if I was ok, he was also stood behind my mum egging her on to persuade me that I should come home for a bit.
They did persuade me and when I came home with my boys who were 4 and 8 months they moved out of their room into the small room so I could fit in to a room with the babies. Then when we had all been here for three years he spent his spare time remodelling the rooms so that I had my own room.
12 months after he finished setting his family into his house he started to feel poorly. He didn’t say though, he did not say.
In January this year, Mum said to me, “have you seen Dad smoking? I haven’t”
Dad had a fag in his mouth always, since forever Mum has been saying “get that fag out of your mouth” as he used to do everything with a fag or rolly in his mouth. I gave them both some proper teenage girl grief when I was 13 saying you will be dead before you’re 50 if you carry on being unhealthy. Mum gave it up but Dad just laughed and said to me, “Jen, life is for living, shoot me if I get too poorly to live properly.”
So for Dad to not be smoking was wierd…wierd…wierd…scary.
I watched him for a couple of days and she was right, he was not smoking. When we challenged him he said he didn’t feel great when he smoked, he had been for an x-ray and he would find out soon.
That was the day that the knot formed in my tummy and it didn’t go away.
17th Feb – diagnosis that it might be Mesothelioma, horrid, awful diagnosis that he would die at some point from a horrible disease.
3rd March – diagnosis that it was lung cancer and terminal
17th March – diagnosis that it was weeks not months
That was 13 weeks ago and he has already been cremated and is gone from us.
I have always loved my dad, of course, but my respect for him just escalated over those weeks. How would we all deal with a death sentence? I know I would be distressed and i’m sure he was BUT he was amazing, he told us “no tears, no fuss” and he just got on with the illness.
What to tell you about it? Well it’s personal to us of course but I want to tell you about how brave and stoic he was, he didn’t moan, he didn’t access any medical help until the last day and he just kept smiling as much as he could.
On his last weekend with us he was still sleeping in his bed and getting up and watching tv. I didn’t want to go to work on the Monday (16th May) as I knew he was failing but he was ok and he would have hated me being at home fussing so I went to work for a few hours (wish I hadn’t) and then when I got home he had deteriorated so much in an hour that he was no longer Lord Loon but a really poorly version. From what we knew of cancer he probably had a couple of weeks of completely failing and so I rang work and said see you sometime.
He was in the lounge as he had just said that he needed a lie-down and so we decided we wouldn’t be able to carry him up to his bed so we would tuck him in and Mum would sleep downstairs with him until we could get him carried up. As Mum and I tried to settle him down at about 9pm that night, he grabbed my hand and Mum’s hand with each of his hands and said “love you, thank you, love you, thank you” over and over for about 5 minutes and wouldn’t let go. I knew then he was saying goodbye and sobbed and sobbed with him, holding his hand and squeezing it. He squeezed back as well. By the next morning the squeezes were still there but his voice had gone and his swallow, so mum called the district nurse in to administer his pain relief. At 10am they hadn’t arrived and I confess to a phone call shouting “get here now for him, he hasn’t bothered you for anything”. They arrived in a few minutes and set up a syringe driver.
This is the bit that choked me, I asked them if they could arrange the ambulance men to pop down and carry him up to bed. They said no it wouldn’t be right and I said why and they said because it’s near the end and might finish him off. I said I know that but he can’t be there with everyone going past for days and they gently told me that it would be hours not days or weeks.
Mum and I snuggled up next to him and had a nap and then I went to get the kids from school, the minute all the kids were back in the house his breathing failed as if he was waiting for us all to be home, Mum, Rich and I sat with him as he died peacefully and we all got to sit with him until the coroner came for him.
His funeral was, as my aunt said a ‘really good send off’, and not as bad as I feared. I was worried about it but it really was a celebration and so many, many people came. The minister was hilariously sonorous (it is a family theme that our hatch, match and dispatch dealings with ministers of the cloth are full of, well, lets just say other stories ) and a very dear family friend, Tony, gave a great reading of the Joyce Grenfell poem and also talked about a great day he and dad had had out walking and also where he thought dad might be now.
My very dear Auntie Pat and Uncle Brian (they have always been very close to all of us, my middle name is Patricia as Mum stayed with them for a few weeks before mine and my brothers birth as she couldn’t stay on the island for the births, Mum also has a dear memory of her helping her walk the floor with me one whole night when I had colic-when she had three young children of her own) were on holiday when Dad died (booked and paid for long before they knew he was ill) and we and they were so glad to be home and she immediately flew into action, even though she was tired and in pain with her leg, making food and packing plates etc to help with the wake/celebration/after funeral thingy.
I had never thought much about sympathy cards and calls and flowers after someone dies and just assumed that it was for form’s sake. Having been through it now I am amazed at how much every card, bunch of flowers, emails, texts, calls, being stopped in the street or on the school run meant to us and helped. I will always be someone that offers my support and contacts people in that situation now.
Tony is married to the equally lovely Christine and they were kind enough and brave enough to come and spend the day with us on Mum and Dad’s ruby wedding anniversary on April 10th this year along with Auntie Pat and Uncle Brian. Even though they knew he was poorly and he was so much weaker than they would have known him it was still a shock to them that he had gone. Tony wrote a beautiful letter to Mum that arrived a few days after he died. In it he wrote about how the afterlife had been described to him as somewhere you could hang out with all your loved ones doing your favourite things and hobbies. He imagined Dad sitting on a harbour wall somewhere watching all the great liners sail by. Dad was a huge fan of the great ships, especially the Titanic and Lusitania. I said to Mum after I read his letter that he wouldn’t just be watching them go by, he would have been on deck talking to all the passengers.
I cannot tell you how much comfort this has given me……I was unable to think where he was and now I can; sat on a sunny, sheltered harbour watching the great liners, small fishing boats and launches, outboard riders and merchant vessels, ferries and row-boats sail by. He has his wry smile on his face and a pint resting next to him with his dogs lying the other side.
Safe Journey Dad, sit comfortably in the sun, enjoy the view and have a never-ending hug from us.
Life is mostly froth & bubble,
Two things stand in stone,
Kindness in another’s trouble,
Courage in your own.
Adam Lindsey Gordon