It was just over 18 months ago when I got the phone call. My father, who was 79-years-old, had had a huge stroke, and was in a London hospital, paralysed down one side.
A former army boxing champion, and a keen sportsman for his entire active life, it broke all our hearts to see him in this condition. Still, there was hope and we prayed for some kind of recovery, and that he could at some stage return to the family home.
It was not to be, however, as he suffered another massive stroke a few weeks later - soon after he moved hospital - and we were told he was 90% brain dead. He just lay there, eyes closed, motionless. It was terrible - terrible for us to watch, but worse for him. We knew he wouldn't want to end up like this.
Almost immediately after we were told there was no hope of any kind of recovery, my mother and my sister and I all knew what needed to be done - we didn't want this agony to continue. It had to end, for dad's sake.
We were then advised that there was an option - end of life care. Basically, in cases like my dad - where there was no hope - senior doctors could sign-off on discontinuing giving food or drink intravenously to a patient, allowing his organs to close down and eventually die.
The process usually takes between 2 - 5 days. Typically of my father, he lasted a week. And as you can imagine, it was the most distressing week of our lives (having to say 'goodbye' every evening when you left the hospital was an experience that none of us ever want to have to repeat).
But, through all this sorrow, there was a bright light, something that helped all of us overcome the pain and deal with our loss.
Several of you who read this will doubtless think it stupid, but whether you believe in the after-life or not, what happened really helped us, and made us feel that we were doing the right thing for our dad.
Two years earlier, my sister had seen a psychic, and this person had impressed her so much that she's booked up for another session (there was a 3 month waiting list!). Anyway, the session was scheduled for the evening after we decided to implement the end of life care.
Initially my sister was going to cancel the visit, but when it became clear that dad was going to be around for at least another day or two, she went ahead.
This is basically what happened (in summary):
'Who is the man in hospital ?'
'That's my father'.
'Oh, well, I....'
'It's OK. Just tell me what you need to'.
'I'm afraid that you are soon going to have to make a very difficult decsion'.
'We already have; my father has had a stroke. He is brain dead, and we have stopped feeding him and giving him water. He is going to die'.
'Well, you father is here. He isn't dead yet, but he is here. He is a handsome man, and he is smiling. He is saying that you have done the right thing'.
My sister started to cry.
'Your father says that he's had a good life, that he was well right up until the last 3 years' (he was, becoming ill at 76).
'Who is Bill ?', the psychic asked.
'Bill is his brother', my sister explained ('Bill' was also the only word we heard my father utter after he fell into a coma).
'Well Bill is here too. Bill is going to help your father cross over when everything is ready. But he can't go yet'.
'Your father is laughing', the psychic continued. 'He says that he knows that he will go over at around 1 o'clock, but he doesn't yet know what day, or whether it will be close to 1am or 1pm. He says he's sorry that you'll probably have to make the trip up to the hospital a few more times yet'.
My sister returned home and told us all what had taken place. Whether you believe in all this all or not (and I have an open mind), it certainly helped us.
Six days later, at around 1.30pm, my father drew his last breath. He is never far from my thoughts.
Let's hope that this piece might in some small way help others overcome their grief.