There can be only onePosted by Shelley Antscherl
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II once said that: ‘Grief, is the price we pay for love.’
I’d never really thought about the words carefully, but this poignant and beautiful quote popped into my head a few days ago when my father died, thousands of miles away in the Isle of Man.
His death wasn’t unexpected because he’d been unwell for some time but the end came swiftly and despite the inevitability, it’s impossible to completely prepare for the death of someone you have loved.
The sense of gut-wrenching sadness in the last few days has at times, been overwhelming.
My father and I had been estranged for some years, but we’d made peace in the last few weeks and thanks to my lovely sister and my wonderful aunty and uncle, he went to his maker knowing that he was deeply loved.
And although his passing brought him the release that he had long-craved, his departure has left a chasm that can never be filled.
Growing up amidst the bogs of Shinrone, County Offaly, he was an Irishman to the very core. He could be wonderful and yet impossible all at the same time and few who knew him would ever disagree.
Clever, gregarious and enormous fun, he could be stubbornly unforgiving and possessed an explosive temper that only failed to intimidate the people who knew him well. Others were not so fortunate, and in the face of a perceived injustice, he could send other bold and confident mortals scuttling off in a daze with his fearless nature and hilarious put-downs.
This intimidating combination was only matched by the speed at which his fury could disperse as if nothing had happened, and it made him the stuff of legends. Everyone who ever called him a friend has a favourite story, or three.
As a youngster growing up in rural Ireland and then emigrating to London with his family in the post-war years, his early life hadn’t been easy.
With his broad Irish accent, bumpkin ways, and state-issued voucher boots, he and his brothers were bullied mercilessly in the unforgiving playgrounds of North London and I remember him saying there was a time when he rarely went home without a black eye and holes in his trousers.
It toughened him up considerably and as a teenager and young adult, he and his brothers were well known for being able to look after themselves.
Characteristically, my father channeled this aggression into educating himself and after starting out as a sheet metal worker, he eventually became a design engineer and found himself in demand by car firms in the US and all over Europe.
It was this roving lifestyle that sowed the seeds of the expat in me, and it was of course thanks to his marvelous career that he was able to send my sister and I to good schools and give us the opportunities he never had for himself.
He was also the only person I’ve ever known who actually liked the taste of gooseberries.
This is but a snippet of the fantastic character he was, but perhaps his greatest legacy was the choice he made at the end of his life to leave his cancer-ridden body to medical science.
A few weeks ago, he accepted a last meeting with a priest where he respectfully listened to what he had to say, but the combination of being a ‘man of science’ and his life-long career as a wayward and lapsed Catholic, my father felt the world of medicine a far more worthy beneficiary of his flesh and bones.
As soon as he died, my heartbroken sister faithfully fulfilled his final wishes and arranged for his body to be donated to the study of Molecular Science at Leeds University in the UK.
The Pope wouldn’t have been at all impressed…
Unconventional, proud, and tenacious to the very end, it was exactly what he had wanted.