I had left for Jordan the day after my father’s 93rd birthday, on June 27th. He had had a party as usual, and all the reception rooms downstairs, the dining room and the rectangular verandah in front, and the large drawing room with its extensions, the round verandah giving on to the garden and the smaller room behind where the piano stands, were all full. But numbers were fewer than in previous years and, though as usual my father enjoyed himself, he had not been as determined as in previous years that no one should be left out, that all friends and relations should be invited.

He seemed to enjoy cutting the cake and I have a lovely picture of him just afterwards, with his three children around him and his oldest friend, C Mylvaganam, who was just a few hours older, seen dimly in the background. We also had the usual ritual of opening presents afterwards, which I remembered too from my grandmother’s birthdays, the last one in 1993 her 93rd.

I sensed that this birthday would also be my father’s last, though I continued to think, or perhaps to hope, that he would live longer than his mother-in-law had done. She had died on his birthday in 1994, a little over six months after her birthday, so I thought that my father would be with us until Christmas and beyond.

He had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, but the doctor had told us that there was no point in any intervention, it was a very slow moving disease, and old age was likely to do for my father before the cancer did. It had got worse earlier that year, but there still seemed no reason to worry overmuch. But after I got back from Jordan I had to take him for several tests, and it was clear that his condition was worsening. After the last test I showed a specialist, recommended when the enormously kind Dr Malalasekera, who had dealt initially with the prostate problem, thought this now necessary, it was clear that nothing more could be done. I was simply tasked then with trying to ensure that he did not worry. Fortunately we could at any stage call on the old family GP, Vimala Navaratnam, the most thoughtful and practical of doctors.

I was still out much of the time, travelling to the North and East for Reconciliation meetings at Divisional Secretariats, in Parliament for various committees, and at my cottage over weekends. This was not a problem for my father still continued interested in his principal pursuits in these last few years, cricket and Hindi films. He also still read, though not as much as he had done when he would sit upright at his desk in the lounge. Now he spent all day in his room, in his armchair, though he did still make the effort to come to the dining room for meals. But he had at last accepted the need for a wheelchair, and I had my coffee alone in the lounge until he was ready to emerge for breakfast.On August 20th however things changed dramatically. My sister-in-law had suggested on a visit that he should be taken to the dentist to have his palate cleaned, since she thought it unhygienic that this had not been done for years. I thought this unnecessary, but my sister, who had basically looked after my father’s health matters until she had begun to find the visits to doctor’s traumatic and entrusted these to me, did not want to ignore advice from a doctor. So she booked an appointment and asked me to take him for it, though she did turn up later.

We had had a long time to wait, and perhaps I should have pushed myself in, since the doctor, who knew him well, would not have minded. But I was diffident, given the queue of patients, nor had I taken the wheelchair, thinking the distances to walk were very short. They were, but waiting in a small chair was tough, so we got the wheelchair while we were waiting. Then we found that it was difficult to get that through the door into the dentist’s room.

My father was obviously suffering, and suddenly he threw up, black bile. After the dentist, who was wonderfully reassuring, saw him and said the palate was fine and there was no need to take any action, he relaxed, and was all right soon after we got him home. But it seemed to me then that the end was coming, and he got ever so slightly weaker every day after that.

But there seemed no urgency, so both Dr Navaratnam and I told my sister, who was due to go to Zambia and Zimbabwe on safari, that there was no necessity for her to cancel the trip. She was torn because she felt she might be needed, but she also thought that her husband, who had arranged an elaborate holiday, would be upset if it had to be cancelled. But the doctor did tell her to be prepared to come back in a week, which seemed practicable, because she was travelling from Zambia to Zimbabwe after a week.

So she left and I went off for meetings in the East, with my cousin Theja staying over to look after things. She was the daughter of my father’s elder brother, who had died young, and my father had promised to look after the three children after his sister-in-law thought of marrying again. He and my mother were fantastic about this, as about all the other services they performed for so many people, and the children looked on them as parents and found it more difficult than his own children did to overcome their grief when they died in turn.

On Monday the 24th, while I was in the East, I was called up to say he was not at all well, and my brother had recommended saline to which he was resolutely opposed. He did accept a bottle in the end when Dr Navaratnam told him she thought this was a good idea, though she told me that it thought it made no sense. Still, she too felt that, after a doctor in the family had been insistent, it was necessary to comply. So I got back late that evening to find my father obviously irritated at the saline, and we had to promise that there would be no more after the bottles we had got had been given. And though he had been dehydrated, the determination he evinced seemed in line with the spirit we knew.

The next morning, fortuitously, my old friend Gowrie Ponniah dropped in with the former Deputy Italian High Commissioner, though I had had no idea they knew each other. When I told her the situation, she said that she had felt the same with her mother, who had also found saline irksome. But she told me that dehydration could be a terrible thing, and we should use a syringe to squirt water regularly down my father’s throat. We did that, and I think it relieved him, along with the liquids he could be persuaded to take.

I find that in my diary, even in the previous week, I had recorded what had been perfectly normal previously, my having my meals with him, or the occasional cup of coffee, when I was at home. Obviously I had realized then that these moments would be precious. And in that last week I spent all day with him, along with the occasional visitor, and then a few more as the news spread, though we managed to keep it generally under wraps.

On the Tuesday the Sri Lanka Canada Development Fund, over which he had presided for years, as my mother had done from the time it was set up, met at home for their Annual Meeting. He had given up the position, and we had told them to meet elsewhere since, when they continued to meet at home, he would insist on going downstairs to talk to them. But I had agreed to this last meeting at home because they wanted to give him some sort of mark of recognition. I was glad I had agreed, because the officers and the staff there were able to come up to pay what would obviously be their last respects. The tears the clerical staff shed made clear what an astonishingly lovable person he had been to all those in positions of dependence.

On the Thursday the actress Swarna Mallawaarachchi came to see me to talk about a film that was being planned about Richard de Zoysa and his mother Manorani. My father thought this most interesting, and insisted on knowing how my meeting with the actress, as he called her, had gone. Even though his bodily strength was waning, his mind was still as good as ever. And even on the Friday, he was sharing risqué jokes with my driver, jokes it turned out he had shared with his son-in-law Romesh, though he generally kept these from his children since he doubtless felt we were more puritanical, like our mother. I think he was right about Anila, but I would have liked sharing such diversions with him, and indeed much appreciated what he told Kithsiri and me just a couple of days before he died.

It was in the context of correcting Kithsiri’s version of a particularly risqué joke, about a woman who had accused a man of rape, and then commented, when it was suggested that this was not possible, because she was much shorter than him, that she had lifted herself. Kithsiri had told me the punchline was that she had stooped, which did not make sense. My father obligingly set the record straight, and imitated the reaction of the judge when he threw the case out.

He then said that the judge sitting on the case was from an aristocratic family, and had been put out when a man who was his spitting image appeared before him. Rather patronizingly he had asked if the man’s mother had worked in a walauwe, to which the man had said no, but his father had done.

So those last few days, though sad, also had moments to cherish. I was helped by Theja and Dr Navaratnam, and also by Anila’s daughter, who was there till the Wednesday, when she had to go back to university. That day was particularly sad, for he loved her dearly, and they both knew they would not see each other again.

To try to alleviate his sense of loss I asked his great friend Nirmali Wickremesinghe, former Principal of Ladies, and her husband Narme, to dinner. Narme was also a doctor, and I had asked him once, when Dr Navaratnam was not available, to advise. Then, when my brother brought up the question of saline, I thought it best to be able to tell him that we had not asked only Dr Navaratnam, since he tended to think of her as an old fashioned GP. Narme however said categorically that we should do whatever Vim Navaratnam said, because she was immensely experienced and understood what individual patients needed.

Anila’s son was regular after his sister went, and on the Thursday we also asked Hope Todd, who had stayed with us in the sixties, and his wife Kaly, my mother’s principal girl guide protégé, for dinner. But, though he had been in good form the previous night with Nirmali, he was not able to come to the table on the Thursday.

We had told my brother and sister then to come, and my brother managed to make it back in the early hours of Sunday and my father was delighted to have him there. He was able then to speak, and I was glad that the words ‘My son’, which he had kept uttering while holding my hand in the previous few days, was now ‘My sons’.

But Anila, though she had left on the Saturday, had problems with connections, and could only get home late on Sunday afternoon, a few hours after he died. But as she herself put it, she would not have been good in an emotionally fraught situation, but was a tower of strength with regard to the logistics we had to get through over the next few days.

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