Tomorrow which happens to be Urgyen Sangharakshita’s 91st birthday marks the end of a particular period of my life and the beginning of a new phase. Tomorrow I complete the sale of my father’s house, the last of my responsibilities to my dear old dad. Those responsibilities began in earnest eleven years ago when my mother died. At first they consisted of phone calls every couple of days to check on how he was doing, and a week or so’s visit whenever I could get time away from Guhyaloka where I lived and supported many retreats, especially the annual four-month men’s ordination course. Eventually it became clear that my dad needed more help and with some sadness I left Guhyaloka to live closer to him. At first I found – a gift of the gods – a small narrow-boat moored at a delightful spot on the River Avon just a couple of miles from his house. I stayed on the boat overnight and in the mornings and then spent the afternoon and evening with dad. We’d have lunch together and then go out for a walk and afternoon tea, either in Bath or, more frequently, in the countryside. Those afternoons were a delight and it is those occasions that I remember now he is gone. The day after he died I went to one of our regular places and felt, not grief, but waves of love for him, evoked by memories of us walking together, him with his one in mine and the other on his walking stick. Often we strolled in silence with occasional observations about some bird or animal. After a few years it became clear that he needed more constant support and so I moved into the house, keeping the boat as an occasional retreat for an hour or two. For a while we’d go off on adventurous holidays – to the Red Sea and Norway or Cornwall, Yorkshire or Wales – but eventually it became clear that being in strange places was causing him anxiety and we had to abandon the travel that had once been his main joy in life.
In 2011, a year after I moved to England my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and over the years he gradually succumbed to a loss of memory – at first of recent events – especially what had just happened or what he has just said – but then gradually the events of his earlier life so that in the end it was only really moments in his childhood that remained. I heard him speak more lovingly about this father than I had heard before but his attitude to ‘that bitch’ never softened. His dog, Bob was frequently in his mind – to the extent that he occasionally wanted me to check to see if a dog close by was actually Bob. Pat Prior was also very much on his mind, long after he had forgotten my mother (who he’d loved very dearly all his life). I don’t believe that never quite got the the truth of his relationship with Pat Prior.