It was all so sudden. I was at work, beginning the day, when my brother sent me an urgent message: “We’re leaving to hospital at 2.45am. Worse situation.” Dad had been in hospital for a week, after suffering a cough he just couldn’t shake. He didn’t like going to see the doctor, but it had become bad enough that he couldn’t avoid it. It was meant to be just a checkup, but turned into an overnight visit. He was put on heavy antibiotics to fight the infection, and we were told he’d be back home the next day. Then the next, then it was Friday, then Monday. Until it was early Tuesday morning.
I rushed home, WhatsApp suddenly my lifeline to events unfolding on the other side of the world. Sitting in bed, still in my office clothes, the news became progressively worse. I called. No answer. I tried again a few minutes later. Still no answer. Then at 9.59am my brother called me back. It sounded frantic, he held the phone to my dad’s ear, telling him his other son was on the line. “I love you,” gasped dad, “now I’m going to see Jesus.” According to the log, we spoke for 66 seconds, which included words from my children and wife. It was the last time I would ever speak with my father.
In the updates my brother was sending, dad was now lying quietly in bed, breathing slowly, mum holding his hand. Unclear about what was happening, or perhaps just unwilling to face it, I asked what was being done to help. Had dad given up? Had the doctor? What was going on? Now put on small amounts of morphine, at 10.55am my brother sent the message I didn't want to read: “Doctor said we have an hour left.”
I didn’t have much to say for the next hour. My brother sent a few photos of the room: a bag from dad’s adopted football team Cheltenham FC (he’d grown up as a Charlton supporter) hanging from the wardrobe, mugs of drunken tea on the tray table at the end of the bed. At around midday the priest arrived to pray with him, then at 12.18pm my brother texted me what we’d both been thinking: “He’s too young for this.” Tears welled up, he was just 70. ‘People go into politics older than that!’ I screamed in my head, also thinking back to his last birthday on 4 June, when I’d called up and wished him a Happy Tiananmen Square Massacre Day, remembering that distant date in 1989.
12.56pm. Another message from my brother. “I told him that you love him. He said that he knows things have been difficult, but you’re special.” So strong, my brother and mum, to sit there patiently. The hours slipped by, filled with despair, anger, and hope? At 3pm. “He just died. I’m so sorry.” I didn’t know what to do. I texted my uncle, dad’s brother, to let him know. “I’ll miss my lifelong friend and crazy brother.” We all will.
Important note: my dad did not die from COVID-19, but a severe bacterial infection after a longstanding lung condition. He was tested for the virus and the results came back negative.
I write this to help me process, and perhaps to bring some closure. Most importantly, I write this so that his life will not be forgot in this uncertain time. Even now, messages come from around the world, many from his former colleagues in Hong Kong, sharing memories I was not aware of. Such is the way. You learn of your father’s achievements (and foibles) only after he is gone. But I will share them here, soon. For after the end of a lifetime comes a time to remember. To bring dad back to life, in the only way I can.
Anthony Leonard Ostheimer. June 4, 1949 - March 17, 2020.