Full Stop

Update: the funeral will take place at 4pm on Friday 2nd March, at Preston Crematorium.

On Sunday, my dad died.

And honestly, I’m not sure what else to say. There’s nothing else left to say. It felt like my tweet – like all tweets – said too little, too. But I didn’t want to keep anybody in the dark about this tragic news, so… well…

As I mentioned in December, my dad had planned a sponsored expedition to the North Pole, this April, in order to raise money for TransAid, a charity about whose work he was passionate. As part of his training, he was up on High Street, a fell in the Lake District, with his friend John. There, he lost his footing and slipped, falling over a 200 foot precipice. He was discovered to be dead when the air ambulance arrived; almost certainly killed pretty much instantaneously by the fall.

My dad, doing what he loved the most: taking on the world and braving the elements.

Since then, I’ve been in Preston, where my sisters, our mother, my dad’s partner, and our friends have been trying to come to terms with this tragic loss, and to make arrangements for his funeral. We’re keeping busy, which is probably for the best, right now. I’d like to say thank you to everybody who’s sent cards, emails, or text messages: your thoughts and sympathies are really appreciated, and I apologise that there simply hasn’t been time to reply to you all individually.

My dad died doing what he loved: exploring the outdoors, walking, climbing, and pushing his limits, in aid of a worthy cause that meant a lot to him. He was in incredible physical fitness, and I’d always suspected that 15 years from now, with him in his 70s and I in my 40s, he’d still have been able to outpace me on a scramble up Helvellyn’s Striding Ridge.

I’m sad that that’s a theory that I’ll never be able to put to the test. I’m sad that my dad never lived long enough to see if he’d have any grandchildren. I’m sad that the world is so cruel as to deny us all those conversations left unfinished and those mountains left unconquered. I’m even sad that I’ll never again get an out-of-the-blue call from him on some Saturday afternoon because he  can’t work out how to use his printer, or fix his Internet connection.

And I still don’t know what to say. So for now, at least, that’s all.

Update: Added photo and funeral info.

23 replies to Full Stop

  1. Sometimes, no words are ever enough. But know that my love, and many others love, is with you. If you need anything, whether it be someone to sit with you, or some practical thing to be done, just say.

    x

  2. Echoing what Sarah said, you know where I am if you need anything.
    Instead of sending a card, Lee and I have donated money to the Transaid Peter Huntley memorial.

    Take care, we will come visit you maybe during the summer but certainly at some point before the end of the year at least!

    Love and hugs x

  3. Echoing sentiments of all, our thoughts are with you and your family during all of this.

    We are aware that we haven’t really been in touch but we are only a phonecall/email away at any time.

    We will be thinking of you x

  4. Oh Dan,

    I obviously can’t imagine how you’re feeling, if you need anyone to talk to you know where I am. How you managed to write that beautiful post I don’t know. Life can be so completely unfair, but in one respect your Dad was unbelievably lucky; in having a son like you.

    I’m so sorry for your loss.

    Love you,
    Jen

  5. […] My dad died almost a fortnight ago when he lost his footing during a climb in the Lake District, and – since then – it’s felt like I’ve been involuntarily transplanted out of my life and into somebody else’s. I’ve only been in and out of work, and I’m glad to have done that: it’s added a semblance of normality to my routine. But most of my “new life” seems to consist of picking up the pieces of the jigsaw of my dad’s affairs and piecing them together into a meaningful picture. An endless outpouring of sympathy cards adorn shelf after shelf in my dad's house. […]

  6. Dan,

    This is a lovely post. I didn’t mention in my email the other day how sorry we are for your loss.

    Our thoughts go out to you and hope to catch up soon for coffee.

    Helen

  7. Friday was the day of my dad’s funeral. If you’ve just tuned in, you might like to see my blog post about his death, and a second article about the things that have been hardest, so far, in its aftermath. I’m not inclined to say too much, so I’ll be brief and let pictures, and a video, tell the story. As usual, you’ll find that you can click on the pictures to enlarge them.
    A convoy of buses arrive to deliver attendees to the funeral.A remarkable number of people turned up to mark my dad’s passing on this sad occasion. I was genuinely surprised to see how many lives he’d touched (and to hear about a great many more from people who couldn’t make it). About 350 people struggled to fit in to the cramped crematorium, and many had to stand outside where – thankfully – there were repeater speakers.
    The buses with digital display boards, provided by Stagecoach, had been reprogrammed to show my dad’s name and years of life.My sisters and I were determined that this event would be a celebration of our father’s life. So rather than focusing on his tragic and premature death, we made every effort to commemorate his achievements and reinforce the lessons that we can all learn from his time with us. In a similar vein, we’d told everybody that we had the chance to that there was no need to wear black for this funeral: that people should wear what’s appropriate to them for their personal act of mourning and remembrance.
    In memory of my dad, I wore his old-style bus driver’s license badge, as well as wearing both socks and sandals together, as he often would.We’d hired a former minister, Ken Howles, to provide a (thoroughly secular, under threat of non-payment!) framework for the service, but we “rolled our own” so far as possible. Seven individual tributes and eulogies were given by people representing different aspects of my dad’s life: from my mother, from his partner, from the friend with whom he was walking on the day he died, from the managing directors of the company he founded and the company he last worked for, from the chief executive of the charity he was fundraising for, and – finally – from me.

    (if you can’t view the YouTube video above, or if you want to share it with others, you can also view it on YouTube)
    The contrast between the different tributes was stark and staggering, reflecting the huge variety in the different facets of my father’s life. From guerrilla gardening to trainspotting, lessons learned to tyres pulled, we collectively painted a picture of the spectrum of my dad’s life. The tributes given were, in order:

    My mother, Doreen (watch), who talked about their adventures together as young adults and the roots of his career in transport
    His partner, Jenny (watch), who shared the experiences they’d had together, and mourned for those that they would not
    His friend, John (watch), who let us in on the things that they’d talked about during my dad’s final hours
    Adrian, the managing director of the company my dad founded (watch), on his success in the world of transport consultancy, and working with him
    A break in the middle to watch a video of my dad singing karaoke

    A picture of the “Celebration of Life” order of service that we distributed at the funeral. Click on the picture to download the original (which includes a list of some of the charities my dad supported) as a PDF.

    Kevin, the managing director of Go North-East (watch), on the subject of my dad’s recent career and influence on British transport
    Gary, chief executive of TransAid (watch), announced the future creation of the Peter Huntley Fundraising Award, and thanked my dad and his supporters on behalf of the dozens of charities my dad helped
    And finally, me (watch), contrasting all of the above by talking about what my dad was like as a father and a friend, and the lessons we can learn from him
    If you can’t watch YouTube where you are, you can also read the full text of my personal eulogy here.
    JTA serves butter pie, mushy peas, and hotpot – classic Lancashire comfort foods – to guests at the wake.Afterwards, we held a wake at Grimsargh Village Hall which, on account of the sheer number of bus industry attendees, rapidly became a micro-conference for the public transport sector! It was great to have the chance to chat to so many people who’d worked with my dad in so many different contexts.
    Mourners gather near the (convenient!) bar at Grimsargh Village Hall. I’ve decided: all wakes should have a bar.Between hot food provided by a local caterer, cold savories courtesy of Jenny’s daugher Eppie, and a copious quantity of cakes baked by Ruth, there was an incredible superfluity of food. These two, plus JTA, Paul, and Eppie’s boyfriend James, provided a spectacular level of “behind-the-scenes” magic, keeping everything running smoothly and ensuring that everything happened as and when it was supposed to.
    Among other things, Ruth baked biscuits in the shape of buses, decorated in the colours of the different routes that my dad rebranded during his time at Go North-East.We set up a “memory book”, in which people could write their recollections of my dad. I haven’t had time to read much of it yet, but one of them stands out already to me as a concise and simple explanation of what we achieved at the crematorium that day. It reads:
    “Great funeral, Peter. Sorry that you missed it.”
    It was certainly a great send-off for a man who did so much for so many people. Thank you so much to everybody who made it such a success, and to everybody who, in the meantime, has donated to TransAid via my dad’s JustGiving page (or by giving us cash or cheques at or after the funeral). You’re helping his memory live on, for everybody: thank you.
    My dad didn’t teach me to drive. But he did teach me to read a bus timetable. Thanks, dad. I love you.

  8. […] My dad was killed in February while training for his planned exhibition to the North Pole, fundraising for charity TransAid. Since his funeral last month, my life’s been a whirlwind of emotional ups and downs and administrative challenges with the handling of his estate, of which I’m an executor. […]

  9. For some reason the LJ feed I was using to read your blog stopped working, so I’ve only just seen this having randomly stopped by. Please accept my belated condolences – I wasn’t ignoring the news deliberately.

  10. Warning: this post contains details of the nature of the accident that killed my father, including a summary of the post-mortem report and photographs which, while not graphic, may be evocative.
    Last week, I attended a coroner’s inquest, which (finally) took place following my father’s sudden death earlier this year. It’s been five months since he fell to his death in the Lake District, while he was training for a sponsored trek to the North Pole this spring. Despite the completion of the post-mortem only a week or so after his death and the police investigation not running on too much longer after that, it took a long time before the coroner was ready to set a date for an inquest hearing and finally put the matter to rest.
    A selection of “lawyer things” notably absent from our minimally formal inquest hearing. Photo courtesy “_falcow” (Flickr).I made my way up to Kendal – presumably chosen for its proximity to the coroner who serves the hospital where my father was airlifted after his fall – in a rental car, picking up my sisters and my mother in Preston on the way. We were joined at the County Hall by my dad’s friend John (who was with him on the day of the accident), Kate (a partner of my dad’s), and – after his complicated train journey finally got him there – Stephen (one of my dad’s brothers).
    Mostly, the inquest went as I’d anticipated it might. The post-mortem report was read out – the final verdict was that death was primarily caused by a compression fracture in the upper spine and a fracture of the base of the skull, which is a reassuringly quick and painless way to go, as far as falling injuries are concerned. John’s statement was summarised, and he was asked a series of clarifying questions in order to ensure that my dad was properly equipped and experienced, in good health etc. on the day of his accident.
    The last walk my dad ever made: the yellow line shows where he and John walked. The magenta line shows the path of my dad’s fall.This was clearly a painful but sadly-necessary ordeal for John, who’d already been through so much. In answer to the questions, he talked about how he and my dad had rambled together for years, about how they came to be where they were on that day, and about the conditions and the equipment they’d taken. And, in the minutes leading up to my dad’s death, how he’d been coincidentally taking photographs – including the one below. He’d been in the process of putting his camera away when my dad slipped, so he didn’t see exactly what happened, but he looked up as my dad shouted out to him, “John!”, before he slid over the cliff edge.
    Later, we heard from the police constable who was despatched to the scene. The constable had originally been en route to the scene of a minor road crash when he was diverted to my dad’s accident. He related how the two helicopter teams (the Air Ambulance hadn’t been able to touch down, but paramedics had been able to leap out at low altitude, so an RAF Search & Rescue helicopter was eventually used to transport the body to the hospital) had worked on the scene, and about his investigation – which had included seizing John’s digital camera and interviewing him and the other ramblers who’d been at the scene.
    This photo of my dad, approaching a snow bank as he scrambles up the hillside, was taken only moments before he slipped and fell.That’s all very sad, but all pretty-much “as expected”. But then things took a turn for the unexpected when Kate introduced herself as a surprise witness. Making an affirmation and taking the stand, she related how she felt that my father’s walking boots were not in adequate state, and how she’d told him about this on several previous occasions (she’s now said this on her website, too).
    I’m not sure what this was supposed to add to the hearing. I suppose that, were it not for the mitigating factors of everything else, it might have ultimately contributed towards a possible verdict of “death by misadventure” rather than “accidental death”: the subtle difference here would have affected any life insurance that he might have had (he didn’t), by giving a reason to reject a claim (“he wasn’t properly-equipped”). John’s statement, as well as subsequent examination of my dad’s boots by my sister Sarah, contradicted Kate’s claim, so… what the hell was that all about?
    A further photo by John, showing one of the two helicopters that were involved in the operation, hovering above the spot where my dad is attended by paramedics. A selective blur filter has been added.We all handle grief in different ways, and its my hypothesis that this was part of hers. Being able to stand in front of a court and describe herself as “Peter’s partner” (as if she were the only or even the most-significant one), and framing his death as something for which she feels a responsibility (in an “if only he’d listened to me about his boots!” way)… these aren’t malicious acts. She wasn’t trying to get an incorrect verdict nor trying to waste the courts’ time. This is just another strange way of dealing with grief (and damn, I’ve seen enough of those, this year).
    But I’d be lying if it didn’t cause quite a bit of concern and confusion among my family when she first stood up and said that she had a statement to make.
    Anyway: regardless of that confusing little diversion, it’s good that we’ve finally been able to get the coroners’ inquest to take place. At long last – five months after my dad’s death – we can get a proper death certificate I (as an executor of his will) can start mopping up some of the more-complicated parts of his estate.

  11. Before he died earlier this year, one of the last pieces of work my dad had done in his career as a transport consultant was to visit Trent Barton bus company and make some suggestions about how the new “The Threes” service should be branded and launched. Following his death, Trent Barton decided to honour my father’s memory by naming one of their brand new vehicles after him, and my sister Sarah and I went up to Nottingham to attend the naming ceremony.
    My sister and I with the bus named Peter Huntley. If you look closely, you can see the plaque in the windscreen. A larger plaque above the luggage rack, inside the bus, explains the reason for the naming.I’m not sure that they expected me to attend. I’m certain that they didn’t expect me to bring a bottle of Guinness Original with me. But I had a plan: when the moment seemed right, I got everybody’s attention and – explaining that my dad was never really a wine drinker but enjoyed a good stout – christened the vehicle with a spray of beer.
    In spite of how this photograph is staged, I decided that smashing the bottle against the front of the bus, as one might a ship, would probably make me unpopular amongst the staff, and I opted to “shake-and-spray” it instead. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of the “spray” moment itself.I think that this is a wonderfully fitting tribute to a man who did so much for the transport industry, and – based on the mutterings I heard at the naming ceremony – I wouldn’t be the only one to think that perhaps other bus companies ought to have done the same! In any rate, as I joked to my sister: “My dad would have been delighted to know that now all of the young ladies of Nottingham can ride on Peter Huntley all day.”
    If you find yourself in the vicinity of Nottingham, keep an eye out for a big orange Optare Versa, registration YJ12 PKU. That’s Peter Huntley you’re riding, too.
    Further reading: another take, including a photo of the new bus driving around.

  12. This post has been censored at the request of Sundeep. See: all censored posts, all posts censored by request of Sundeep.
    This is the first in a series of four blog posts which ought to have been published during January 2013, but ran late because I didn’t want to publish any of them before the first one.
    2012 was one of the hardest years of my life.
    My retweet of JTA’s sentiments, shortly after midnight on New Year’s Eve, pretty much covers my feeling of the year, too.It was a year of unceasing disasters and difficulties: every time some tragedy had befallen me, my friends, or family, some additional calamity was lined-up to follow in its wake. In an environment like this, even the not-quite-so-sad things – like the death of Puddles, our family dog, in May – were magnified, and the ongoing challenges of the year – like the neverending difficulties with my dad’s estate – became overwhelming.
    My sister Becky with Puddles, both younger and more-foolish than they eventually became. I don’t know why Puddles is wearing a t-shirt.The sudden and unexpected death of my dad while training for his Arctic trek, was clearly the event which had the most-significant impact on me. I’ve written about the experience at length, both here on my blog and elsewhere (for example, I made a self-post to Reddit on the day after the accident, urging readers to “call somebody you love today”).
    My dad, climbing Aladdin’s Mirror in the Cairngorms.In the week of his death, my sister Becky was suffering from an awful toothache which was stopping her from eating, sleeping, or generally functioning at all (I tried to help her out by offering some oil of cloves (which functions as a dental contact anesthetic), but she must have misunderstood my instruction about applying it to the tooth without swallowing it, because she spent most of that evening throwing up (seriously: don’t ever swallow clove oil).
    My dad’s clothes for his funeral. My sisters and I decided that he ought to be dressed as he would be for a one of his summer hikes, right down to the combination of sandals and socks (the funeral director needed reassurance that yes, he really did routinely wear both at the same time).Little did she know, worse was yet to come: when she finally went to the dentist, he botched her operation, leaving her with a jaw infection. The infection spread, causing septicæmia of her face and neck and requiring that she was hospitalised. On the day of our dad’s funeral, she needed to insist that the “stop gap” surgery that she was given was done under local, rather than general, anasthetic, so that she could make it – albeit in a wheelchair and unable to talk – to the funeral.
    Five weeks later, my dad finally reached the North Pole, his ashes carried by another member of his team. At about the same time, Ruth‘s grandmother passed away, swamping the already-emotional Earthlings with yet another sad period. That same month, my friend S****** suffered a serious injury, a traumatic and distressing experience in the middle of a long and difficult period of her life, and an event which caused significant ripples in the lives of her circle of friends.
    The notice of Ruth’s grandmother’s death, as it appeared in the online version of her local newspaper.Shortly afterwards, Paul moved out from Earth, in a situation that was anticipated (we’d said when we first moved in together that it would be only for a couple of years, while we all found our feet in Oxford and decided on what we’d be doing next, as far as our living situations were concerned), but still felt occasionally hostile: when Paul left town six months later, his last blog post stated that Oxford could “get lost”, and that he’d “hated hated 90% of the time” he’d lived here. Despite reassurances to the contrary, it was sometimes hard – especially in such a difficult year – to think that this message wasn’t directed at Oxford so much as at his friends there.
    <!–

    [caption id="attachment_5401" align="aligncenter" width="192"] Learning to walk again.[/caption]

    –>
    As the summer came to an end, my workload on my various courses increased dramatically, stretching into my so-called “free time”: this, coupled with delays resulting from all of the illness, injury, and death that had happened already, threw back the release date of Milestone: Jethrik, the latest update to Three Rings. Coupled with the stress of the 10th Birthday Party Conference – which thankfully JTA handled most of – even the rare periods during which nobody was ill or dying were filled with sleepless nights and anxiety. And of course as soon as all of the preparation was out of the way and the conference was done, there were still plenty of long days ahead, catching up on everything that had been temporarily put on the back burner.
    My sister Sarah and I at the christening of a bus named after my dad. Click the picture for the full story.When I was first appointed executor of my dad’s estate, I said to myself that I could have the whole thing wrapped-up and resolved within six months… eight on the outside. But as things dragged on – it took almost six months until the investigation was finished and the coroner’s report filed, so we could get a death certificate, for example – they just got more and more bogged-down. Problems with my dad’s will made it harder than expected to get started (for example, I’m the executor and a beneficiary of the will, yet nowhere on it am I directly mentioned by name, address, or relationship… which means that I’ve had to prove that I am the person mentioned in the will every single time I present it, and that’s not always easy!), and further administrative hiccups have slowed down the process every step of the way.
    On the first anniversary of my dad’s death, I cycled up a hill to watch the sunset with a bottle of Guinness and a Mars bar. And sent this Tweet.You know what would have made the whole thing easier? A bacon sandwich. And black pudding for breakfast. And a nice big bit of freshly-battered cod. And some roast chicken. I found that 2012 was a harder year than 2011 in which to be a vegetarian. I guess that a nice steak would have taken the edge off: a little bit of a luxury, and some escapism. Instead, I probably drank a lot more than I ought to have. Perhaps we should encourage recovering alcoholic, when things are tough, to hit the sausage instead of the bottle.
    It’s been a while, old friend. A while since I used this delicious-looking photograph in my blog, I mean! This is the sixth time… can you find them all?Becky’s health problems weren’t done for the year, after she started getting incredibly intense and painful headaches. At first, I was worried that she was lined-up for a similar diagnosis to mine, of the other year (luckily, I’ve been symptom-free for a year and a quarter now, although medical science is at a loss to explain why), but as I heard more about her symptoms, I became convinced that this wasn’t the case. In any case, she found herself back in the operating room, for the second serious bit of surgery of the year (the operation was a success, thankfully).
    The “F” is for “Fuck me you’re going to put a scalpel WHERE?”I had my own surgery, of course, when I had a vasectomy; something I’d been planning for some time. That actually went quite well, at least as far as can be ascertained at this point (part three of that series of posts will be coming soon), but it allows me to segue into the topic of reproduction…
    Because while I’d been waiting to get snipped, Ruth and JTA had managed to conceive. We found this out right as we were running around sorting out the Three Rings Conference, and Ruth took to calling the fœtus “Jethrik”, after the Three Rings milestone. I was even more delighted still when I heard that the expected birth date would be 24th July: Samaritans‘ Annual Awareness Day (“24/7”).
    One of the many pregnancy tests Ruth took, “just to be sure” (in case the last few were false positives). Photo from Ruth’s blog.As potential prospective parents, they did everything right. Ruth stuck strictly to a perfectly balanced diet for her stage of pregnancy; they told only a minimum of people, because – as everybody knows – the first trimester’s the riskiest period. I remember when Ruth told her grandfather (who had become very unwell towards the end of 2012 and died early this year: another sad family tragedy) about the pregnancy, that it was only after careful consideration – balancing how nice it would be for him to know that the next generation of his family was on the way before his death – that she went ahead and did so. And as the end of the first trimester, and the end of the year, approached, I genuinely believed that the string of bad luck that had been 2012 was over.
    In Ruth’s blog post, she’s used kittens to make a sad story a little softer, and so I have too.But it wasn’t to be. Just as soon as we were looking forward to New Year, and planning to not so much “see in 2013” as to “kick out 2012”, Ruth had a little bleeding. Swiftly followed by abdominal cramps. She spent most of New Year’s Eve at the hospital, where they’d determined that she’d suffered a miscarriage, probably a few weeks earlier.
    Ruth’s written about it. JTA’s written about it, too. And I’d recommend they read their account rather than mine: they’ve both written more, and better, about the subject than I could. But I shan’t pretend that it wasn’t hard: in truth, it was heartbreaking. At the times that I could persuade myself that my grief was “acceptable” (and that I shouldn’t be, say, looking after Ruth), I cried a lot. For me, “Jethrik” represented a happy ending to a miserable year: some good news at last for the people I was closest to. Perhaps, then, I attached too much importance to it, but it seemed inconceivable to me – no pun intended – that for all of the effort they’d put in, that things wouldn’t just go perfectly. For me, it was all connected: Ruth wasn’t pregnant by me, but I still found myself wishing that my dad could have lived to have seen it, and when the pregnancy went wrong, it made me realise how much I’d been pinning on it.
    I don’t have a positive pick-me-up line to put here. But it feels like I should.
    A few days before the miscarriage became apparent, Ruth and her dad survey the back garden of the house he’s rebuilding.And so there we were, at the tail of 2012: the year that began awfully, ended awfully, and was pretty awful in the middle. I can’t say there weren’t good bits, but they were somewhat drowned out by all of the shit that happened. Fuck off, 2012.
    Here’s to 2013.
    Edit, 16th March 2013: By Becky’s request, removed an unflattering photo of her and some of the ickier details of her health problems this year.
    Edit, 11th July 2016: At her request, my friend S******‘s personal details have been obfuscated in this post so that they are no longer readily available to search engines.
    Edit, 26th September 2016: At her request, my friend S******‘s photo was removed from this post, too.
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