We were taking it in turns to watch dad die. From that moment on Christmas Day when mum and I visited him in hospital there could be no doubt he was not long for this world.

I remember going home in time for Christmas dinner in shock, hardly able to comprehend this once seemingly indestructible man had just days left. I tried to be brave for everyone, not wanting to tell the kids, although I confided in Trish who had lost her beloved sister Catherine months earlier.

On New Year’s Eve he was well enough to chat for a while, sitting up in the bed, smiling and laughing, holding hands. My sister, Lorraine, and I stayed behind while everyone else left, and within minutes everything changed. He became aggressive and tried to get out of the bed and we struggled to stop him. A nurse responded to my urgent ringing of the bell and gave him an injection. In minutes he was calmer, then fell asleep.

I never did get to say that final goodbye, but he had been slipping away for some time. His mind had left us well before his body gave up, and that was the hardest part.

He never regained consciousness, and in the early hours of January 1, 2008, Patrick J Hickey died. I wasn’t there then, having been relieved by my brother John and his wife Ethna, not long before. Exhausted and numbed by dad’s death it fell to me to tell mum. The short journey to her house was the longest I’ve ever made, trying to formulate the words to tell her that her life partner, a guy she had known since her teens, was dead.

Strange how knowing that death is imminent never seems to prepare your for the eventual passing. Dad’s steady decline over several years was hard to take. It still is now that I reflect on it. I will tell that story some day, but not now.

Every year mum places anniversary notices in the Irish Examiner and Evening Echo and I’ll be seeing her later so she can be with family and talk about him. She’s the matriarch of our growing clan now and is in good health. I pray she lives for many more years and we can enjoy her company.