IT is more than 20 years since I had to undertake one of the most upsetting, difficult tasks of my life.

I had to go to the hospital bedside of my father, who was about to undergo a quadruple bypass operation. At the risk of exacerbating his fragile condition, I had to break some extremely bad news to him. His wife, my mother, had suddenly died.

A brother had found mum dead in her armchair where she had been watching TVon her own, late at night, no doubt worrying about how my father's heart operation would go.

This all came back to me this week as I made arrangements for my brother's funeral.

When I received a late night phone call from another distraught brother (we're a big family), I actually thought he was telling me that it was my dad who had passed away. We hadn't expected mum to go so soon.

It was left to me as the pragmatic, no-nonsense, voluble brother to travel to Glasgow's Western Infirmary to reveal the tragic news as dad prepared for his own traumatic surgery.

As I tried to formulate the right words, my dad's sixth sense kicked in and he provided the punchline: "she's dead, isn't she?"

Perhaps the fact that until then he had never spent a night away from Margaret in over 40 years triggered a gut instinct? Some of us would call it psychic.

As if arranging a funeral for the first time wasn't stressful enough, I had to negotiate with hospital surgeons to postpone the heart surgery in order to have my father at the funeral of the woman with whom he had had spent half a century, and with whom he had brought up seven children in a wee council house.

I remember a curious conversation with an undertaker who asked: "Do you want your mother buried in her own clothes?" As opposed to what, I asked in my naivety?

I'm having to go through all that again this week.

In scenes that would rip the heart out of your body, my father - with a dodgy ticker - clung to the coffin for parts of the funeral service. Once the hearse left for the cemetery, dad had to be whisked away to his hospital bed, in need of sedation for both his trauma and the imminent life-threatening operation.

These poignant memories also came to me as I read about the inquiry starting into the thousands of Covid-19 deaths, where lifelong partners were unable to hold hands and say a final goodbye. Thousands of funerals where friends and some close members of families were unable to pay their last respects. 

I know that locally, some people had to stay in their cars outside of crematoria while services took place. And you know what? The government inquiries, in both Scotland and down south, will cost many millions of pounds and come up with diddly squat.  Pious diddly squat about not locking folk up again.

The politicians, health "boffins" and scientists will repeat, in choral rectitude, that they were protecting the people. Aye, you could go to the pub as long as you didn't drink alcohol. Very scientific. You could go to the shops every day of the pandemic. Twenty of us could stand, in the rain, outside Barrfields Park watching a football game, through the railings, because of "social distancing" in a stadium that once held 6,500 at a match.

Do you know that on occasions during the epidemic, teams of police officers conducted surveillance operations at Largs railway station to check who was coming into town on the train?

Did you see the front page scare story in the Daily Record this month warning us about a new strain of coronavirus, with "experts" calling for masks to be worn? Oh, how some of the media love Project Fear.

Anyhow, I digress. In the ten weeks that my brother lay in various hospitals, I always made a point of holding his hand, and we had a wee thing about gripping his hand when visiting ended, saying: "See, you've still got a strong grip."

On the day I was given the news of Alan's death, I turned on the radio and the first song that played was 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand'.  And I don't care if you don't believe in it, but the day I stepped out of the undertakers' office, a little white feather blew past and tickled my nose.  That's comforting for me.

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Thought for the Week: May you never take one single breath for granted.

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While I'm in a sombre mood, let me tell you of an exchange between a boy and his grandfather.

The boy asks: "Papa, how did you live in the past without technology?  Without computers, without drones, without bitcoins, without internet connection?

 "Some of you didn't have TVs, Netflix, Google, air conditioning, central heating, cars and, hard to believe, but no mobile phones."

His papa replied: "Just as your generation lives today. No prayers, no compassion, no respect for your elders, no homework, no genders, no good manners. There is no shame, there is no modesty but there is plenty of  'me, me, me' and constantly being offended."

Yes, I know. The young generation are the future. Heaven help society.