Opinion: Derek Pike, my dad – a daughter’s tribute

Suzanne Burnett and Derek Pike.
Suzanne Burnett and Derek Pike.

I lost my dad this year. And finally, I feel ready to write about it … So this is a very personal commentary. I want to reflect, remember – and pay tribute.

The diagnosis – on a bleak March day – was “12 weeks, on average.” Sadly, for once in his life, my dad was below average: he died on May 19, just 10 weeks later.

Over the past five months, I’ve come to value those 10 weeks more and more. We spent time together. We went out to lunch. We did the Telegraph crossword – sometimes with help from my dad’s elder sister, Zena, who died just seven days after her brother. And above all, dad and I said everything to each other that we wanted to say.

We all get into a rut at times. We all fall into the trap of doing what we’ve always done. But the last few weeks with dad made me realise what’s really important. That so much of what I previously considered crucial, vital and urgent simply wasn’t. That what really counted was to spend time with the people you loved – and to make them aware of how much you love them.

So it’s appropriate that I say ‘thank you.’ I was able to step away from work for as long as I needed, and I couldn’t have done that without Kerry, Nicky and my brilliant team at Castle Employment Agency. They gave me the time I needed. Thank you all.

My dad understood business. He knew that you could have good days and bad days. That sometimes it was out of your control. But he knew, and ingrained in me, that if you do what you need to do consistently, that if you’re ethical, decent and honest – then you’ll succeed in the end.

He was there when I made my first speech as president of the Chamber of Commerce.

I know he was “so, so proud” because he told everyone. And then he told them again.

Thanks, dad. It was the values you instilled in me that got me there.

Even in the last few days – as I lay by his side in the hospice and desperately tried not to fall asleep so I could listen to him breathing – his humour never failed.

Not always politically correct humour by today’s standards, but like so many of our fathers he was a product of a different generation.

He never stopped being my dad either. Every so often he’d look at me. “Take good care of Anne for me, won’t you?” he’d say. Don’t worry, dad. I will.

Dad didn’t accept death lightly. He knew what was coming – we all did – but he didn’t go down without a fight.

He was determined to tell one more story, to do the crossword one last time. In the words of Dylan Thomas, he ‘raged against the dying of the light.’

It’s the last verse of the poem that best captures his – and my – feelings:

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray,

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dad had a secular funeral, which he planned with Robbie, my son. I can’t tell you how much I admired him for that decision. And there was no last minute fudge, no ‘just in case.’ He came in to the Dambusters theme music (his claim to fame – he had a tiny part in the film) and we all wished him luck as we waved him goodbye.

Let me finish by returning to my dad’s values. Chief among them was the importance of a smile. “Whatever happens, Suzanne,” he said, “stay cheerful.”

It hasn’t always been easy to be cheerful over the past weeks. I’m not ashamed to say that a tear still rolls down my cheek at some point on most days.

But I will always be grateful for what dad gave me: the love, the wisdom, the memories. All of them are locked away in my heart, dad. Where they belong – and where they will always remain.