I sat with my stepfather for two days while he died ...

It's not like it is in the movies. But he knew he was dying, and he faced it with calm dignity and bore the pain as best he could.

Larry met my mum when I was 13. He never tried to be my father. He dropped me to school as a self-conscious teenager without complaint, even when I was so embarrassed by his rubbish truck that I made him drop me off around the corner.

He kept me in after-school jobs. Later, he could have dobbed me in to mum when I was sneaking his whiskey and topping up the bottle with water ... but he didn't.


His terrible jokes never got any better, but in recent years I've been more inclined to laugh anyway.

I could tell you some of his stories verbatim - like how he became a saw doctor in the logging pits (his predecessor lost an arm), or his run-in with a nasty NCO during compulsory military training and how Larry fixed him.

He grew up barefoot on a dairy farm on Anderson Road outside Eltham in the 1930s, a larrikin kid with a shock of red hair. He did some schooling in Wellington after his mother moved there, but he made his own way in the world since he was a young teenager.

He had a fiery temper and was quick to use his fists (his nose was broken so many times, he had no sense of smell, and one of the cracks to the head in his 20s saw a streak of hair from his temple turn pure white). He said he saw the trouble he'd end up in - prison - and learned to walk away from an argument.

Several years ago I took him down to Wellington to hear the surgeon say they couldn't repair his aneurysm. I drove him through Newtown - the building where he had lived with his mother above the small shop she ran was still there but I think he was disturbed by the scale of the change and how busy the city was. He didn't want to visit anywhere else or dally. Let's just go home, he said.

The hallway of their small home is lined with the sashes he and mum won in various rock 'n roll competitions. He was a champion dancer, impossibly light on his feet, capable of a party trick where he could dance with two women at the same time.

Mum loved dancing with him and it gave them decades of pleasure. Recently, my partner played them some jitterbug tunes he found on YouTube and Larry astonished us all by jumping up and busting some moves.

Doctors told him after his hip replacements that he'd never dance again, but he took great pride in proving them wrong. He liked nothing better than confounding experts.


Mum was a keen and accomplished tennis player; Larry determined he'd learn. I've just found the old notebook in which he painstakingly recorded the details of every match they played.

She thrashed him, for a long time. Taking a game off her was the first huge milestone; then a set - in the end, he did win some matches, too. Stubborn? Like you wouldn't believe.

He found his niche in Whanganui at the River Traders Market. He gathered and bundled bamboo, and made garden signs, roughly lettered and testament to his quirky sense of humour.

It provided pocket money but, more importantly, it was a social outing. He surely did love a chat. He was one of the original stall-holders and he was proud of the way the market developed with time.

He had to let his stall go after the second heart attack and, with that, his world shrunk. Of late, he'd taken to heading there to buy eggs and, at any opportunity, flowers for his wife.

On Tuesday morning, he was lucid and we had our last conversation. I knew his wishes: no fussing, no memorials, the simplest cremation possible.

There was nothing left undone he felt he needed to do. He'd outlived most of his siblings and, sadly, one of his sons. He'd already said goodbye and I love you to my mum. I made him his last cup of coffee and, for once, didn't skimp on the sugar.

The next day, his grand-daughter and her mum came to visit. He was much less restless afterwards and later that night he died very quietly, very peacefully. I am so grateful for that, and for having some time afterwards to sit with him while I made the traditional Buddhist prayers for the dying.

It was very peaceful in the room. I felt an odd lightness, almost happiness - relief, I think, that his suffering was over.

Then I left, not looking back, choosing to remember instead the light and warmth in his eyes on Tuesday morning when I popped out after our talk.

This wasn't the week I expected, or the column I was planning to write.