My father died last week.
He lived a grand old life. He had six children, 14 grandchildren and one great grandson.
And he died in his own bed at a time when he was ready to go. So there is much to be grateful for.
But, as many readers of the Grantham Journal will already know, nothing can really prepare you for the awful shock of losing a parent – or the aching absence that it leaves behind.
Another Member of Parliament, who also lost his father recently, told me that it is only on the death of your father that a man finally grows up. And I have certainly found myself wanting to call my dad to ask his advice on how to handle a situation, only to realise that I will have to make the decision without his gentle steer.
But, even in the middle of such sadness, there are consolations. The hundreds of cards and letters sent to my stepmother have reminded us of the service that my father, like so many of his generation, gave to their country.
He served in the Rifle Brigade in the closing months of the war. He gave 16 years of his life to the Colonial Service, where he helped North Borneo make the transition to independence. He ran the National Trust for eight years – and was responsible for negotiating the gift of one of Lincolnshire’s greatest treasures, Belton House, to the nation.
And he spent the last three decades on our family farm in East Devon, nurturing trees in our hedgerows and supporting the huge range of charities and appeals that help rural communities flourish.
In 40 years’ time, God willing, I will be my father’s age. By standing for Parliament, I have chosen a noisier, less humble kind of public service. But I hope that I will be able to look back and say that I followed his example. That I resisted the lure of power and glory, whose excitements are soon forgotten.
And that I recognised that what lasts – and what counts – at the end of a long life is the quiet satisfaction of knowing that you have given the best of yourself to the country that has given you so much.