Nine years ago today I was woken up by the ring tone of my mobile phone. It was before 8am and as soon as I picked it up and saw it was my mum calling, I knew this was not a friendly wake up call.
The news that she had found my dad that morning was devastating. Unthinkable. Unreal.
He was gone.
Just like that.
I was pregnant with my third child at the time, due in August. C would have been 3, J just toddling around at 1.
I remember the funeral. Or rather, I remember aspects of it. Not necessarily the things I want to remember either. Isn’t that odd? How does our brain process and filter out the crap? And why does it sometimes hold onto it over the bits that were actually ok?
I remember the drive to the crematorium. It felt like the journey to the centre of the earth. I couldn’t stop looking at the coffin. I had been to see my dad at the funeral home. I hadn’t seen him before the private ambulance had come to take him from the house as I was living an hour away and my mum told me she thought it would be best if I stayed where I was till I felt capable of the drive. To this day I have nightmares about what state he was in and that she did this to protect me from seeing.
Sitting in the chapel, I stared out of the window. Wishing the whole scenario away. I genuinely felt sick to my stomach. Angry. And sad.
I have flashes of the place where we had the wake though I couldn’t tell you what it was called. I remember what I wore. And my children playing around my ankles as I somehow got through the day.
My dad passed away on Good Friday. It was the strangest Easter to date. My life long friend was supposed to be coming to see me that weekend. I somehow managed to summon up the brain power to text her after I finished speaking to my mum to say we would have to reschedule. As it happened she had left in the early hours and was nearly with me already. I could not have been more grateful for the familiar face and love that surrounded my children and I as soon as she arrived.
We travelled to my mum’s, the boys, my friend and I. I often look at the photographs from that weekend. We made Easter masks. With goggly eyes and ribbons, scrunched up coloured tissue paper and elastic to go round our heads. If you saw them you would never have known. We were all there, like we were every Easter, having an egg hunt, excitement for the children. Yet there was a huge gaping hole where my dad should have been. An emptiness that filled the house almost entirely.
I remember going to the cemetery to bury his ashes. My mum spoke. I felt uncomfortable. It took months as I recall for the stone to arrive. Still to this day my dad’s name does not look right on a stone in the ground. Such an imposing figure, now in a box in the ground.
Before my dad died I believed there was something else. I liked to think there were people watching over us, loved ones, keeping us safe.
When my dad died, that sort of went away.
And there was nothing.
He was not a believer. He was a man of logic. So ridiculously intelligent, he used to blow me away with his incredible talent with numbers. I’m not sure a higher power and logic go together. And so, when he died, all of sudden he just wasn’t there anymore.
I went to the chapel of rest to visit. To say goodbye. To find peace in his passing.
All I found was something which made my heart hurt.
It wasn’t my dad. It didn’t look like him. Despite the fact my mum and I had spent hours going through his clothes and shoes, choosing what we thought he would have approved of as his final outfit.
It wasn’t my dad.
He was gone.
Not gone somewhere else. Just gone.
Ever since then my world has changed. My perception on what happens next, the question of what I believe in, of what is real, of why things happen the way they do. My dad gave no warning that he was going to go. He was on his own. Something I will never get over. He was trying to get to my mum. Or so we think. But we will never know. How long he suffered for, how much pain he was in. Of course everyone will tell you it would have been quick, that he wouldn’t have suffered. But how do you know? How does anyone know?
The only fact is that we don’t know. Nobody does. You can only do battle with yourself in what you choose to believe and what you hope is true.
My dad was a good man. He was a cantankerous, over-indulgent, stubborn, hard working, generous, loving man. He could have played chess with C (eldest child) for hours. C is not the type to talk through games. He is very serious. I was always a massive disappointment to my dad in that I would natter away whatever we were doing and was never any good at snooker. He would love J’s character (middle child). Find him infuriatingly loud and overtly head-strong but love him all the same. And D (youngest child), well. He is turning into quite the mathematician so they would have had plenty to talk about. When D was born we gave him my dad’s name as a second name.
Turns out my dad did not approve of some of my life choices. But he stuck by me anyway. Amazing how as you get older suddenly your parents actually turn out to be right.
Losing someone you love brings an indescribable pain which never actually goes away. Some days it feels like a physical hole in your heart. And other days it gives you a sense of peace and wonderful memories to look back on.
Don’t waste time. I did not get to know my dad as a human being. He was always just my dad. I thought he would be around forever. But he isn’t. And I still have so many questions. So many things I don’t know. But never will. I wish he could know my children. And know I have righted some wrongs in my life. That I am a musician again.
But I won’t grow my hair. Not ever.
Take time to be with your parents. Ask them questions about when they were young. Find out who they are, what makes them tick. Don’t judge your parents on who you think they are.
Don’t judge your parents at all.
When you were a kid chances are they were the age you are now trying to make the best of whatever life was throwing at them. When you have no money, a crap job you don’t love, a shit ton of washing to get through and find yourself snapping at the kids, remember the times your parents shouted at you. Perhaps take a different look back.
We are all just people. Trying to navigate our way through the world. One day at a time. We think those older than us are grown ups. But our children look at us that way too.