It’s been a year today since my Dad died. A whole 12 months. That’s a long time. A lot happens in 12 months. Things change. People change.
This is the last “first”.
We had the first week after he died, then the first month. Getting back from the first holiday without him being at the end of a phone wanting to know everything in detail. Then there was my birthday, with no phonecall from him pretending to have forgotten how old I was, the first Christmas without him, swiftly followed by what would have been he and his wife’s wedding anniversary. The first birthday in March, and his wife’s birthday in April. The husband and I moved house – a major life event that he would have been so proud of. Our first return to Stoupa, a place he loved so much but didn’t make it back to before he died due to chemotherapy.
And now, today, the first year of him not being here anymore.
It hurts. I know it will always hurt, but today I’m thrown back to that last day so vividly; the early morning phonecall from his wife telling me I needed to get to the hospital as soon as possible; the panic at the build up of traffic as I tried frantically to get there, close family around his bedside, the kindness of the nurses during the long long hours that followed. Hearing his breathing slow down and holding his hand; wanting him to stay for selfish reasons but willing him to go so he wasn’t suffering anymore. And the emptiness afterwards, when he’d breathed his last and we talked to him and cried – as much for ourselves and our massive loss, as for him.
Today is also my wedding anniversary. Rotten timing eh? I’m thankful everyday for the husband. The support he’s given me during this past year has been immense. He’s ace.
So it’s a day of smiling and sadness, all intermingled, as I think of the two most important men in my life now and always.
Today should have would have been my Dad’s 60th birthday. Instead it’s 6 months since he died. 6 months. Half a year. That’s ages, right? Think how much can happen in 6 months.
I don’t know where I expected to be, grief wise, 6 months down the line.
People say that time is a healer, and I know that to be true. But, so far, time only makes things worse. For me, anyway. I feel like it’s getting more difficult to accept that my Dad is gone, because it’s so hard to comprehend that I’m never going to see him again. That all this stuff – 6 months worth of life and living and things – is happening without him and I’ll never be able to share it with him.
At first it just felt like I hadn’t seen or spoken to him for a while (even though that very rarely happened). But it gets more and more real as time goes on.
Today hurts every cell of my being. I ache with loss.
My Dad had an opinion on so many things, and he never hesitated to share it. All this house buying and selling malarkey would have been equally exciting and infuriating to him. He’d have been frustrated on our behalf with errant estate agents and sloth like mortgage applications. He’d have been excited at our moving and renovation plans. It’s almost impossible to comprehend that he’ll never visit our new home.
We speak about him often, in general conversation or around specific subjects. I’m very close with his wife, who is so young to be widowed and who he loved so much. Having her gives me a closeness to Dad, because she is so vivacious and full of life – their life and her own.
But, ultimately, there is no rulebook to feelings and dealings. Some days just thinking about him makes me cry, while others I feel pure joy at the memory of him. So many times I think that I must phone him to tell him about something that has happened at work, and then the fleeting moment where he’s still on the end of a phone is gone, to be replaced with abject sorrow.
What am I saying here?
It sucks. It still sucks.
I guess it will always suck.
I just wanted to put something into words, to mark today, to relive his memory.
When the husband and I decided to get married in Mauritius, part of the appeal was it being just the two of us. The husband doesn’t like fuss and hated the idea of standing up in front of people and being the centre of attention, so we figured if we put some distance into the occasion it would help.
My mother-in-law’s first words were “I’ll come with you”. To which the husband responded in the negative, which she countered with “I can afford it”. But you can’t put that kind of financial and time pressure on people, plus my side of the family is both large and disjointed, with my parents being divorced and both with other people and my Mom having two step children to boot.
Plus, mainly, the fuss thing.
Somehow, and I’m not sure when or why it happened, guilt got the better of us me and I suggested having a small gathering on our return so that people who weren’t in Mauritius (basically everyone) still got their chance to celebrate. Because everyone loves a wedding, right?
I’m also not sure when or how it went from a small gathering to a renewal of vows ceremony at a hotel; with whole new outfits, a piano player, canapés, a live band and a big ol’ party.
But it did!
On the plus side, I got two wedding dresses. My light floaty one for the beach (made by my Mom) and a proper full on big beaded beautiful ivory gown for the UK (bought for me by my Dad).
How many brides get two?!
To the untrained eye you wouldn’t have even known it wasn’t a proper wedding. We had a proper officiate and witnesses and said words and signed a register. The only difference is that we didn’t exchange rings (instead, during the “vows” the officiate said to my husband “touch Kelly’s ring” at which point both of us and most of the audience howled with laughter at the innuendo!) Everyone dressed in full on wedding attire and we had a bridesmaid and page boy.
The husband looked every bit as uncomfortable as he said he would, and told me that he was glad it wasn’t our actual wedding else he wouldn’t have really enjoyed it!
Although, initially, we did it for other people, it worked out really well for us too. Mother in Law looked beautiful in her duck egg blue suit and pleased as punch to watch her only child tie the knot. I had a photograph taken which I never thought would happen – with both of my parents (things were still kind of awkward between them at that point).
Plus, most importantly right now, this happened. Me and my Dad, all smart and happy, having a cuddle in the grounds of the hotel. I think this was the first time I’d ever really seen how much we look alike, in spite of people saying it regularly. He was so proud and beaming.
Having lost him, I think I would look back now and regret him not walking me down the aisle on my wedding day. And although this wasn’t official, it was the time the husband and I shared our commitment with all our friends and family, which made it equally as important a day.
So, happy anniversary part 2 to the husband, and thanks to my Dad for being my Dad.
12th September is a day that will forever be etched in my head and heart for two reasons. 8 years ago – on Thursday 12th September – I married my best friend, the fabulous husband.
5 days ago – on Monday 12th September – my Dad died.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you may have read my previous posts about his cancer diagnosis and the advancement of the illness. We knew the end was imminent. But recent visits from the palliative care team suggested there were a few weeks to go until the end. In fact he was booked to go into a hospice for pain control on Monday. He never made it. He had a massive stroke at around 5am and was rushed to hospital. When my phone rang I thought it was his wife telling me what time his hospice transport was booked for. Instead she was telling me I needed to get to A&E as quickly as possible. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that’s not good news.
Somehow, maybe due to the strength of his organs due to his pretty healthy lifestyle and relatively young age, it took until 10.40pm for his poor cancer ravaged body to shut down. An agonising day into night of watching him, listening for changes in his breathing and willing him to let go. Everyone who needed to see him did, including his Mom. That’s not the natural order of life; having to say goodbye to your own child, no matter what age they are.
My Dad told me a couple of weeks back that we should be relieved when it was finally over, because it mean he wouldn’t be in pain anymore. It’s not just physical pain. It’s the mental anguish of knowing the end is coming and wondering how bad things might get before the inevitable happens. He had no positivity or fight in him, because it was pointless. He had no quality of life because of the pain and was unable to enjoy anything because he was consumed by the disease. He told me, his wife, family members and medical professionals that he wanted to die, before the pain got too bad and he became solely reliant on other people to care for him.
Unfortunately, due to the archaic laws and closed minded politics in this country, that wasn’t an option. He didn’t have that choice. For that reason, rather than flowers at his funeral, we’re requesting donations, half of which will be passed to Dignity in Dying to help fund their continuing campaigning to allow people to be treated with the same compassion as animals (I know it’s a cliché, but you wouldn’t let your pet suffer in the same way we allow humans).
I had this tattoo in January last year. I wanted him to know how much I loved him while he was still with us, rather than having a memorial tattoo when he’d gone. It’s on my right hip, so he’ll always be by my side.
I also know how proud he was of this blog, and how much he enjoyed reading it. I have to attribute my level of education to my Dad; he encouraged me so much as a kid and spent time learning with me and teaching me.
I’m forever grateful to my Dad for everything he did for me – be that working all hours to provide for me; playing in the swimming pool with me on holiday; setting me maths questions; playing yahtzee; teaching me to drive; wanting to know everything about my first job; buying me a dishwasher for my first home; talking for hours about travels and holidays. I certainly inherited his appetite and we never tired of talking about food and how much we loved it.
I’ve been touched by the kind messages of love and support for me in my loss, and overwhelmed by how well liked and respected my Dad was by so many people.
Losing him at 59, losing our future years together, is the worst and most unfair thing I’ve experienced in my life so far. But I have no choice but to cope and get through this. Bitterness and anger won’t help in the long term.
At least we had time – time to talk about things, time to reminisce and time to somehow say some form of goodbye.
If it’s that easy to influence the future then please could someone give me a million pounds? Ta!
Anyway, onto the questions, and my responses!
You are leaving tomorrow to start a life in a new country, where would you go?
I think it would have to be the US. There’s no language barrier and the country is so big and varied that you could holiday and travel there and see so much. Internal flights are pretty cheap and as convenient as catching a bus. I’d base myself in the Los Angeles area for the great climate, and plan visits to New York, Dallas, Nashville, Niagra Falls and Miami, and a return to San Francisco, as a matter of priority.
You can take someone for a weekend away to the place you had the best holidays ever, where would that be and who would you take to go with you?
It would probably be the West Hollywood neighbourhood of Los Angeles, with the husband. We’ve been there 4 times and had some amazing experiences. Even though we’ve done it all before, every single time has been fabulous, and would be a pleasure to recreate.
This would be my schedule:
Saturday – We’d stay at the Mondrian on Sunset, as usual, and have breakfast at Mel’s Drive-In (which is the coolest 50s American diner ever, check out the photos!), go to Griffiths Observatory for the planetarium show and the views, spend the afternoon by the hotel pool, have early evening sushi at Katana (the first place I ever tried sushi, and it was amazing!) and Happy Hour frozen margaritas at Cabo Cantina then shower and change before heading down to Sunset Strip for drinks at the Whisky a Go Go, maybe catch a band, then grab a booth at The Rainbow and eat one of their amazing pizzas.
Sunday – bottomless mimosas and a breakfast burrito at The Saddle Ranch, then bus down to Santa Monica, wander round the pier and go on the big wheel, hire bikes and cycle to Venice Beach, look around all the stalls and talk to the crazy people, back to Santa Monica for a bit of shopping and some late lunch, then back to We-Ho to play rock music on the jukebox at the Rainbow, maybe get another photo with Ron Jeremy and then finish the night with burgers and milkshakes in Mel’s.
(all photos by me or the husband between 2010 and 2012)
God that’s made me miss LA!
You can get married wherever you want to, your budget is limitless, what is your choice?
We got married on a beach in Mauritius which was pretty damn special, and I wouldn’t change that in any way.
I’d quite like to do a renewal of vows in Las Vegas though, officiated by Elvis!
During your travels you can bring back home one animal as a pet, which one would you pick?
A panda. No doubt. They’re so cute and playful and cuddly. And naughty – watch this video to see my point!
I don’t know why I don’t have one as a pet already.
You can get back in time and relive one family trip, which one?
A week in Greece with my Dad. I blogged about it here. Things were pretty fraught between us after my parents’ divorce and the holiday not only fixed our Dad and daughter relationship but strengthened it no end. Plus the location and food and climate was just so idyllic and beautiful – I’ve actually been back 3 times since.
What is the first thing you would pack for a one year travel around the world?
My passport! Duh!
What would your fantasy 100th birthday destination be, and why?
I don’t want to live to 100. Sorry to be miserable, but it would be too sad going somewhere and not being able to do everything it had to offer.
During your travel you can learn one sport to become a pro, what would that be?
I’m not a sporty person at all and don’t really crave to be, but it would be nice to be able to surf. Or maybe snowboard.
I lack the coordination to ever be able to do either!
Plus surfing is so wet, and snowboarding is so cold.
Does drinking sangria until I fall over count as a sport?
This month is my Dad’s sister’s birthday. My Dad’s sister, as in my auntie. Unusually, she’s only two years older than me. We spent a lot of time together growing up, so she was my first best friend.
My Mom and Dad were young when I was born, only very early 20s, and my Nan and Grandad on both sides were always around to help them out. Because of the closeness in age between me and my auntie, I used to stay over lots. We played with the same toys, had the same Christmas presents and even dressed the same! My Nan used to knit us matching cardigans and my Mom would make us matching skirts. We looked like sisters, sometimes even like twins!
I’m on the right – spot the matching nurse outfits!
When we were little she used to take advantage of her status sometimes, by making me call her Auntie if she was being bossy. We used to argue, as close family does. We were laughing only last week about the time she punched me on the nose and gave me a nosebleed! I would stay at her house for days and weeks on end during the school holidays. We used to go out on our bikes and make dens in the garden using deckchairs and my Nan’s old net curtains. We’d put on dancing and singing shows for my Nan and Grandad on Saturday nights. My first holiday was with her, in Ibiza when I was 6 (read about it here).
When I was 8 and she was 10, my Grandad died. He was only in his 50s and had a massive heart attack. She was sleeping over at my house that night. It changed her life forever.
Losing a parent so young, so unfairly, could have made her into a bitter person. She could have gone off the rails. But she didn’t. She was a tower of strength to my Nan who, understandably, lost the plot at being widowed so suddenly. She was very quickly thrown into being an adult, helping around the house and being a support network. She never complained, even though I know life was really difficult for her.
As we got older our lives took different directions. I became something of a party girl while she settled down with her now husband. She has two amazing kids, an enviable outlook on life and positivity for days. She’s so incredibly helpful, going above and beyond to organise Christmas parties for the kids of her work colleagues and family get togethers. She’s strong willed and strong natured whilst being laid back and fun. She amazes me in her approach to life, her stoicism, her parenting and generally being a great human being
I don’t actually call her Auntie these days! But I’m proud that she is.
It’s the first of the month again! Aren’t these long hot summer days amazing? (huge amounts of sarcasm). Grrrr….
Anyway, as I’m off to Greece in just 10 days time (woo and hoo!) I thought I’d talk about my first ever time on the Greek Mainland, in my early 20s.
I love Greece. Adore the place. The people, the climate, the food, some more of the food. Mmm…food. Greek cuisine is right up there with the best in the world, for me.
Greece is my first choice of holiday destination if I’m looking for a chilled, relaxed break with guaranteed enjoyment.
The first time I ever visited the mainland was with my Dad. After my parents separated things became fraught between me and my Dad for a while. I hadn’t taken sides in the split but I was living with my Mom, and she had a new partner which my Dad found difficult to deal with, especially my acceptance of it. In an attempt to build bridges I suggested that the two of us go on holiday.
Both having a love of Greece from previous visits to the islands, Dad suggested calling the travel agent (as you did in those days, before cheap airlines and hotel comparison websites, god I’m so old!) and finding out what was available within a few days; somewhere “typically Greek”. The travel agent suggested a place called Stoupa, which neither of were familiar with. It was described to us as being a small village on the Mani peninsula, with a mountainous backdrop, a handful of tavernas and bars and a very relaxed atmosphere. It sounded perfect.
And perfect it was. We arrived at Kalamata airport at around midday on a hot Sunday afternoon, after a 3am start from home. I hadn’t been to bed the night before as I was still packing so I slept all the way to the resort. On arrival we were shown to our apartment, which was a 2 story house, split into 3 apartments. We had loads of space, two balconies, 2 bathrooms and a fully equipped kitchen. It was very much a home from home.
After changing into shorts we wandered down towards the direction of the sea, passing small tavernas and shops. As we reached the end of the narrow street the whole of Stoupa opened up in front of us. A horseshoe shaped bay with a sandy beach and sparkling blue sea. Stepping out and looking backwards we saw the mountain backdrop promised by the travel agent. We fell in love with the place immediately.
It was a week of lounging in the sun, reading books, sleeping and eating amazing food. We took an organised trip to the Diros Caves. We walked to Agios Nikolaos. And we overcame our difficulties and had a lovely Dad and daughter time.
Years later my Dad took his now wife, and she also fell in love with the place in the same way that we had years previously.
I never once suggested it to the husband, as he tends to get bored easily on holiday and I thought Stoupa would be way too quiet for him. I think he felt left out, because my Dad and his wife and I used to talk so fondly of our times there, and the husband had never been. So, eventually, and under some duress, I agreed that we would go. I warned him before we went that if he hated it he wasn’t to tell me, because he would spoil it for me!
But guess what? He loved it too! Absolutely adored the place, immediately. Such is it’s magic! And what did we do? Exactly the same as my Dad and I had done over a decade previously – eat, drink, sleep and read. We didn’t even leave the village because we were so content. Not only that, he was so taken with it that we went back 6 weeks later for our 5th wedding anniversary.
Here are some pictures of the bay.
And the mountains. Can you see the tiny villages? At night they look like little patches of sparkles in a sea of blackness because they’re so remote.
And there are the most fabulous sunsets. Every. Single. Night.
I very much want to see more of the world – all of the world – but I think I will always return to Stoupa. It holds such happy memories and is everything I could ever want in a relaxing holiday.
We talked about going back again this year, but I vetoed it because my Dad is ill. He was supposed to go last year and had to cancel because of his cancer treatment, and I don’t feel right going when he can’t.
So, this year, the husband and I are off to the other side of the peninsula – a place called Finikounda. I’ve read reports from some people that say it makes Stoupa look overly touristy, so I’m intrigued to see just how quiet it is! And of course I’ll be blogging all about it when I get home.
10 days to go!
Do you have any summer holidays planned? Let me know!
Last month I started a new series of “my firsts”, which will feature on the 1st of the month.
This month’s is my first car.
My younger sister had her first driving lesson this week. I couldn’t wait to learn to drive. It was top of my list when I hit 17. My birthday was just before Christmas, and I passed in mid May.
For the first year I shared my Mom’s car. I loved being able to drive to 6th form for classes. Looking back I guess my Mom must have missed out a little, as I was zooming here there and everywhere while she was at home, car-less! I suppose, as a parent, you’re happy to make sacrifices for your kids.
When I started work at 18, I wanted my own car. I was earning decent money and had very few outgoings, so my own wheels became a priority to me. I remember my Dad telling me to buy the newest I could afford, so I wouldn’t end up with repair bills and being stranded places.
At the time there was an advert on TV for a Fiat Punto, in metallic electric blue, that was driving around Italy. It was my dream car! So I saved really hard for a few months, and my Dad boosted my coffers by giving me £500 towards a deposit, and then I took out a loan and bought one. It was only 12 months old and had electric windows. Not your typical first car. I loved it so much. That car took me on a lot of adventures! I first started clubbing during the time I owned it, and drove all over the country to different clubs, events and festivals.
My funniest memory is going to Leeds Love Parade with a group of friends. There were 3 cars on the way there, but one broke down. Instead of getting towed home, the 4 lads decided to carry on up to the festival and deal with it later. That meant there were 13 of us in Leeds and only 2 cars to get us home.
I left Leeds in the boot of my own car, with another girl squished alongside me, and 5 people inside the car which was now being driven by one of my friends. It was so random! I’ll never forget stopping off at the services on the way home and getting out to stretch our legs – the look on the faces of people in the car park as two girls climbed out of the boot of a Punto!
This series is only two months old and already bringing back so many memories. Things I’d forgotten about, or not recalled for a long time. It feels nice.