It’s been 3 years, 4 months and 8 days since my Dad died. I don’t count the days and weeks, but a quick mental calculation when I started planning this post was easy enough.Continue reading
Death. It’s not a topic most of us enjoy thinking about, let alone talking about. But talk about it we should. It is, after all, an inevitability for all of us. (Unless anyone reading this has discovered the secret of immortality and is keeping it to themselves?)
My first memorable experience of death was when my Great Nan on my Mom’s side died when I was 7. My Dad’s Dad died when I was 8. My Mom’s Mom when I was 13 and my Mom’s Dad when I was 18. Each of these experiences affected me, all in different ways and with different depths of emotions due to my age and understanding. I cried and I wished they could come back and I grieved and there was a difference in my life afterwards. But ultimately I guess my life pretty much went back to normal.
The ongoing impact
It wasn’t until my Dad died 3 years ago that I really understood the ongoing impact of death. The combination of experiencing loss for the first time as a proper adult, and also losing a parent made me truly look at my own mortality. My Dad’s death also taught me a lot about the way I think, feel and approach the subject; especially because he wasn’t an old man (he was only 59).
I’ve developed a real dislike of the softly softly language used around it. I’ve posted before about really disliking the term “lost the battle” when it relates to cancer or other illnesses. “Gone to a better place” grinds my gears, because there’s no better place than being alive and with your family.
I recently read an article, inspired by a Twitter post, which looked at other people’s thoughts, and that in turn partially inspired this blog post.
Have a read: Whatever you do, don’t say ‘dead’
Why do many people struggle to say the word dead? Why do we try to dress it up into something else? The end result is still the same. The person is gone. How you refer to it isn’t going to make any difference.
My Dad is dead
Personally, for me, I sometimes say “my Dad id dead” for the shock value…as much to shock myself as anyone else. I need that reality behind the situation. I can’t dress it up into something less harsh. He died. He’s dead. He didn’t “pass away” (there was nothing gentle about his final day), he isn’t “with the angels” (we’re not religious, and neither was he).
None of this makes it any easier to deal with, of course. There’s a hole that will never be filled. But using different terminology doesn’t change the situation.
I think the article makes a very valid point that language is subjective, and what works for one person wouldn’t work for another. Some people need to soften the blow, especially where children are concerned. There have been times when I’ve said “my Dad is dead” and my Mom has said “oh don’t say it like that.” What works for one person doesn’t work for another. But not talking about death isn’t good for us either.
A Natural Undertaking
A while ago I came across a funeral company local to me called A Natural Undertaking. I’ve been following them on Facebook for a while now, which probably sounds quite morbid, but their approach to, and way of talking about, funerals is very refreshing. For a start, their strapline is “funerals celebrating life.” Run by two women who want individuals and families to be aware of the different options around funerals, they offer anything from traditional through to unique ceremonies. They also encourage people to speak more openly about death, to help remove the stigma and also ensure that people who are dying have the kind of send off they want.
They even have an all electric hearse, for those who are thinking about the environment even when they’re not part of it anymore, or a VW Campervan for those making the journey to the great campsite in the sky (how’s that for not referring to death by it’s actual term?)
They also promote and participate in Death Cafes. They sound horribly morbid, but are actually just a place for people to come together, drink tea, eat cake and talk about death.
Afraid of death
You might think from all this straight talk that I’m not afraid of death. You’d be wrong. I’m petrified of it. Mainly from a missing out point of view, because there is so much in life to be lived and loved. So much to experience, places to see, cuddles to be had, laughs, finding out whether Brexit will ever actually happen! The process of dying scares me; the idea of suffering, of being in pain, of people I care about seeing me deteriorate. But talking about it in hushed tones or euphemisms doesn’t change the inevitability of it.
I’ve seen death. I saw my Dad in his coffin the day before his funeral. For some people this would be troubling, but for me it helped my grieving process. My Dad was most definitely not alive anymore! That sounds obvious (and very reassuring, bearing in mind he was to be cremated the following day) but what I mean was, I saw first hand that a body is just a vessel. Without a smile, a frown, a hand gesture, warmth, a body is just a body.
I talk about death quite a lot. Not seriously. Mainly with a dark sense of humour. I talk about who we’ll leave our house to when we die, and what I would do if the husband died before me. It’s all fairly light hearted. I think, for me, it’s because my life has been irrevocably changed by the death of my Dad, so death is a very real concept to me. It makes me want to do more, see more and experience more, because life is finite, whether we talk about it or not.
Thanks, as always, for reading. x
Last night, as we settled into bed, we saw the terribly sad news that a friend of ours had passed away. Chris had cancer. He died because of cancer.
But cancer did not beat Chris, and he didn’t lose the battle.
Sure, it’s only terminology, just words. But for the people left behind, experiencing the death and pain and emptiness, it’s important. At least it was to me, when my Dad died. I hate that anyone might think my Dad “lost”. That he didn’t fight hard enough, or long enough.
I feel the same now, talking about Chris.
Grief is such a personal thing. It would be impossible to write a roadmap of how it will affect a person and the stages they will go through. Or the timeline it will follow.
And that’s ok.
But it is reassuring to know that grief changes with time. And whilst it never goes away, it becomes more manageable.
The other day I was hanging some wet washing up to dry and I had an enormous wave of grief and sadness wash over me, because of a pair of pyjamas. They’re leopard print and they have pockets and they were one of my Christmas gifts the last Christmas before my Dad died. I had a flash back to putting them on, as soon as I opened them, over my clothes. I put on pretty much all the other clothes Dad and his wife bought me as well, including a pair of leopard print tights on my head. My Dad was laughing, his eyes crinkling up until you couldn’t see them anymore, and telling me I was a nutter. We all knew that Christmas was going to be his last, even though we didn’t say it. He knew it too – he really went overboard and spoilt us all.
I read an article recently that really resonated with me. You can read it here. It talks about life carrying on, and changing in ways that mean a person you’ve lost wouldn’t recognise things anymore. When we moved house I got really upset that my Dad wouldn’t know where we lived anymore, if in some way he could ever come back (I’m actually welling up typing this, the thought still gets me). When I changed my car it occurred to me that he wouldn’t know it was me if he saw me driving down the street. I still have his phone number in my mobile, and cant being myself to delete it, just in case he managed to get in touch. All daft thoughts, I know. (Also, can you imagine how freaked out I’d be if my phone rang and “Dad” popped up?!)
I can’t imagine how that grief must be magnified if you lose a partner.
We went to Dubrovnik last week, me and the husband and Dad’s wife. And we talked about Dad, as we often do. We knew he’d be happy that the 3 of us are so close and that Julie (Dad’s wife) travels with us. But there’s that ever present reminder that the 3 of us are together because Dad isn’t here anymore.
Grief can hit you at any time, unexpectedly, it can take the shine off your day; zap your mood from hero to zero in an instant.
But it can also bring back happy memories, reminding you to think of the good times.
Almost 2 years on and I’m still learning that, actually, grief is a law unto itself. It doesn’t go away. It just changes over time.
Thanks, as always, for reading. x
I was 13 when my Nan – my Mom’s Mom – died. I spent a lot of time with her growing up, with all my grandparents actually. She looked after me when I was poorly and my Mom was at work, or during summer holidays, or just because. She had an infectious laugh. She used to let me play hairdressers with her grey curly permed hair and made me cheese sandwiches with sweet pickled onions. In summertime she would sit in a deckchair in the garden while I made up songs and dances with an upturned mop. We’d go for afternoon walks where she’d nose in other people’s houses as we passed. She always had a tin of broken biscuits in the cupboard. She was ace.
Inevitably though, when I think of my Nan, I always come back to a similar memory which makes me feel sick with shame even now, 27 years on. My grandad used to homebrew beer and lager. He had a set up at home with all the kit. And one day me and Nan went to the local town and she had to buy him a new brewing container, like a big plastic bin. On the walk home (Nan didn’t drive) I was carrying this big plastic bin, in a black bin liner, and it was bashing against my legs and it meant I couldn’t walk on the wall like I always did when we came back from town. So I was grumbling and whinging and Nan took it off me and struggled herself with the other bags as well.
If my Nan was around now, or probably even at the time, she probably wouldn’t have even remembered that day. She certainly wouldn’t have held any grudge and would tell me not to be silly. I was just a kid after all, probably about 10 or 11 when it happened.
But it weighs heavily on my mind, and I can’t help it.
I have a different type of guilt when I think of my Dad. I’m sure I did lots of shitty thoughtless things to him when I was a kid, but there’s nothing huge that springs to mind. There was the time, after he and Mom had divorced, that I was supposed to go out to lunch with him (it was his birthday or maybe Fathers Day) but I’d been out clubbing all night and fell into such a deep sleep that I missed my alarm and all his calls. I do feel bad about that, but in later years we talked and even laughed about it. That’s one of the “good” things (if you can call it that) about him being terminally ill and knowing that time was limited. We got the chance to say all the things we wanted to say. I apologised for things like the afore mentioned deep sleep incident. I brought up anything that had upset me or played on my mind but I’d squirrelled away, because that’s what people do, and he was able to explain situations and put me at ease. I can’t imagine losing someone suddenly and having unfinished business or unanswered questions.
The guilt I have around losing my Dad is mainly connected to what I’ve gained as a result of his death. He was a very switched on and organised man who was saving towards his future retirement, which he was supposed to enjoy with his wife. And obviously his diagnosis stole that from him; from both of them. So I was in the position of losing my Dad at what I think to be a young age, certainly prematurely to what I ever feared but also being left some money. Money that I didn’t need, didn’t want and certainly didn’t want to inherit in such fucking tragic circumstances. Money that, his wife told me, he wanted me to have for my future in the absence of him having a future. The only thing he asked of me, before he died, was not waste it. I know he meant spend it on shoes!
There’s a huge amount of responsibility that comes with inheriting money as a result of such a life changing loss. The thought of using it towards enjoyment when it existed purely because my Dad had died was unthinkable to me. But having money sitting there doing nothing isn’t what my Dad would have wanted either. He wanted me to enjoy it and benefit from it. So we’ve used some of it towards our home. We’ve been able to stay in our chosen area and buy a property with the intention of having building work and renovations done to make it into a perfect home for us. We couldn’t have done that otherwise (well we could, but we’d be living on dust and in a building site while we saved up enough money to do the work we needed). My Dad’s gift has given us a home and garden that we love with all our heart (so much so that we don’t go out anywhere near as much as we used to!) It has given us some financial security and an investment in our future, because the work we’ve had done on our house will increase the value as the years progress.
But how can I be so happy with something that has come at such a huge personal cost? The dichotomy between loving it, and hating the situation that made it possible. Knowing that the person in my life who would have been THE MOST EXCITED for us will never see it. He’d have been involved every step of the way; wanting photos, listening to our builder woes, telling us to give people a kick up the ass. He’d have walked in and done his amazed face where his eyes opened really wide and he said “WOW. Just WOW”. He’d have walked backwards and forwards and around and said things like “I tell you what…” and not finish the sentence because he’d spotted something else to look at. He’d have opened and closed and opened our bifold doors and said something like “these are a bit smart”. He’d have listened while I told him about all the different birds that come to our bird table and how my hydrangea is growing back after a cold winter. His eyes would have crinkled up at the sides like they did when he was happy and he’d have hugged me really tight.
And all of that would have happened because of the money he gave us, but can’t happen because the money he gave us is because he died.
It’s a headfuck.
I feel so lucky to have a wonderful home, but so unlucky to have been afforded it in the way it’s happened. All I can be is thankful and grateful to him. To do him proud. To have invested the money wisely in property, and not in my wardrobe! To be happy and settled. To share it with family. To make it a welcoming and lovely place to be. A place he would have approved of. To try not to feel guilty, because what good does that do? Gratitude is much more useful than guilt.
Somehow though, just like the feeling I have when I think about my Nan, it’s something I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to shake off.
Thanks, as always, for reading. x
I’ll be honest, I don’t know an awful lot about Stephen Hawking. I know that he was an incredibly intelligent man with a capacity for knowledge, analysis, understanding and comprehending the world and the universe that most people will never come close to. I know that he never allowed himself to be defined by his disability, and overcame physical limitations to be able to share his incredible brain power.
But, in the wake of his recent death, these are the things about Stephen Hawking that resonated and will stay with me.
This. Always this. Never stop learning, questioning, reading and wanting to know more.
If one of the most intelligent men of our time can understand the need for assisted dying, and the need for the taboo and secrecy behind it to stop, then why can’t our government?
I would suggest that they adhere to the first quote and read more about the process, the people involved, public opinion, and the heartache of individuals and families denied the right to choose death instead of prolonged terminal suffering.
Thanks, as always, for reading. x
It’s been a month today since my Dad died. Those words…they hurt. Some days I can say them quite matter of factly. Others, not so much.
On the day he died I couldn’t see as far as the end of the week, let alone further forward. A month seemed a lifetime away. But here we are. We’re surviving. Adapting. Doing him proud.
I wanted to share with you a whole host of things that have happened in the wake of Dad’s passing. Weird things. Stuff that, on it’s own, might seem just a coincidence. But, together, it seems much more. I’m not at all religious, I don’t believe in heaven (it would, after all, be so over populated by now!) and I’ve never truly believed that anything really happens after death, although I do struggle with the idea that someone can live a life full of laughter, memories and experiences and then it just ends and becomes nothing. Maybe that’s because I don’t want my own life’s work just to be snuffed out when the time comes, and I don’t want to think that my Dad’s character and zest for life just completely disappeared as he took his last breath.
I wouldn’t say that the things I’m going to tell you about have changed my views. But they’ve certainly made me think slightly differently.
As you know if you’ve read this blog for a while, my Dad had cancer, diagnosed in May 2014. It was already inoperable by the time it was detected and we’d been told the end was not far away back in August this year. He was starting to deteriorate quite rapidly and was due to go into a Macmillan hospice on the day he died. Early that morning he had a massive stroke and was rushed to hospital. I received a call telling me I needed to get there urgently.
Dad struggled on during that day, much longer than we all expected, right into the night time, sleeping or dosed up on morphine. All the family were there, in a private room with a big window. During the afternoon we heard a dull thud at the window and saw a tiny pretty bird bounce off the glass and land on the flat roof below. Rather than fly away he just sat there, looking at the window. He was like nothing we’d ever seen, certainly not a common bird, with red and orange markings on his head. He sat there for quite a while, before flying at the window again. The next day my Dad’s sister sent us a message saying she’d identified the bird – it was a zebra finch, known as the bird that sings while it sleeps. Weirdly, my Dad’s wife realised she had them as pets when she was a little girl.
When my Nan received a call to get to the hospital, that same morning, she noticed a white feather on the wedding photo she has of my Dad and his wife. When she got in the car to drive over, there was a white feather on the windscreen of the car. The morning after my Dad died, when someone came to visit, we found a white feather on the floor in the lounge. Most of the family have had feathers just appear to them, including three that fell in the garden and caught Dad’s wife’s eye while she was in the lounge with Dad’s Mom and his sister (one feather each), and one that was perfectly placed in her bed when she pulled back the covers one night. Even my Mom, who divorced my Dad many years ago but spent time with him a few weeks before he died, had a white feather appear on her lounge floor when she got back from holiday.
After Dad died, when we left him at the hospital, we went back to his house in the early hours of the morning. His wife originally said she wasn’t going to let anyone know immediately, then changed her mind and sent some texts to friends. A guy my Dad worked with about 20 years ago, who is now a hospital porter, text back immediately to say that he’d been called to take my Dad from the ward to the mortuary, and that he’d looked after him professionally and personally. Of all the people and wards in the hospital, the chances of that are pretty slim. It was a great comfort to us.
On the day we went to register Dad’s death, the registrar turned out to be a lady that Dad’s wife used to work with, who she hadn’t seen in years and didn’t know her whereabouts. The first thing she said was “I remember you, you married (my Dad). Who’s death are you registering?” Her face fell when we told her.
As Dad got more and more poorly, he asked me if I would like one his watches to keep. I kept putting it off, not wanting to face the inevitable, thinking there was plenty of time to have it. A few days before he died he told me to fetch the watch and insisted I have it there and then, which I did. I wore it on the day he died, and for the next few days after that, before noticing it had stopped, at some point, at 10.55. Dad died at 10.40. Maybe just a coincidence, albeit a close one. Then we realised that on my Dad’s wife’s watch it was 10.55 when he died. She’d noticed earlier in the day that her watch was fast, and not altered it.
(to add more significance to the watch story, my Dad had his own Dad’s watch in a draw for many years after he – my Grandad – died, and decided to wear it on his wedding day. It hadn’t been looked at or touched for years, so he took it out in advance of the wedding in order to replace the battery. The watch had stopped at the time he was due to get married, and on the same day (5th). He took that as a sign and didn’t replace the battery, wearing it as it was).
On the day of the funeral, a multitude of things happened.
I wore the watch my Dad had given me, that had stopped. I hadn’t worn it for over a week, and noticed it had crept forward a few minutes, in spite of me not replacing the battery.
Not long after we left home, I was saying hat I thought there would be a lot of donations from people at the funeral (we requested donations instead of flowers). One of the charities we chose to support is the Retiired Greyhound Trust. My Dad won a lot of money on greyhound racing over the years and owned lots of different racing dogs. As I said it, we saw a man walking a greyhound down the road. The husband had never seen a greyhound being walked as a pet before.
We went to my Mom’s house first, and I told her the strange coincidences that had already happened. I was talking about white feathers and how it seemed I was the only person in the family not to have received one. I realised I’d forgotten to put earrings in, so my Mom suggested I see if my little sister had some. As I opened the jewellery box, there was one odd earring – a dangly white feather. A coincidence, or a sign? Either way, it made me cry!
Finally, as I mentioned, my Dad was very into greyhound racing. A lot of his friends from the track were at the funeral, and at the wake in the pub afterwards. They all sat together and had the local race track streaming on their phones, betting and enjoying themselves as my Dad would have wanted (and as he’d have done if he’d been there!) Late afternoon they called me over and said there was a race coming up where they had a good tip, on a dog called “Bonny Lass”. Quite a few of them were betting it, so a few of my family got involved, as did I, betting £25. The form was that if the dog came out of the trap well, it would win. It didn’t, it came out poorly. A couple of the guys actually said “it’s got no chance”. But that dog came from behind, bearing in mind the race was about 30 seconds long, and it weaved through it’s race companions and it only bloody won! Photo finish, but it won! I won £100, the husband won £100, family members and friends won, it was amazing! Not only that, at the end of the race a beautiful full rainbow appeared over the racetrack, and also outside the pub we were in. It was like my Dad sending us all a win, and a big smile to let us know what he’d done.
Am I bonkers for thinking these things mean anything? Maybe! If they were happening to anyone else, would I think they were significant? Perhaps, perhaps not. And I don’t think any of these things mean my Dad exists in a parallel universe or is in heaven or anything like that. But it’s nice to think that somehow, some way, it’s a continuation of the energy he exuded in life letting us know that he’ll always be with us, even though he can’t be.
I miss him so much.
Thanks, as always, for reading. x
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.
I already miss him so so much.
Thanks, as always, for reading. x
Discombobulated is such a great word. I’m a big fan of great words. Succulent is my absolute favourite word. It’s just so juicy and good, it actually makes my mouth water.
Anyway, discombobulation. That actually isn’t a word (according to my spellcheck). But it’s the state I find myself in at the moment. I’m all at sixes and sevens (stupid saying). Nothing feels quite right.
- Work isn’t quite right. I feel like I’m failing. Or not excelling. And I don’t know what to do about it. I lack enthusiasm and feel a little bit overwhelmed. I can’t keep playing the new girl card because I’ve been here for 9 months now. But I feel like I’ve lost my creativity and vision. Gone backwards somehow. Not in terms of my job but in terms of my approach. It’s hard to explain.
- My approach to life isn’t quite right. I have lots of good intentions around eating, cutting down on booze, living more virtuously. But none of them are coming to fruition. I’m struggling to break out of the eat, drink and be merry frame of mind.
- I’m totally overwhelmed by the mammoth amount of stuff that I own. And how to whittle it down so I can live in the space I have without having a floor-drobe. I’ve had the intention of downsizing my personal belongings for so long now that it’s not even funny. Last year I thought I’d turned a corner with clearing out and Marie Kondo’s approach of “if you don’t love it, get rid of it”. I even blogged about it in an epiphany of “this will change my life”. But I still find myself with bags of stuff to ebay just in case it has some value. And things that I won’t part with just in case. It’s maddening!
- Death. David Bowie’s death has affected me way more than I thought it would. I’m not a David Bowie fan, as such. I mean I like him and respect him and enjoy a lot of his music. But somehow him dying is really playing on my mind. Everything is changing. Constants that have been there since my youth are changing. Cancer is fucking scary. It killed David Bowie and it killed Lemmy. My Dad has inoperable cancer. It’s too much to comprehend.
I know that all these things are just life. And people deal with all sorts of headfucks every single day. Maybe it’s the combined January effect. Maybe it’s Christmas withdrawals. Maybe I’m just feeling a bit screwy.
But discombobulated sounds better. So I’m going with that.