If I close my eyes for long enough, I can still see him in his chair.
Last night, it struck me again. I’d just turned in for the night and settled when wham! That great big wall of grief struck me, completely unannounced. There was no warning, no sirens or flashing lights, just an all-consuming tidal wave of emotions. It was a simple thing, a stupid thing. Wolfie sighed contentedly and it reminded me all too much of something Mum had told me about before: My father’s last breath.
For those of you who by now know me, hi, hello and welcome back. For those of you who don’t, here’s a quick recap.
My father passed away on 7th March 2019 after a short battle with Multiple Myeloma which became leukaemia, along with sepsis. He was given six months to live with constant dialysis, nasogastric feeding and a whole slew of drugs. Along with that, we were told he may never wake up again because of some of the medicines that he’d been given. They’d bought him out of a drug-induced coma once, and his behaviour was so erratic that they were forced to sedate him again. As hard as it was, for his quality of life, the family decided that the kindest thing to do was to stop the life-prolonging treatment and let him go.
A lot of things have happened in the past year that has been in some way connected with my grief, I reconsidered my desire to step into the funeral directing business having walked in front of a hearse (voluntarily, might I add) for the second time, A cousin of mine is now estranged after her behaviour at my Dad’s funeral and I attended my first interment of human ashes. A lot of these things give you a quiet pause for reflection, about who you are, and exactly where you’re headed.
Something that a lot of people don’t tell you about losing a parent is the sudden realisation that you’re next. You’re biology clock is ticking, and you have to make the most of living. I’ve matured faster in nine months than I have in my whole prior thirty years of existence.
The other thing that nobody tells you, is that it’s always the small things that catch you unannounced. It’s not the fact that your loved one is dead but rather it’s the memories of them ever existing. It’s the memories of all of the tiny things they did, the things that made them, them. For me and my Dad, our greeting was always “Alright, Boos?”, said with emphasis on his nickname for me, ‘Boos’. To That, I would always respond with “Alight, Pops?”, again, emphasising fully on the ‘Pops’. It was almost spat, but then, it was just the thing we did. Grief can hit you in some very peculiar and unexpected ways.
If I close my eyes for long enough, I can see him in his chair; my whole family can, we can see the folded wooden table which was always cluttered with everything he needed. We can still see the way he’d lean his elbow on it, his finger on his chin, the way his finger would play with his grey stubble while he contemplated his decisions.
“I was thinking, love” he’d begin. There were always two considerations to Dad’s “I was thinking” moments – How much room would it need, and how much money would it cost?
My Dad was always a thinker, an insightful man. He didn’t talk first, Dad would listen and then consider his move. I’d taken on after him in that regard. I’ve always said, that if you took a board and split my family down the middle, then my father and I would very much be on one side, and my mother and brother on the other. Now that Dad has passed, I find myself very much an outer part of a cluster of nutters, a family in which I sort of feel like I don’t belong. Even if we’re united in our grief, we all grieve in different ways.
I doted on my father from a very early age. Anything that Dad did, I wanted to do, too. It didn’t matter what it was, I wanted to do it with him. If he did DIY, I wanted to learn. If Dad was boat fishing, I’d be pacing the harbour wall and wanting to be out there with him (I never could, I get horribly seasick). Even if Dad was only driving to ASDA, I’d be in the passenger seat sharpish.
It sounds clingy, but I was right where he wanted me to be. I wouldn’t throw myself onto his adventures, he’d invite me.
“You coming down the shed?” he’d say. I d drop my toys and run down the garden like my life depended on it. What were we doing today?
I wasn’t there at the end, and that’s the biggest regret that I now have to live with. I’ve been assured by my brother that it was unpleasant and he’s glad that I wasn’t there, but that doesn’t dissuade the guilt I feel inside. He was there at the beginning of my life and he believed in me, but when the time came, I wasn’t there to say goodbye to him.
“Shut up, before I fucking hang you!” I shouted as I snapped on the dog’s lead. He’d seen a cat further down the street and that was all he was interested in. Looking back, of course he didn’t understand, but the world seemed so raw and unfair at that moment. How could life go on like normal while my father was knocking on heaven’s door?
For Matt and I now, grief is a horrible thing that connects us both. We’ve both been through it, at a seemingly too-young age. I believe that losing a parent in young adulthood (or worse, childhood) does shape you; you haven’t had time to learn the life lessons that they could share with you, you don’t have the time to learn all of the things that they want to share with you or to share the memories with them that you planned to share. I feel bad for all of the young people in this world who are judged for who they are but lost a parent at a young age, either to death or brutal divorce. At the same time though, I can’t help but feel a sense of anger or resentment towards people who are older than me, but that have both of their parents. It’s jealousy, I know what it is, and I know that my Dad would not be proud.
Perhaps the other part of grief, for me, is not only the grief that I feel for my Dad, but the pain I see my mother go through, too. I’m terrified of the day that I lose my Wolfie. As hard as it is not to think about it, I pray every day that I don’t get a phone call, that he comes home safe and every sniffle is just a sniffle. I see my mother pine for my father nearly every day on Facebook and it tears my heart into little pieces. I understand the longing that she must feel and the confusion that she describes. I understand the feeling that she feels when she says that she wants her husband and that no other man will do. Wolfie is my Wolfie. He may not be Brad Pitt and he may not be Albert Einstein, but he’s funny, he’s kind and to me, he’s always been attractive. I don’t want any other man, I want my Wolfie. My mother doesn’t want another man, she wants her husband, my father. Love and marriage does that to you. You don’t marry (or at least, not usually) just to find a replacement. You marry because you love someone deeply. They’re irreplaceable.
When it comes to grief, my mother quite recently gave me some solid words of advice of her own – “the only way out is through”. It’s so fucking sound, and bless her, even if she can be a bit of a control freak with rainbow coloured hair, that’s some sound advice right there. The only way out of this grief is to go through it. The only way that I can find peace again and to live and make Dad proud again, is to go through it. It hurts now and my heart yearns for him so much, but I know that one day the wounds will one day stop bleeding, I know that one day they will close up and heal, and though I may be scarred by this incredibly painful part of my life, I will finally be able to go on living again – exactly as Dad would want me to.