It’s been nearly five years since my Dad died. When it had just happened I thought about him, his death and his illness that preceded it a lot.
As time went on, in the few months after it, I began feeling guilty if I hadn’t thought of him that day. My belief was that if I didn’t dedicate time to thinking about him and how much I missed him, I was a bad person.
However, as they say, ‘life goes on’, and obviously you go through various stages of grieving.
Then one day, or week you realise you haven’t thought about the person. Same I guess when you’ve had a relationship breakup – you go from having it dominating your thoughts to popping into your head on occasions.
Last week I was feeling quite melancholic; and as I sometimes do in such a mood, was looking at certain things I have that ‘connect’ me to my Dad. There’s not loads but the things I have mean a lot; a postcard he wrote to me when I was a kid; holiday journals we’d made together as family many years back; his penknife. Things that become far more poignant when the person is no longer with us. There also a couple of photos which I will always treasure of us.
Anyway, as I do sometimes, I Googled him. I already knew the first couple of hits would be his Wiki page (that my brother set up) and his old work profile. It’s always a mixture of reassuring and a bit odd to see his work page still live.
Now, to put things in context, before my Dad got ‘ill’ (Motor Neurone Disease), we weren’t really close. That isn’t to say that I didn’t love him or him me, more that we perhaps didn’t see eye to eye about some things. Also it probably didn’t help that when I was younger I was somewhat of a pain in the arse and my issues with being bipolar put a strain on everyone.
I’ve been very fortunate in life, at least prior to Dad dying, not to have experienced much in terms of death. Whilst my two Grandads had died some years prior, I had never experienced losing someone very close to me.
When Dad was first diagnosed, it was almost funny – I had never heard of MND before. I Googled it and because I always skim-read stuff, I missed out the ‘terminal’ part. Doh!
When I did realise what it meant, it fucking broke me. It broke all of us but especially my Dad. MND is shit; not only it it progressive and uncurable, but it’s also terminal. There’s no ‘it will get better’, there’s no magic cures, there’s no getting away from it – you’re fucked.
For my Dad, MND was especially crushing; here was someone who was independent, physically in great shape (loved hiking, always cycled to/from work, didn’t smoke, didn’t drink). He loved his job, he loved his family, and has no reason to think he’s not going to live out a long life well into retirement.
Significantly, he was also scared of death. That may sound like a silly think to say, but it just wasn’t something he could think about.
So with that in mind, the diagnosis ripped him apart. For his family, including myself, it was tough, as was the illness and the implications of it.
I have absolutely no idea what it must have been like for him, knowing what was going to happen and knowing there wasn’t a damn thing he or anyone else could do about it.
I won’t go in about the illness too much. You can if you want Google MND. Suffice to say, it’s horrible.
If there is one good thing to have come out of it, for me at least it was that our relationship improved. A lot. We never spoke about it but over the next two years or so we built up a bond that I will cherish forever. I was incredibly fortunate as I lived literally down the road from him.
I’ll be honest, there were days when I deliberately stayed away – either I couldn’t handle seeing him deteriorate like that, or that selfishly I wanted to just have my own life away from that side of things.
In July 2006 I ran my first marathon – San Francisco, raising money from the MND association. My Dad was very proud of me for this. I will always remember hearing the voicemail after I’d just finished and him congratulating me on my time (he’d tracked me online) and the emotion and pride in his voice. Whilst I ran for myself and my own challenge too, I also ran for Dad. I used running during his illness to get away from things, to unleash a lot of anger I had about things.
In August 2008 I ran the marathon again (this was a few months after he’d died). I took with me one of the photos of us I mentioned earlier. He couldn’t be with me in person but he was there in spirit.
Probably about a year after he died, the anger just seemed to drop away overnight. I was still sad but I didn’t feel pissed off at the world/universe any more. And I started to take stock on things. What I found interesting (and amusing) was that I could now see that actually Dad and I had quite a lot in common. Not in terms of music or anything (hahah) nor tattoos/piercings, but in terms of personality traits. My Dad (and I’m not slagging him off here), was stubborn, pedantic and quite arrogant. He also didn’t care too much about living his life how other people wanted him too.
I also started feeling gratitude – for having him as my Dad, for having been able to spend quality time with him before he died, and to have genuinely got to appreciate time with him. When you KNOW someone’s going to be leaving, time becomes both faster and more important. Conversation becomes more poignant, time more precious.
I have massive respect for my Dad and the way he handled his illness – here was someone who worked literally until his death; who loved his family (especially his grandchildren) immensely and didn’t want to leave that. He held his sense of humour until the end (I vividly remember the week before he died, he’d just been hooked up to oxygen and stuff. He typed out into his speech synthesiser thing “whoo hoo it’s party time.” GENIUS!)
In the last week I played piano for him one last time. Although he enjoyed it, it also upset him – I guess because he knew that was going to be the last time he heard it. He asked me not to stop.
The last thing I ever said to my Dad was that I loved him. I can’t ask for much more than that.
I ‘missed’ Dad dying by literally a minute. For months afterwards I was convinced I’d let him down by not being there at that moment (he was with my Mum and one of his carers). Later on I came to realise (though I can’t prove this) that he didn’t want me there at that moment; either because he didn’t want me to see it, or because he wanted it to just be with my Mum.
The last email I ever had from Dad was in January 2008. By then any email would have been a total pain in the ass to type (using just a thumb and one-click keypad) which made them all the more valuable. I’d emailed him about finding an old scrapbook, he responded
“makes you realise how much of our lives are lost because we do NOT write them down…”
And he’s so right. Which is why I want to get into regular blogging.
I’ll always miss my Dad. There’ll be days (even weeks) when I won’t think about him. But he’s there, part of me and will be forever. I’m blessed to have and had him in my life.