Today is 13 years since my dad died. 13 years. It feels like a lifetime ago. As the years go on it has gotten easier (but if you had told me that 13 years ago I probably would have slapped you) but there will always be a dark cloud over today and this time of year is always bittersweet.
My dad and my maternal Grandmother died 10 days apart and it was a really tough time.
My dad was a good man, a fantastic father and loving husband. He was a proud Scotsman who loved his golf. He was the life of the party.
I’m an only child and I was very much daddy’s girl.
In August 2005 he had a Stroke and didn’t recover.
Doctors could never really give us a clear prognosis of what to expect for the future. After multiple operations, infections and another Stroke he just got worse.
He was in hospital for 3 months before we had to move him into a nursing home. He was 60. Now 60 isn’t old. 60 year olds shouldn’t have to go into nursing homes. But there was no other option. He wasn’t sick enough to stay in hospital. He wasn’t well enough to come home and he wasn’t deemed fit for rehab.
We visited him every day, morning & night, while still trying to maintain some sort of normal life. My mum would visit in the morning after her night shift as a Nurse. I would then go after work and we would go together on the weekends. It was exhausting but it became the new normal.
He was able to breathe on his own but not move much, or talk and had to be tube fed. It was so sad to see a previously healthy, happy vibrant man reduced to a vegetable like state.
Every time the phone rang we expected “The call”. But as much as you think you can prepare for that, I don’t think you ever really can.
My nan on the other hand was 90 and had always been sickly. While it was also sad to have to put her into care, it was made worse that her and my dad were both there.
I don’t think I realised at the time how hard it was for my mum to see her mum & her husband like that. It took me a few years to realise just how different our grief was.
Mum later told me that she just wished her mum was well enough to understand and comfort her when dad got sick and then wished dad was able to understand and comfort her when her mum passed.
I sat with my nan and held her hand while she passed. She was surrounded by her loved ones. My dad died alone.
My mum maintains that dad willed himself to die so he didn’t have to stay in the nursing home. I agree.
I don’t think the grief fully hit me until a few months later. Everyone is there for you then they aren’t. People don’t realise its in the months or even years that follow that you need the support. The flowers, the food deliveries, the calls and messages to ask if you are OK. They all come at once and then they stop.
Mum and I escaped Sydney for Christmas that year and went to Thailand. We had been there the year before for a family trip and dad loved it. Little did we know it would be our last trip as a family of 3.
We returned in the new year and I went back to work and just carried on as normal. No one told me it was OK not to be OK. I was 24 and feeling very lost.
We planned a trip to my dad’s hometown in Scotland for later in the year to honour his wishes to scatter his ashes.
I didn’t realise it at the time but I was depressed and I had developed social anxiety. I was also drinking a lot and self medicating and all together just not in a good head space. My poor mum was trying to hold it together for me and I don’t think she ever fully grieved properly.
Again- no one told me it was OK not to be OK. I just wanted to fix it. Any way, any how. I went to counselling, group grief therapy. You name it, I tried it.
I hated everything familiar and quit my job before we left on our trip just because I hated that everyone knew what I had been through.
So off mum and I went to the UK & Europe and had a good-as-can-be-expected-under-the-circumstances trip. Being over there around my dad’s extended family made me feel close to him and I was happy to be away from everyone in Sydney.
I decided to stay away for 2 more months travelling around “Trying to find myself”. Travel I did, find myself I did not. I remember looking out of my hotel in London after returning from a trip around Eastern Europe and it was so cold and miserable and I thought “I just want to go home”. It took being away from everything familiar to realise what I was missing.
Again my poor mum. At the time I didn’t care that she was now home alone. All I could think about was me.
So once again regular life resumed. I went back to my old job and another year rolled on. All the firsts are hard- the anniversaries, the birthdays.
The next year I formed some unhealthy relationships, moved out of home and partied way too much. I was looking for anything to make me feel better and again nothing did.
Sadly a few friends also lost a parent around this time and we bonded over our grief and I think it helped to talk about it and share experiences.
I don’t think I really came to life again until I met hubby in 2008.
As we started to build our life together my mum also seemed to come to life. She started being more social, travelling more and it was so nice to see her looking happy again.
But grief comes in waves and some days its debilitating. That literal heartache. So you cry, you cry a lot. You get angry and sad and everything in between.
To this day my mum and I don’t (can’t?, won’t ?) cry together. She gets upset and I comfort here, and vice versa. Its like we block each others pain so one is always the strong one. I don’t know if this is good or bad.
Someone once told me “The pain doesn’t ever really go away, you just learn to make room for it”. So true.
Everyone has a different experience and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. I do believe the circumstances play a part. For me, and I know for my mum, there is a lot of guilt and “What ifs?” and “If only’s” around the way things happened. But I try not to dwell on that or I just go in into the darkest of places and its sometimes hard to come back from that.
Mostly I’m OK. We are OK. But as the years go on it feels like Dad was never here sometimes. That he is a legend, a myth we talk about and tell my boys about. But he was real, and he was so loved and is so missed.
I keep replaying our last proper conversation together. The morning before he had the stoke we had been arguing. We were very alike and clashed a lot over silly things. I can’t even remember what about but I had asked him to look at my car engine for me before work. As I drove off he said (in his thick Scottish accent) “Love you, you cranky wee shite”. “Love you dad, cya later”.
That afternoon my mum called to tell me she’d just found my dad and suspected he’d had a stoke. I rushed home and had no idea at the time what was to follow.
Tell your loved ones how you feel. Hold them tight. It sounds so cliche but you seriously never know when it might be the last time.