This is the second part of my post on the time that I lost my dad. In the first part, I wanted to share the backstory of how it all happened. In this part, I would like to talk about how I dealt with the loss at such a young age and what it has taught me. Get yourself comfy, get your cup of tea ready, and let’s get going with it.
I was 11 years old and in my final year of primary school. I was going to be starting high school the year after. We were moving house to a place that my dad has always wanted and life was good. Now, I was stood in a room being told that one half of me was no longer here. Gone.
He had been very sick a year previous to his death. Christmas day 1999, he was in hospital with pneumonia. He made a full recovery and surprised me by coming home on New Year’s Eve. We stood outside and watched the fireworks as the New Year chimed in. It was the millennium. A year to remember, for more than one reason.
Unfortunately, he didn’t fully recover from his illness. He had a pulmonary embolism which is what killed him. He picked a bird-table up in the garden and the embolism shot to the brain-stem. Thankfully (I know it’s bizarre to say that you’re thankful for something in this), he had died before he hit the floor. At least he had no pain and he didn’t know anything about it. He was 37 years old.
In the months that followed, every day seemed to merge into one. Time didn’t exist for me. Every day was the same thought process. Why had this happened to me? I’d always been a good boy, so why had my dad been taken away from me?
On the morning of the funeral, I felt like a celebrity. Our entire garden was covered in flowers from well-wishers. There were so many flowers that we had to use the garden next door too. I was stood at the top of the garden path with my mum when, out of thin air, a brigade of motorbikes and trikes roared their engines and came around the corner. I still to this day cannot describe the overwhelming feeling of emotion that I got from seeing that. I was speechless. He was loved by so many.
I got to the church and watched them carry my dad’s coffin into it. I walked down the aisle behind my mum. Everyone was there. There were over 200 people packing out the church and lining the street that it was on. When I was walking down the aisle, I remember everybody staring at me and smiling. I didn’t want to smile. I was just blank. I sat down on the front pew and stared to the left of me. My dad was inside that box. I wanted to rip it open and get him out and say
“It’s ok guys! He was just having a nap!”
That wasn’t the reality. The reality was real, and it was happening to me. After the service had finished, they played ‘Bridge over troubled water’, my dad’s favourite song. We then went to the crematorium. Again, sitting down on the front pew, I looked to the front of the room. My dad’s coffin was laid out on a table with red curtains either side. The vicar held the service and pressed a button. The curtains started to close slowly. As I watched the coffin become engulfed in red velvet, inch by inch, I sobbed harder and harder. I could hear my mum’s tears, which just made it worse. Finally, the curtains had taken him, and I never saw him again.
In my personal opinion, my childhood stopped on that day. I was stood outside the crematorium. Everybody was trying to make us feel better and I just needed some space. I slipped away and hid behind a big pillar, away from everybody. I looked to the ground and there was a massive flower tribute to my dad from one of his oldest friends, in the shape of his punk-styled head. At that moment, I decided to grow up. I wanted to live my life helping others, just like my dad did. I saw it as a way of keeping him alive in my mind. I wanted to finish what he set out to do.
I went through a rebellious stage after my dad died. I was very angry that it had happened. I didn’t blame anyone for it, but that didn’t mean that I was going to be laughing about it. I was pissed off and I wanted my dad back. Only, he wasn’t coming back, so I had to get on with life.
In the new year of 2003, me and my mum relocated to a different part of the country. It was the right time to leave. Everywhere we looked, we saw him. Everyone we saw knew us as the wife and son of my dad. I couldn’t escape it. Everywhere I went, everyone would be asking how I was coping and reminding me that I had lost him. I didn’t need reminding. I became very angry when people asked me about him all the time.
It was great, to move to a part of the country where nobody knew who you were or what you had been through. I’m pretty sure that right now, there are still some of my friends who don’t know this story. I guess they do now.
It took me a very long time to let go of the anger that had built up over the years. I was full of it. It controlled me. It stopped me from making friends and greatly affected my relationship with my step-dad, who I will talk about at a later date.
Fast forward to a few years and I was 16 years old. I had just finished my exams at high school and failed all of them. I just wasn’t interested. I was still angry and still stubborn. Hanging out with my friends on street corners, drinking and smoking was far more important to me than getting an education. I was at my high school prom, dressed like James Bond in a tuxedo with two of my friends. I kept thinking about my dad that night. He never got to see me start high school, let alone see me go to my prom. It was all so unfair. I used to look at my friends with their perfect families. Perfect being that their parents were alive. It made me very bitter.
I decided after I failed my high school exams, and the re-takes at college that I wasn’t very academic. Therefore, I went into full-time work. I worked my ass off in every job that I could. Most people my age were going to university and living the student life. They all moved away and I stayed put, working myself to the ground, bringing in a wage and teaching myself the importance of being independent. I have had a job since I was 13 years old. Some people are cut out for academia, and some are not. I am not, but that does not mean that I am stupid by any means.
With every long shift I started at work, every time I felt tired from working too much and with every morning that I woke up at 6am, I set about making my dad proud. He had worked for everything that he had in his life. I was going to do the same. I found that the more constructive things I did in my life, the les it hurt to think about my dad being gone.
I have dedicated my life, since I was 11 years old, to making him proud of me. He never got to see me past primary school. He missed out on seeing me go to ‘big-school’. He missed the first time that I kissed a girl. He missed out on the first time I kissed a boy and came home in tears when I was coming out of the closet to my mum. He missed me travelling the world for years and learning another language.
Every single thing that I have done since losing my dad, I have done for him. It keeps him alive in my mind and in my heart. He is gone in body, but he remains with me every day, in everything I do. When you lose someone, it is perfectly acceptable to feel angry, sad, depressed and low. It is a perfectly normal thing to do.
However, there comes a point that you have to stop, stand still and accept that you need to move on. I don’t mean forget them, but you have to live your life. Life is for the living, not for the dead. Hiding the pain gets you nowhere. Being honest about how you feel gets you everywhere.
This month, on the 29th, will be 14 years to the day that I lost my hero. I don’t dwell on the sadness of the date anymore. It’s just a day. It doesn’t mean that I should sit at home and cry about the loss I have been through. I make a point of doing something on that day every year to celebrate the life of him. Last year, on that day, I was in china, ravelling around a different province with my friends. I went to the ‘wish-tree’, which is a tree that you write your wish on and thrown it up into the branches. If you throw it up into the branches and it stays in there, your wish comes true. If it falls down, then it isn’t the right time for it to happen. I wished that my dad would somehow be able to see the things that I’ve done, both bad and good, and somehow be proud of me. I threw the wish into the tree and it never came back down.
Life throws these things at us sometimes. I don’t have the answers as to why it happens. It just does. It would be easy for me to sit here, 14 years on and curse the powers that be for taking someone so pure as opposed to the rapists, the murderers and the paedophiles that roam our planet. That gets you nowhere.
As frank as it sounds, you have to move on. You have to get on with your life. Curling up into a ball does not bring them back. Making a shrine to them does not bring the back. Not moving their stuff after 3 years does not bring them back. They aren’t going to wear those clothes again. They don’t need them. You don’t need them, eventually.
Everything turns out to be ok in the end. I’ve not had an easy life, but then again, when I sit and reflect on the asshole boyfriends that I’ve had, and the abuse that I went through, or the shit that goes on ‘tit-for-tatting’ in my everyday life, it all becomes irrelevant when I put it into perspective.
These days, I do not talk about the death of my dad. This is the first time I have been brutally honest about what happened and how hard it was for me. However, it isn’t something for me to dwell on. Now, I walk the earth with a smile on my face. It’s what he would have wanted.
To the lovely lady who took me back to her house and my surrogate aunty who looked after me on that fateful day: Thank you. It can’t have been easy to put on a brave face when you knew what had happened, and for that, I owe you both everything for looking after me.
There was once a man that lived. He lived a full life but was taken too soon. He lives on through myself and my mum. He has never left. He will never leave so long as I live my life to the fullest. Life is difficult at times, but always remember that wherever you are, and whatever you do, a parent’s love for you never dies.
Click here for the next instalment.