A year after my dad died
My dad died a year ago today. I wasn’t looking forward to this anniversary: I thought it might be a difficult and painful day, but so far? It’s fine.
He’s very much on my mind today, obviously, and there’s some sadness (no upset, just sadness, and that’s how it’s always been), but sadness is fine and appropriate.
Being with my dad during the time he was dying was a very beautiful and holy thing, and I think I will always be grateful for the blessing of being there through that process. Watching that transformation – and being part of a small, very loving group who almost nursed that transformation – from someone who is alive and breathing and vibrant to someone who no longer is those things was a real gift and an honour.
The things that I remember clearly about my dad’s death change and shift. I’m always struck by his sheer will to communicate even in the very last hours: the way he made it clear to us he wanted to be held; the way he made it clear that what he wanted to hear was that we knew how much he’d loved us all; the way – let’s be honest here – he made it clear that it was absolutely time for some more whisky.
I can’t forget the sheer humanity and compassion and love shown by the hospital staff in those last days. There is no other word for it than love. There is nothing we could have wished for the hospital to have done, no way we could have wished for them to handle the situation, that we didn’t get. There are big things I remember – the speed with which someone arrived when we did need them to do something, and the fact that the rest of the time they left us alone. And there are tiny things – the red knitted bag they put over the drip containing the drugs which were allowing my father to die gently, so that what we saw was domestic and warm and cosy, not medical and potentially frightening.
And I’m constantly struck by how much the things we were saying – things we didn’t plan saying, because who knows what will take over when you’re with someone who’s dying – how much those things mirrored the things one hears at a birth. “You’re nearly there. You’re doing so well. Not long now.”
Being there, for that event, and being there with my mother, and brother, and former partner, was, honestly, a sad and difficult and exhausting but important and sacred and beautiful thing.
And now? Well, there’s stuff I wish he could have known, but there are no regrets. They are wishes, not regrets. His death was an easy one – he did go gentle, and I’m glad of it – and his being-dead is also sad but right.
I wish he could have known that we’re all okay. That we miss him and love him and think of him, but that we are, honestly, okay.
I wish he could have known that my mother – of whom I am not only hugely fond but enormously, enormously proud – has done more than ‘made the best of things’, and has been forging a new, different, but active, life for herself. That she misses him, but that she is able to see the things which she can now do that would have been harder before, and that she’s making a point of doing them.
I wish he could see the new – different, but not better and not worse – relationship between my mother, my brother, and myself. I wish he knew my brother stays at their house every single weekend, and not because he feels my mother needs looking after or because he feels he ‘should’, but because he wants to. I hope he knows I’ve colonised ‘his’ armchair, and that when we’re all there together it doesn’t feel like there’s a dad-shaped gap, because it’s okay as it is.
And I really wish – we all really wish – he could have known the sheer affection and respect he was held in. He genuinely never did know that. If he’d known who would turn up at his funeral, and what they’d say about him, and how far they would travel and what they’d say in their cards to my mum, he would have been shocked and stunned and moved.
I wish he could have seen how much people love and care for my mum, as well. He would have been in his element when the plaque honouring their work was unveiled at Wells Youth Hostel, and part of his enjoyment of it would have been the palpable feeling of affection towards my mum.
And there are small things I wish too. I wish he knew Cat went to the best possible home for her, and that his motorbikes (which sat in the garage for at least 20 years irritating the hell out of my mother) went to someone who will appreciate them and love them, and that his clothes went to the Open Christmas and that my mother has determined to always have a vase of flowers in the house for him.
I wish he knew people can still laugh, a lot, when they talk about him. That we still know how frustrating and cross and frankly childish and annoying he could be, and that we still know he had a temper, and that those things make no difference to how much we loved him.
And I wish he could have known – because there is no limit to the smugness he would have felt and to how annoying he would have been about it – how my mum has taken to Quakerism, and how much support and sustenance she has got from it. Actually, that one perhaps I don’t wish he knew. One of the things I’ve found important is remembering how frustrating and cross-making he could be, and he would have driven us all, frankly, insane on that matter.
I wish he knew that I’ve lost my certainty that there is nothing after death. I wish he knew how much I felt him around in the first couple of weeks after he died, and that he knew there was a point in the middle of one night when I knew his spirit, or his soul, or something, wanted to finally go.
But none of those wishes are regrets. We were in the unusually lucky position of having the time, in the knowledge that he was dying, to tell him the things we wanted him to know. The things he doesn’t know are the things that have happened since he died.
But I don’t wish him back. I don’t wish any of it hadn’t happened. I don’t wish any of it had happened differently.
And because I’ve lost my certainty about there being nothing after death, do you know what? In my head, I’m going to revise all the times I’ve said “I wish he knew” and change it to “I hope he knows.”