10 Years – Dealing With the Loss of my Dad
My dad died at the age of 51 from lung cancer. And when he died I wasn’t there.
Today is 10 years since my dad died.
I’ve previously written about my dad, which did also touch upon how he died. But it’s not something I’ve spoken much about in details – at least not in public.
I was going to visit Ireland for the first time – on my 17th birthday. I was visiting my first love (FL) who was living in Ireland at the time.
I knew my dad was sick. I knew that he was dying, having been declared terminal by the doctors a few months before. But they’d given him until Christmas, and although he was constantly in and out of the hospital, that had become the norm. So when he was once again in the hospital the day before my trip, I wasn’t too worried, and his doctor also comforted me, saying he didn’t believe anything would happen to my dad while I was gone.
Well, if this were fiction, you’d already know where this is going.
I got to say goodbye to my dad properly. And I felt guilty about this, because my mum and my sisters didn’t. When I visited him in the hospital the night before my birthday he was clear headed. We talked, made sure there was nothing unsaid between us, nothing left to apologize for. It wasn’t the first time we’d done this; it had become our norm while he was sick. Once, I had rushed back to his bedside in the hospital, needing to make sure I said goodbye properly, just in case I wouldn’t get another chance.
He told me to not come back from my trip, even if he got worse. That he’d seen family members who’d been sick and the family had been called in time after time for false alarms, and he didn’t want that. He made me promise I’d stay and enjoy my time there.
So off to Ireland I went – and for the record, fell in love with the country, which is why I chose to move here 2 years ago. It was my first time meeting the parents of FL, and they were lovely and welcoming – his mum had made me a birthday cake.
Very early on my third morning there, the phone rang. It was my mum.
His parents had given me the spare room, next to FLs, but being youngsters he’d sneak in for the night. So when my mum called way too early in the morning (she’d gotten the time zones mixed up and had thought we’d be ahead of Denmark, rather than behind), and his parents came down, they went to his room first – to make sure he’d be awake to comfort me. Only there was the whole awkward situation of him not being in there, but rather in my room.
As soon as I heard there was a phone call for me, I knew. I felt numb, I can’t remember if I cried. I knew he was dying, but the actual moment felt like a shock anyway. I imagine it always does.
His mum made me a cup of tea – my first cup of tea with milk in it and I couldn’t bring myself to say, I didn’t like milk in my tea (I have since learnt to enjoy tea with milk, and even to prefer it). Not that it mattered; I don’t think I had more than a sip or two.
My dad had quickly gotten worse after I left. The day after my birthday he’d drifted into a coma, and late the next evening he’d passed away.
I’d made a promise to my dad, and my mum agreed that I should stay for the duration of the trip. FL arranged to accompany me home and stay for a couple of days for the funeral, something I’ll always be grateful for.
The rest of the trip was a blur; I was supposed to meet some of my first love’s closest friends that day, and they must’ve thought me awfully quiet, since I mostly resembled a zombie, going through the motions.
But there were really wonderful times too. Life doesn’t stop when a death happens. And one thing most people don’t understand (at least until it happens to them) is that losing someone doesn’t mean you can’t laugh or feel happiness. Nor does laughing mean that you’ve forgotten or don’t miss that person anymore.
Amongst class mates and acquaintances – in “public” I suppose – I felt like I only had a period of 3-6 months where in it was “okay” for me to be upset about the death of my father – and wherein it was frowned upon if I laughed or was happy. After this grace period, I was expected to be over it. But the loss of someone so important to you is not something you get over. It gets easier, but it never gets easy.
It has been my experience that learning to live with a loss of this magnitude is a process, and it has its ups and downs – and it continues to have its ups and downs for years afterwards. They might get a little smoother over time and start skewing towards the upside, but that doesn’t mean the downs aren’t real.
To this day I take my “trigger” days off from work; the anniversary and half-anniversary of his death, his birthday. The days I know from experience, that if I do not take them off I’ll end up sitting in work staring blankly on the screen trying my hardest not to cry.
On the other hand, just taking those days off gives me the space my mind need, and I’m usually okay. I think about my dad, and remember him, but I am much less likely to feel the acute loss that my mind forces on me, if I try to make myself to go on as if nothing significant had happened.
They say time heals all wounds, I don’t believe that’s true. Dealing with, working through and taking action helps heal the wounds – and even then, you’ll always have the scars to remind you what you’ve been through. And that’s okay, it’s part of life and frankly I think there’s beauty in the scars and in the stories that shape who you are.