Holiday blues

Being the first day of Half Term, and considering I am exhausted and lucky enough to have the house to myself, you’d think I would be pretty content today.

As my title suggests, I’m not.

I’ve been having a Dad day. I think about my Dad everyday in one way or another, but often they are fleeting glimpses of a memory or a recollection of his loss. I acknowledge the hurt but I tell myself to move on: I have too many people relying on me to dwell.

But today I can slow down: no school for a week. So the flood of emotion I have held at bay breaks its dam and consumes me.

I sat in my living room, oh so still, the only movement the rise and fall of my chest and the trickle of tears. I let it take over me. I pictured him in my mind… In hospital and at home. The funny things he’d say and do. And I swear, as I cried, I could almost feel him hugging me – the memory was so strong.

That was this morning. My eyes are still stinging and puffy from the tears. I feel even more tired than before. And the anxiety-ache has taken residency in my chest again.

You cannot escape grief. You can’t ignore it or out run it. Because just as the strength of your love for your loved one with never wane, neither will the grief. You just learn to build a dam around it.

In our grief we are not alone.

A morning smile.

I don’t believe I’m alone in avoiding going to bed.

Daytime usually means I’m occupied somehow: work, housework, family, friends. Of course grief has, and still does, hit me from time to time and I think about Dad a lot. But during the day – certainly during the week – they are usually fleeting heartfelt thoughts.

That’s how I’m coping. I need to carry on.

Nighttime is different. The minute my head hits the pillow and my eyes close, the grief hits me hard. Memories, thoughts, regrets… they play in orchestral fashion, bittersweet and lilting or tumultuous and powerful.

Mornings are similar. I no longer wake up to the stab in the heart as I realise and remember he is gone. But I always wake up thinking about him, somehow.

I know I look tired. I look at myself in the mirror and I see that grief has aged me. I’m tired and pale and I have bags under my eyes. Ah well.

This morning, however, I woke with a smile. A memory of something my Dad did, from a little girl to adulthood… A joke that he replayed with every daughter and every grandchild. It made me smile as it did when he was alive. A memory of him which was vibrant and beautiful. Unforgettable. Something that was uniquely him.

I was told in bereavement counselling that this day would come. That the positive and beautiful memories of my Dad would shine through. The image I’ve had of my Dad, for so long, has been of a tired, sick man. It was good to think of him as he really was: strong and funny.

Smiles are good.

Dad

He walks in shadow

amongst the trees, the plants,

along the grass, the paths.

His memory hammers nails

into old wood and carves

beauty from the raw.

His sounds echo around

this house, this home,

awakening pain but fueling

love.

This home was him, is him

and although he’s no longer

here, his shadow and light

and love, remain.

Biscuits and cake

Dad would have been 79 today. Some of you will be thinking ‘that’s a good age’. Compared to some, it absolutely is. Dad lived long enough to see his six children married and meet his eleven grandchildren.

Of course, it’s not long enough for me. I wish no one ill-will but it has crossed my mind on more than one occasion, when looking at other healthy – and admittedly – elderly people, that it’s just not fair. I’m 38 and I have lost my Dad. My youngest son, who is still trying to understand death, said the other day that he misses his grandad. “He gave me biscuits.” My dad would have laughed at that – he often laughed at things my son said and did, even when he was poorly, but it’s sad that that will be the enduring memory my son will have. He’s only four, I know.

Thoughts of my Dad have been all encompassing this week, probably in anticipation for today. I’ve searched through photo albums for pictures of him. I could only find birthday pictures of him from 2015 which was really upsetting until I realised that it was because I had usually made his birthday cake so I would be the one holding it as he blew out the candles.

Dad looks well in the picture. Four years ago, in 2015, he had been diagnosed with cancer but had already had his operation to remove part of his lung. His COPD was being controlled, he was still relatively active and he hadn’t yet been diagnosed with prostrate cancer.

Looking at those birthday photos and then of the last photos I took of him before he died, I’m glad he didn’t reach 79. My Dad was a very poorly, frail man in the end. He was unhappy and frustrated. Part of him gave up and I don’t blame him for that. He had no choice – his body was giving up on him.

Tonight, just as he would have wanted, my sisters were here. We had food and I bought chocolate cake, just like Dad would always ask for. Then in the dark and snow, by torch light, my sisters and I walked to Dad’s garden. This is what we made after Dad’s death and we feel close to him there, in the place where he has lived for over 50 years; on the land he had ploughed and sowed and loved; in the flower garden we planted in love and grief. By torch light we toasted him with champagne. We said Happy Birthday and told him we love him. We cried and laughed at memories of things he always said on his birthday.

I still can’t believe that my Dad is gone. I can’t accept that I won’t see him again – a part of me still thinks that this will all end.

Cherish the ones you love. Appreciate them when they are well. Take lots of photos. Make memories and traditions. Because when they’re gone, this is what they leave behind.

I’m lucky to have had such an amazing Dad for 38 years. I’m lucky to have so many happy memories and treasured traditions from my life with him. This is why I love, and miss, him so much.

Happy Birthday Dad. Xxx

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

I’m so tired.

As I discussed in my last post, last week was very much about me trying to prove myself again at work. I put the hours in both at school and at night, often working until 11.30pm. What then resulted, as I’m sure you could have guessed, is my computer- screen-fried brain then couldn’t relax into sleep despite my complete exhaustion.

With no humour at all in my voice, I can completely understand why someone might be drawn to alcohol.

I dread going to bed. I lie there and the weight of my world lies on me. Thoughts of Dad have been prominent, as have my concerns about work. Tomorrow would have been Dad’s 79th birthday.

I can hear him asking if I’d like some help carrying his present in, or if I’d need a wheelbarrow as it would be so big. He’d want no fuss but wouldn’t be happy unless we were all around him with a nice chocolate cake to finish off the evening.

I’m so sad. All I want it is a hug off my daddy.

Tomorrow’s don’t seem to be getting any easier at the moment. For every day that I feel that I’ve got through or worked hard or been successful in, there are far too many more where I am fearful or griefstricken or anxious.

I’m not sure what else to write.

It’s been too long since I’ve seen him, but it’s been no time at all. Tomorrows stretch on and on and there’s no chance that I will ever see him again. How do you get over that? I still don’t have any answers.

I’m told it gets easier. It isn’t. Not today anyway. Not tomorrow either.

From the heart – questions of grief

I find it ironic that I started my blog when I felt I was about to start a new chapter in my life. My marriage was over, lost forever, and whilst I believed (and still do believe) that it was the right decision, the time is marked by sadness and grief but also wonder and promise of how my life could change.

The irony is, I suppose, that I didn’t get there. That I lost something else. That now, even more than then, my life has to change. And of course now, I wish it didn’t.

My life exists on two plains now. The first is the every day. It’s a well worn treadmill. I walk it, run it, crawl through it, each and every day. The scenery is pretty much the same. I get up, I go to work. I come home and care for my children, my pets and my house. I see family and friends. I pay bills. I watch TV. I eat too much.

Of course my life is not exactly the same. The treadmill has shifted ever so slightly. My previous view has moved infinitesimally, so that only I know that it has changed. To everyone else… Well, to the outside world, everything is the same as it ever was. It’s a dream world of repetition.

The Other plain is the here and now. It’s sharp. It’s clear. It smacks me in the face and hits me in the stomach. It’s realisation. It’s the truth.

I can be on that treadmill for eternity. It can look the same. I can live an almost identical life. But it will never be the same. That knowledge is clear.

I have so many unanswered questions. Questions that can never be answered now.

Did he truly know how much I loved him? Appreciated him?

Did he know he was dying that day? Did he know we were trying to hide it from him?

Could he hear us when he died? Hear our cries of ‘I love you Dad’? Did he know that we sat with him til the end, holding him, loving him?

Can he see me now? Is my grief hurting him and stopping him being at peace or is he content knowing that one day we will be together again in a better place?

Do I really believe that? How will I get through this if I don’t? Why do I feel like he’s near me sometimes if he isn’t?

When will this get easier? Do I really want it to? How will I live the rest of my days without him? How can I be strong for my children when I can’t be strong for myself?

When will my day to day life become a reality again – when will I feel normal again?

Chaos

I’ve been back to the doctors today and he’s given me another week off. He listened to me sympathetically (he is an amazing GP by the way) and took the bombardment of what I felt was a pretty confusing description, and said that I had a ‘chaotic mind’. It’s pretty spot on.

Brace yourself… I’m going to attempt to explain what I told him.

We buried Dad five days ago. I don’t feel any different than I did before we buried him and I fully expected too (and I don’t mean better, just different). The only difference is that I’m not worrying about the funeral itself anymore, I’m just anxious about receiving and burying the ashes.

Excluding the day he died, I have muddled my way through the past few weeks. It doesn’t feel like a few weeks since he died, more a few days. I couldn’t tell you what I’ve done in those days, other than organise a funeral and fume over the insensitive selfishness of my half brother and sister – but that’s another post. I have barely cried since that first day. I start to fill up then stop. I’m not actively deciding to do that but clearly my mind is.

Part of me knows he has died, that he is not coming back, that I won’t see him again. That part of me feels the heaviness of grief but still won’t allow me to cry. This part of me looks forlornly at the place where he sat, hugs his jacket at night just to feel close to him.

Another part of me categorically does not believe this has happened. It’s a bad dream. He is coming home. I will see him again. When I feel sad, the mantra starts in my head “it has not happened, it has not happened, it has not happened.” The same voice answers my “Goodnight Dad” and “Love you Dad”, just like I said every night, with his reply in his voice.

The final part of me is stamping its feet, telling me to sort myself out… People die everyday. He had a good life. At least he isn’t suffering anymore. He couldn’t have gone on like that. It was for the best. You’ll feel better after the funeral. You’ll feel better when you get back to work. It will get better with time. This voice is telling me to pack away his belongings because he is not coming back and you’re just kidding yourself: you need to move on. It’s telling me to get on with my life and be grateful that I had such a wonderful Dad for so long.

Chaos.

All these thoughts are racing around my head, fighting to be at the forefront. My self defence mechanism is working overtime to dam the flood of pain that is lodged in my chest but it’s not really happening so that I don’t lose control again.

I can’t think about the actual moment of his death it didn’t happen but equally I can’t imagine holding his strong hands – and I worked so hard at remembering how they looked and felt in mine. It didn’t happen.

I want to run away, scream, stamp my feet, shout, yell.. And be alone. I want to think, to feel.

But I’m scared to be alone and need the love and comfort of my family and friends, because I haven’t lost them so I want them close. Even though they are getting on my nerves and I want to be alone. But I don’t want to be on my own.

Chaos.

My GP reassured me that this is normal. A version of normal. Everyone’s grief is different: it depends on their personality and the relationship with their loved one. He reassured me that I’m not going mad. I just need time. I need to let myself think and feel. This period of self preservation and denial will not last forever.

I just miss my Dad. He is the one I would have spoken to about this, the one who would have given me comfort and advice. I miss my Dad.

So, I tell myaelf: I’m not having another breakdown. I’m not going mad. I’m just beginning to grieve losing an amazing and constant part of my life. I’m OK, I will be OK. It’s OK to feel. It’s OK to cry. Because I loved my Dad and he’s gone.

Secret garden

I had an ever-expanding play area as a child. First there was the back yard, flanked on three sides by buildings and walls and on the final by a rustic fence made by dad (everything my dad makes is rustic). The yard was a patchwork of red brick and I remember a time when my mum asked me to try to get the weeds out, that habitually came through the cracks, with a blunt butter knife. It was good for wheels though: ride-on vehicles propelled by young, strong legs; a black and white metal rocking horses that sat lonely in the yards for years after we stopped playing with it; rollerskates and tricycles.

Then, as we grew, the drive became our playarea. We ventured out through the rustic gate of the yard and on to a gravely drive which stretched alongside the back yard, the house and the front garden, and then back down towards the big shed where dad’s farm machinery was kept. The drive was flanked by a long beech hedge that in the future would have a leafy arch to the caravan we had many a happy holiday in. Ivy grew up the wall of our house, and there was also an old English rose bush whose blooms–a delicate, soft pink – had the most amazing fragrance. Towards the front end of the drive, near the front garden and at the end of the house, was a pair of large wooden gates that shut off the drive but never did, and that were perpetually open – unless we were swinging on them.

The remaining overgrown beech hedge, now a tree

At an unknown age, we ventured further out again. At the other side of the beech hedge was a secondary drive for the tractors and a paddock beyond that one day would have our much loved ponies. This secondary drive continued down past a line of sheds and dog pens on the right, and the greenhouse and fields on the left. Eventually it would lead to the fields where Dad grew vegetables, fruit and flowers. We rarely went as far as the fields in our younger years, unless we were with Dad. But this drive, compacted by the wheels of farm machinery, was great for riding a bike down.

The sheds mainly contained chickens and on the other side of these sheds, away from the drive, there were little doors which Dad would open to let them into the secret garden.

We were not allowed in the secret garden for a long time but we could peer through the knot holes in the tall gate and peer in. Enclosed on three sides by sheds and on one by a tall hedge that marked the boundary of our small holding, it seemed a wondrous place to my imaginative mind not least because we were not allowed in it alone for so long.

There were only practical reasons for this of course – Dad didn’t want us to let out the chickens – but to our young minds, this place became a space of wonder and excitement. Maybe this is why, some time later, Dad gave this space to us; the rest of our farm-playarea forgotten.

Of course, as anyone who has kept chickens will know, ‘garden’ isn’t the correct word to describe this place. The ground was compacted earth. There were few flowers, only wild ones that grew in the hedgerow, or the blossoms on the huge pear tree in the corner. In the centre of the garden was an old plum tree whose boughs would weigh down with its bounty of fruit each year. My memory fails me a little here, perhaps from lack of knowledge, but there was some sort of machinery, or huge metal tubes, I’m not sure what, but I know we used to climb on or through them, making them part of an assault course. Dad made us both a swing, my sister and I, one hanging from the bough of the pear tree, another a stand-alone swing made from telegraph poles. We would spend hours on those swings, twisting them and then releasing them so that the world would spin in dizzying excitement or simply swinging with our faces to the blue, blue sky.

These memories came to me this morning as I walked out through my garden, to the area where the chickens now roam. Over the years this property has changed a lot, not least from a small holding to a large garden, a tall line of evergreen trees blocking off what used to be the fields of my childhood and which now house an industrial estate.

Dad and I designed the garden together, and I realised this morning that its design, a series of brick paths leading to various secret gardens and archways are all steeped in the past. Each part of the design came from my happy childhood, not my imagination.

Over the past years with Dad’s declining health, the majority of the garden has overgrown and gone wild; apart from the area adjacent to my home, the extension built on the old gated drive. More recently, my sisters and I have been working hard to clear and tidy this garden, and again I realised the seat of my reluctance to remove the newly uncovered arches and pathways in preference to a large grassed space… Bland in my eyes. Although vastly different to the land of my childhood, each brick pathway and secret nook leads me back to my childhood. And as I fed the chickens this morning, begrudgingly, cursing them as I looked at the bare earth they have scratched, I understood why my sisters love them so much as I love the now uneven paths and overgrown trees. These things are our link to our happy childhoods, a path to our dad who is in hospital again, on his own path towards the end of his life.

Valuing time

Not long after the ambulance had pulled away, my other sister (my youngest sibling was supporting Dad in the ambulance) arrived. I quickly went over the evening’s events again. Looking at her, I could see the worry and grief of a month of Dad’s illness in her face, her eyes, her posture. I know she can see it in me too- I can see it well enough in myself.

She left soon after to get to the hospital so she could see Dad before work. I lay on the couch, exhaustion making me drowsy whilst I simultaneously waited for news and a more reasonable hour to wake my children’s dad to ask he could come over and watch them whilst I went to the hospital.

I was in the hospital by 8.30am. Compared to the other three times Dad has been taken by ambulance this month, he looked reasonably well. Before long he was taken to an assessment ward while we waited for repeated bloodtests to show whether he had had another heart attack.

Dad was very grateful and apologetic for us staying with him, and for all our support. We kept telling him that we wouldn’t have it any other way: Dad is there for us no matter what the problem.

My sister and I told Dad about the various friends we had who had said how much they love our Dad. One friend of my once said:

“I’ve never really had a Dad. But if I could picture what I’d want in a Dad, it would be yours.” Praise indeed and well deserved.

He’s stubborn and a little old fashioned. He’s stuck in his ways. He still treats me like a teenager if I come home later than he thinks I should. He gives me advice whether I want it or not. He is usually right.

He shows me love every single day. He makes me feel special and loved and worthy. He makes me feel proud of my life because he is proud of me.

I honestly don’t know how long I have with Dad. Part of me is fighting desperately to make the final stage of his life a happy one, but I don’t know how. Other than to show him and tell him I love him every single day… It just doesn’t seem enough.