Dad

Death isn’t beautiful or romantic. It’s not Marley & Me or The Boy In Striped Pajamas. It’s sitting by a bedside, for hours that feel like days, listening to vital signs machines that shrill like Las Vegas slot machines but where no one is winning at this game of life.

Death isn’t always terrifying or harrowing. It’s not The Ring or Scream. It’s doctors rushing you out of a room, overhearing hushed voices whispering, ‘He’s unresponsive, what’s the next step?’ and bedside manners that are most impolite.

Death isn’t rare or that surprising. It’s not always the elderly, or tragically – the young. It’s being diagnosed and within a week taking your last breath. It’s losing 2 parents in 2 years.

dad death grief

It’s a weird thing, being so familiar with death. I’m not a paramedic, or a first responder or a doctor that has to tell 2 daughters that there’s nothing more to do for their father. So how do I know it so well?

I have a ‘Grief’ category on this blog, FFS. Because they are the cards I have been dealt. A familiarness with death that has grown once more in the last two days.

When you have conversations about death with others who have experienced it, there’s often two schools of thought.

At least you had time to spend together and make the most of your last moments.

or

At least it was over with quickly and they didn’t suffer.

But death can’t win either battle. Because whichever side your experience sits on is always the wrong one.

When you have conversations about death with medical professionals, it loses its emotion and can feel like the strangest meeting you’ll ever find yourself in. With doctors trying to say every other word in their vernacular other than, ‘death’ and you hearing every single word as it.

When you have conversations with each other, those who are experiencing the death, it’s full of emotion. And business. Sadness and administration.

‘I can’t believe we don’t have any parents.’

‘Does he even have money for a funeral?’

‘Do you think he knows and is scared?’

‘Do you think that vending machine will take card as we don’t know how long it’ll be before he leaves us and we must leave.’

‘Why is this happening to us again?’

‘Will we lose the house? Who do we contact?’

And then there are the feelings around death.

The sadness for the person who is dying. Can they feel it? Are they scared? Were they ready? Do they know it’s happening? Are they in pain?

The guilt over your relationship with the dead. Did I make him comfortable? Did he hear that I told him I loved him? Did I spend enough time with him? Even though we had some very deep problems and resentment going back years, did he pass thinking that I hated him?

The overwhelming feelings of loneliness. Your family circle that now represents one other – your twin. Suddenly being the heads of the family. Having to deal with things that parents normally would deal with except you now have none. Having to answer questions your parents answer except now it’s you under fire.

The worry for the one who is left. Will my sister be OK? In 2 years she’s lost a Mum, a baby and now a father – how is she still standing? Can I get bereavement counselling for her? How will she cope not seeing him every day?

The feeling sorry for yourself. And everything life has thrown at you. And the fact you’re basically an orphan (except LOL you’re 31). The pressing weight and constant thought of, ‘Why does all of this happen to me?’

The selfishness of death. This is the last thing I need. I can’t work because I’m too sad so my work will suffer. I have a holiday in 2 weeks, the funeral better not fuck that up. Now what am I going to do?

The mistiness towards the future. Who will walk me down the aisle? What will we do at Christmas?

The admin. The fucking admin.

It’s something that you never see in sad BBC One dramas or American movies where the heroine loses someone. The death certificate. The registering. Meeting the funeral directors. Choosing a casket like you’re flicking through the Argos catalogue. Selecting photos, writing a schedule and printing off Orders of Service. Picking songs for the funeral that are meaningful but not depressive, hopeful but not funky. Calling other family members and having to tell them you’re sorry for THEIR loss.

Did you know you get little booklets? When someone dies, you get given a leaflet. It’s literally, ‘Death for Dummies’ and it helpfully walks you through most of the admin. But it doesn’t call the Government to notify them for you, or the banks to close accounts, or the housing people to see if you’ll lose your family home. It doesn’t tell you what words to use to tell people that your parent has died, you have to find those yourself.

Death isn’t beautiful or romantic. It’s getting back ache from sitting on plastic chairs, sitting under neon lights, hearing wailing from beds just feet away from you waiting for it to happen. It’s listening with all of your might to breathing patterns to see if they change. It’s saying, ‘Are you alright Pops?’ every 5 seconds to make sure they’re still there. It’s playing games on your phone while you wait. It’s being on a hospital ward with 5 or more other people, all looking at you and your person, just ogling. It’s the looks.

The looks from the paramedics who comes in to check a couple of hours after bringing them in. Their faces saying, ‘fuck, he’s deteriorating.’

The looks from the doctors forever walking past the bay – their eyes checking the vital machines signs and then meeting yours with their faces saying, ‘I’m so sorry.’

The looks between each other at the bedside saying, ‘we know it’s coming, what the fuck are we going to do?’

The look into your dying father’s eyes where you can see he is in pain and that he’s trying to fight it but you’re just willing him to drift off peacefully so he doesn’t have to be distressed.

But death is hopeful.

When my Mum passed, I didn’t know if I’d ever feel anything ever again. I didn’t know how to navigate life without her. I still can’t fill the hole that she’s left. But it gave me a new lease of life.

Because when you experience the pain of grief you understand that you’ll never feel a pain worse.

You understand that you have been through the absolute ringer and made it out the other side. You understand that you can take on, work through and make it passed anything that life will ever throw at you. You understand that you are the strongest person you will ever know. And you have hope.

So when the time comes and you lose your next parent, you hope that it won’t be as painful. Because this time you’re not scared. You know the drill. You make it through, just like you did before.

And if you’re lucky, death can be kind.

Because people lose their people just as the sun rises and sets and the shore drifts in and back out again. The only certainty in life, is death. So you have a death wishlist. Things that don’t make it? Awful accident. Long, drawn-out, excruciating illness. Heart attack with an aubergine up your butt. The thing that does? Sitting by your person’s side, comforting them and loving them right until their last peaceful breath.

But death can be hollow.

The messages of condolence that come in just a few flavours:

I’m so sorry

Is there anything I can do?

They would be so proud of you.

I’m here for you.

You’re so strong

Sometimes they don’t register. When people ask how you are, you just don’t know. Because, ‘fine actually – bit shit isn’t it? – Haven’t really processed it yet – Just popping out for a pizza and seeing how I get on.’ is not the romantically, passionate out-pouring of a mad grief that most somewhat expect.

And your feelings that turn on and off like a tap may be turned off for quite a while and you may start to think that you’re strange for feeling hollow. For almost being ok. For actually considering still going to the theatre with the tickets you had because why not? You’re not ill. Grief hasn’t killed you. You’re not crying every 2 seconds. You’re operating.

Death can actually be a light.

At the end of someone’s tunnel.

Shining on to people who step up and are there for you in ways you could never imagine.

Within yourself, highlighting the strength you’ve always had but very rarely use.

My Dad died on Thursday 8th March at 5:20am, with my Sister, Ben and I at his side. He spent his last few hours asking us to, ‘turn the TV off’ and being stroked and kissed by Char and I until he peacefully took his last breath in his sleep.

We didn’t have the easiest of relationships but that’s not a story for today.

What matters the most is this… we will get through the pain, the sorrow, the admin, the funeral, the arrangements, the moving, the sifting through of belongings, the birthdays, the Christmases, the weddings, the ageing and eventually our own passing.

And we will do it knowing we both had parents that came from nothing, who often had nothing but who gave us everything they had within them.

We will get through this having each other. We will get through this knowing that death is never the end. It is a hollow, emotional, emotionless light that will guide us, shape us and push us forward because we don’t just have one parent to posthumously love and make proud – we now have two.

Keith Thomas Jones. 27th April 1946 – 8th March 2018. Night Pops.

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20 Comments

  1. March 10, 2018 / 10:15 am

    Wow, Vix. You’re so courageous and honest for writing this, especially so soon after your dad passing away. Your strength and mental capacity to persevere is nothing short of awe inspiring. I’m sure you’ll help so many others going through something similar. Sending you all the love in the world! Xx

  2. Debs
    March 10, 2018 / 10:52 am

    God Vix this was so beautifully written. Really really sorry to hear about your dad. Honestly can’t imagine how you must be feeling but I can imagine writing this has had such a cathartic effect. I love how open and honest you are and I know this post will resonate with so many people. Lots of love xxx

  3. March 10, 2018 / 11:48 am

    I just sobbed reading this, Vix. It was so incredibly touching and really beautifully worded, you’ve helped so many people with this post. I’m wishing you every peace and hope that this journey home for your dad is a peaceful one. Sending you every good wish and love. X

  4. Megan Hobson
    March 10, 2018 / 11:49 am

    This post put a lump in my throat, and a reminder to tell the ones I love that I love them. I can’t imagine your pain, and hope I have some time before I have to feel it for myself. You’ve done this before and come out the other side, you can do this again. I’m so sorry for your loss. ❤️

  5. Romy
    March 10, 2018 / 12:24 pm

    This is so beautifully written, and I’m so sorry you had to write it. I think what you say at the end about pushing you forward is the thing that keeps you going, it’s taking the chances they would have loved to see you take and the opportunities they would have loved to have themselves. Hope you’re surrounded with love and care right now.

  6. April
    March 10, 2018 / 12:46 pm

    I’m in awe that you were able to publish this so soon. My dad passed away last July, and I kept on nodding through out this entire post. It feels oddly validating to read these honest thoughts and feelings on death and grief from someone I don’t know. I read that there’s a holiday planned in the near future, please go on that holiday, I did, and it was great to not operate for a little bit. Again, I’m so sorry for your loss. xx

  7. March 10, 2018 / 1:11 pm

    I could really identify myself with this post. You really put my thoughts and feelings into words. My dad passed away 6 years ago and it was hard at times to explain what you are really feeling. I feel so touched by your story. You put everything so beautifully into words and most of your questions and thoughts were mine as well during those emotional times. Lots of love <3

  8. March 10, 2018 / 1:31 pm

    This is such a beautiful post, I’m so sorry you had cause to write it. I know so well that feeling of guilt for getting on with life, even though you know your person wouldn’t begrudge you a distraction or something you enjoy.
    I hope you’re ok, thinking of you x

  9. March 10, 2018 / 2:58 pm

    Such a moving post, Vix. I am glad you can pour the words out, which hopefully helps you in such a devastating situation. Sending all my love and strength to you and your sister x

  10. March 10, 2018 / 5:09 pm

    My heart goes out to you and I am sending you nothing but love.
    My grandad, the man who raised me, passed away in October and my heart is still completely shattered. There are no words that I can say that would ever comfort you at this time, and I wish I could say that it will get easier, but I am yet to find that myself.
    Just know that my thoughts are with you.

    Danielle xx

  11. Jerry
    March 10, 2018 / 8:09 pm

    I’ve just come across your insta & blog Vix. What lovely words. I lost my favourite person in the world a few years ago. Some days I was fine, some days I wasn’t. I still feel the same all this time later. They say grief comes in waves & I truly believe that. Thinking of you & your sister darl. Jerry (from school) X X

  12. Ottilie Sandford
    March 11, 2018 / 8:50 pm

    Wow, this is such an emotional piece of writing that has summed up death in a way I never thought it could be. I lost of a few close family members in a very short space of time, and found it very hard to put into words how I felt but every single word you wrote is completely true. You are incredible to be able to express emotion in this kind of way which everybody can relate to. Your doing so well, sending you all my love
    Ottilie x

  13. March 13, 2018 / 11:18 am

    Wow what do you say in response to that! Sending you all my love at what’s got to be the hardest time in your life. As you said it helped after your mum’s death, I hope this post also helped even a tiny bit with starting to come to terms with your Dad’s. You’re right, it will be something we all have to survive through at some point, but that also doesn’t make it any easier at all. Thinking of you a lot lovely, Alice xxxx

  14. March 13, 2018 / 2:38 pm

    This is so beautiful written. Thanks for sharing. x

  15. March 13, 2018 / 8:15 pm

    This really couldn’t be more accurate – or beautifully written. I’m so sorry that you have been through this twice – your sister three times – as losing someone really is one of the hardest things in life. Watching those close to us suffer is even worse than our own personal grief and that’s what makes it the hardest I think. The only thing we can do is stay strong for those who are still here <3 Sending lots of love to you and your family xxx

  16. March 14, 2018 / 2:53 pm

    This is amazing, so beautiful and I’m incredibly sorry for your loss. This actually had me in tears.
    Sarah xx

  17. March 16, 2018 / 2:35 pm

    Vix, this was so moving. Your writing is always so excellent and I hope it helped, writing about it that is. I’m sending you, your sis and Ben all the love. xoxo

  18. March 19, 2018 / 6:06 pm

    the way you write about grief is so touching and real. losing a parent is always hard and dealing with death can be so complicated. i hope you’re doing okay and am sending lots of love your way! xxx

  19. April 14, 2018 / 8:38 am

    My Dad died in 2006 when I was 32. It’s a big deal to lose your parents young and I am so sorry for your loss. It took me 18 months to feel like me again after Dad died and I still miss him everyday. I hope you are surrounded by good people that are looking after you and remembering that you still grieve though the funeral has passed. I wish you well x

  20. April 16, 2018 / 1:14 am

    Oh wow. This was so moving. Vix, you are so strong and brave to write about this and you wrote about it in such a touching and real way. I’m sending love and hope you okay.
    x
    Katie