385 days have passed. Sounds like a long time when you say it like that but for me and my family it might as well have been yesterday.
Grief is a funny thing. One minute you’re driving singing along to some daft pop song on the radio and suddenly you see something or a thought pops into your head and you have to pull over to the side of the road and let the tears come.
For me it’s the sight of a Silver Peugeot Estate car that can reduce me to a sobbing mess. Sometimes, for just a moment, I forget and in the time it takes the thought to form ‘oh there’s Eddie’ my heart is already sinking with the realisation he’s gone forever. I have this battle on an almost daily basis.
I still want to pick up the telephone and rattle on nine to the dozen about everything and nothing and after half an hour he’ll tell me he was actually in the middle of something.
I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself here and should explain, if anybody is reading this, what I’m talking about.
One year and 20 days ago the man I considered my Dad passed away. Diagnosed with an aggressive advanced Cancer and dead within 8 weeks.
He walked into my life (Thanks to falling in love with my Mother I should say) when I was 8 and over the next 30 years he would become my enemy (I think my teenage years drove him to utter despair), my best friend, confidante and my biggest champion.
We butted heads often – two strong minded & opinionated characters who could never agree on any single issue from politics to music. We didn’t even share the love of the same football team. During my trying and very difficult (for him) teenage years I made a point of liking everything he hated. If he tried to offer me advice on anything I ignored it and stumbled blindly on. In short I was a brat.
But still he stayed. He was there when I had my children, celebrated when I graduated, showed everybody, even strangers in the pub, my very first byline story in the local paper and boasted about his ‘Crime Reporter daughter’ whenever the opportunity presented itself.
When I had a series of serious illnesses in my 20s he was there throughout every horrid experience and diagnosis. You’ll fight it he would say. You’re strong. You can take it. The same words that I would utter to him many years later.
Nothing was too much trouble for him. As I said in his funeral euology ‘Eddie’ became the byword for favour. Even when in horrific pain, before we knew how ill he was, he was still looking after everyone else. That’s just the kind of man he was.
But it took me until I was in my early 30s to realise how much I had taken him for granted.
Anyway I’m sure you get the drift of how important this man was. He was something and everything to a lot of people. If only it hasn’t taken his death for me to realise that.
When Eddie fell ill it was a gradual process of realising something wasn’t quite right. By the time the doctors took notice of what we were telling them it was too late. One week before his diagnosis his GP was still telling him it was a muscular problem.
Faced with his own mortality and a terrifyingly short future he tackled it as he had everything else. His feelings stayed private. He was more concerned with how everyone else would cope. He drew up a bucket list – well, not really a list as such. Simple things that he wanted to do. Once he realised time was marching on relentlessly he asked us to take him for a fish supper in Anstruther, a stay in a 5* hotel and ice cream – lots of it. Every day as much as he could eat. To hell with my figure he said.
I’ve made a career out of tragedy. I’ve sat with grieving relatives whose children have been lost to horrific crimes, I’ve held the hands of victims of sexual assaults as they related every excruciating and painful detail to me. I held dying children in my arms as their desperate parents told me of their very fight for survival. I could go on and on with examples but my point is I thought I knew what heartbreak was.
Sure I’ve cried many times for those poor souls I’ve written about, I’ve marvelled at the human spirit and their ability to get right back up when life throws them against a brick wall and I’ve rejoiced when their broken, sad souls come back to life.
How arrogant was I to think after a long career reporting the worst of human life that a little thing like Cancer or Death or indeed grief was going to get the better of me?
Which brings me back to my original point of Grief being a funny thing. During this period of mourning you wonder if you are ever going to come out of this black hole. You learn to come to terms with it. It’s something you carry with you every waking moment of every day. It never goes away. You could be sitting in a pub full of happy cheery people and you’re making the right noises, the right gestures maybe even joining in but there’s a part of you filled with deep sadness that in its intensity can be overwhelming. I live in a grief bubble that gets popped on a regular basis.
During those first few awful weeks I hated seeing people smile. How could they be so rude as to smile when your heart is being ripped into a thousand pieces? How could people even think about everyday life when he was gone? I wanted to scream from the rooftops that life had to stop because Eddie was gone. How dare people live their lives. In those first few selfish days of being wrapped up in my own grief I just wanted the world to stop and for people to actually realise this strong powerful presence had been snuffed out and to be sad about it. I wanted his death to matter to more than just me or his immediate family. I felt quite mad at the time. A dear friend, who’d experienced the loss of a parent, warned me grief would make me feel as if I was losing my mind at times. How right they were.
My family had a double whammy – actually a quadruple – but more of that later. Just 3 weeks before Eddie, the family matriarch, our beloved Nana, died. Gone. No chance for goodbyes. Her passing was shocking in its suddenness and came at a time we were all already exhausted and struggling to cope with Cancer.
I remember having to go to the hospice and tell Eddie his beloved Mother-in-law was gone. His bravery, while he was facing his own death, blew me away. Wracked with pain he insisted on seeing her one last time. Barely able to walk he insisted on going to her funeral and pay his last respects. How he must have felt when he looked at the sea of faces wondering if we’d all be gathered together sooner rather than later for his own funeral. He never said. I never asked. I wish I had.
I remember his soaring tenor voice – he’d always fancied himself as a singer – determined he was going to out-sing us all in the chapel.
I remember his joking and laughter at her wake and I especially remember his comment about joining her soon.
If only I’d known then what I do now.
I’ve never much been interested in writing a blog. For someone who can talk the hind legs of a donkey I’ve never really had anything meaningful to say. My job, while it can be interesting, speaks for itself with every story that is published. My life is really not that exciting that I’d a) want to write about it b) people would want to read about it.
But today, 385 days since he died, I realised that perhaps by writing down what I’m feeling it will help. After all he, himself, was never happier or prouder when I’d show him my latest literary efforts.
I can just see him now shaking his head and saying ‘yeah but I didn’t bloody want you writing about me.‘
And I hope that in some small way anyone who reads this and who is experiencing death, illness, despair and pain will realise their passage of grief is a shared experience.
Death affects us all at some point. If you’re really lucky you won’t experience it until much later in life. And if you’re especially lucky you’ll come out the other side a little battered and bruised but stronger for it.
My arrogant thought that time is a great healer came with a deadline. I listened to my Mum today and I realised the Grief Journey has no time limit. We’ve still got a long way to go.