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This is perhaps the hardest post I’ve ever had to write so far. I have a feeling there are even more difficult ones to come over the next few weeks and months. But I have to start somewhere, so I’m starting here.
Some of you already know what has happened. Mainly because I’ve needed to rearrange appointments, or you’ve sensed that something hasn’t been quite right. But most of you don’t. I haven’t been deliberately keeping it quiet, it’s more that I simply haven’t had the words. I didn’t know what to say, or how to say it. I’ve been practising in my head, going through all the different variations of how to explain what’s going on, but nothing has seemed quite right. Perhaps because none of it makes any sense.
I’ve often said that this blog is my personal form of therapy. It’s where I figure out what I’m thinking and feeling. It’s where I try and deal with difficult stuff that’s going on in my world in the hope that my words might also somehow help others who are struggling with stuff in their own lives.
This post is, I guess, a first attempt at trying to understand what has happened.
My Dad died.
I’ve not been able to say those words out loud yet. Even writing them down is hard.
My Dad died.
At 2am, on Saturday 7th February 2015, my Dad died.
I’d spoken to him on the phone on the Tuesday. He’d started a new job and booked a holiday and was excited to tell me all about it. Something seemed off though, and he admitted that he hadn’t been feeling very well for a few days. His legs had swollen up and he was finding it difficult to walk. He’d been to the doctor and had a scan to rule out Deep Vein Thrombosis, then been given medication to help reduce the fluid in his legs and was instructed to go for blood tests. We said our goodbye’s and I-love-you’s and I promised to call him again in a couple of weeks when he had the results from the blood tests.
That was the last time I spoke to him.
On Friday evening my husband and I had settled down on the sofa to watch England vs Wales in the opening match of the Six Nations Rugby Championship. I haven’t bothered to watch it for several years, but when I used to visit my Dad every other weekend when I was younger it was something we always did together – shouting at the referee, cheering on England, celebrating every try, every conversion, every penalty scored.
I don’t know what made me decide to watch it that night, but I did.
Halfway through the first half of the match, the phone rang. It was Annie, my Dad’s wife, very upset. Dad was in hospital. The medication he’d been given to reduce the fluid in his legs had completely contraindicated some other medication he was on and he had been sent straight to A&E. Further testing suggested possible pneumonia on top of everything else. He needed oxygen, and he needed it fast. Dad hates hospitals and goes wobbly at the mere mention of needles, so he was quite cross to be in there. He kept taking off the oxygen mask and pulling out the tubes up his nose. The only option was to get him on a ventilator, and to do that they had to place him in a medically induced coma. He was going for more tests imminently and Annie promised to call me as soon as she knew anything more.
As soon as I got off the phone I started trying to figure out how I could get down to Swindon to be there with him, going through all the possibilities for travel, accommodation and childcare. And it suddenly became extremely important that England beat Wales. (They did, 21-16).
Just two short hours later Annie called me back. The test results had returned and they weren’t good.
Advanced lung cancer.
Dad wasn’t going to wake up.
There was nothing they could do.
I needed to decide right then and there whether I wanted him to stay on the ventilator until I could get there to say goodbye, risking the possibility of him going into cardiac arrest at any minute because his body was so weak, which would lead to a very unpleasant death. Or I could choose to let the doctors turn off the ventilator and let him go quietly and peacefully.
I gave my permission, and Annie gave hers, for them to turn it off.
I sat up into the early hours, waiting for the phone call. Eventually, completely exhausted, I went to bed.
At 7am Annie called to let me know that he had died at 2am.
My world fell apart.
The last two weeks have been a blur. Phone calls to inform family and friends. Phone calls to try and help Annie organise the funeral. Phone calls from people who knew what had happened checking in with me to see how I was coping.
In all honesty I’ve been on automatic pilot. I’ve been doing the things I usually do – taking the girls to school and spending time with them at weekends, seeing clients, holding supervision sessions, doing the food shopping, watching Breaking Bad, scrolling through Instagram and Facebook – but I’ve not really been there 100%. I’m still not. I think I’m still in shock. I’ve deliberately gone numb, making myself not feel anything so that I can just keep going.
I know that I am going to have to face it , but I’m not ready to. Not yet. It doesn’t feel real.
On top of all of that, three days after my Dad died we attended my husband’s Nan’s funeral and I have also been subjected to online abuse and more direct abuse via text. Needless to say, it’s been incredibly difficult.
At the moment I’m imagining that I’m carrying around all of my thoughts and feelings in a big cardboard box. It’s square, and brown, and the top flaps are folded in the way I always fold them to secure the box without needing to use tape or glue. There might even be the word ‘FRAGILE’ written on the side of it in thick, bold, black capital letters. It’s heavy, and sturdy, but somehow slightly crumpled and softened at the corners.
When I have to do something, like work with a client or be with my girls, I very carefully put it down in the corner of the room, do what I need to do, and when I’m done I pick it back up again and let it nestle in my arms against my stomach and chest, taking the strain of the weight of it across the back of my shoulders. If a photo pops up on my screensaver my eyes slide over it, unfocused, and the picture goes in the box. If a memory comes to mind, that too gets picked up gingerly by the corner and placed carefully in the box.
I can’t open the cardboard box yet. I don’t want to. Because I’m afraid that if I do everything will collapse. That I will collapse.
And so I’m coping. Just. The funeral is next Friday, three weeks to the day since he was taken into hospital and two days after what would have been his 64th birthday. I don’t know how I’m going to be. I don’t know what will happen afterwards. I’m just trying to make it to that day.
I think that’s enough for now. I’m dangerously close to feeling something and I can’t handle that at the moment.
I normally try and include in every blog something that those who read it could find helpful or positive. I want it to be a useful resource for people, something for people to identify with. When I started writing this, I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to do that with this post.
But as I’ve been writing I’ve become aware that what I’m doing is ok.
The things I’m feeling (or not feeling) are ok.
My coping mechanism of the cardboard box is ok.
It’s all part of the process and there is no right or wrong way to grieve when someone you love dies.
My world may feel like it’s fallen apart but I know that I will be able to put it back together, albeit with a piece of the jigsaw missing and the other pieces not fitting quite so comfortably next to each other.
I just don’t know how long it’s going to take (and that’s ok too).