I had intended to post this actually on Father's Day, but life caught up with me a little bit, so it's a bit late, but I wanted to share it anyway. I saw lots of posts on Facebook on the day about how wonderful people's fathers are or what wonderful fathers their partners are, but there is one person whose posts always make me smile, but make me sad at the same time. She is a former pupil of mine and she lost her father at about the same age as I did. Every year her posts have expressed exactly how I felt, but unlike her, I'd never been able to write down exactly how I felt about my Dad and his death. I admired and envied her because I wanted to share what my Dad meant to me, but I couldn't articulate it. Not because I didn't have the words, but because every time I tried, I cried.
Last year, one of my MA modules was creative non-fiction and we were supposed to write our final piece about ourselves. I tried, I really did, but I just couldn't do it. I spent months writing little short exercises and sharing them, but by the end of the module I was drained emotionally, so chose to write someone else's story instead of my own.
However, towards the end of the year, I was invited to contribute to a book that the OU Write Society was putting together for charity and the theme was Loss. I knew that this was my opportunity to put my big girl pants on and actually write about the effect my Dad's death had had on me. In many ways, much of what I wrote was things I already knew, emotions I'd already dealt with, but somehow, committing them to paper was a cathartic exercise. There were also a few surprises along the way as I realised that things I had never connected to losing my Dad, were all related.
I'm publishing an extract from my story 'A Little Ray of Sunshine' below, but if you want to read the whole thing and the rest of the wonderful pieces in the book, you'll have to buy the book from here. All the proceeds go to charity, so it's all for a good cause as well!
I was numb as I stepped off the bus. I’d left James back at our Hall of Residence eating breakfast and in the half hour it had taken my bus to arrive on campus, he’d got dressed and made it there before me. Why was he here? A stupid question I didn’t want to acknowledge the answer to. My brother-in-law, Christopher, was with him and there could only be one reason for that.
‘You don’t have to tell me. I know.’
I didn’t want to hear it. If no-one said it, then I could pretend it wasn’t true. That was OK, wasn’t it? To remain a child for just a few moments longer?
I held up my hand as James started to speak, forestalling any platitudes. No…that was unfair. He at least, would mean the regret and concern he expressed.
I’d always been a Daddy’s girl. He was a coach driver and when I wasn’t at school, I’d often go with him on his trips to Oldham Market, Blackpool Illuminations and occasionally, if I was really lucky, the Lake District. The first car I drove was his coach, at the age of six, perched precariously on his knee in a car park as he carefully inched it backwards and forwards while I turned the steering wheel. When he’d retired, we’d spent our days together watching old Hollywood musicals. The day I made him watch ‘Singin’ In The Rain’ four times in a row may have stretched his patience somewhat, an act for which I am now paying penance in the form of repeating those viewings with my own son, who is similarly obsessed.
It wasn’t the films themselves that were the real draw for me, it was the sense of closeness I got from watching them with him. He’d tell me snippets of information about the actors in them, or stories from his own life that the films had prompted him to remember. I thought this was what real life was like – you could sing and dance your troubles away and everything always turned out alright in the end. So when we got the first cancer diagnosis, whilst it was scary, I was convinced that everything would be OK and sure enough, it was. He had the operation one day while I was at school. I’m not even sure exactly when in the year this was; somehow the event has become muddled with us having our boiler replaced and there being no heating for a week. All I can recall is that both happened during an exam week and both left me feeling cold.
Mum picked me up from school and we drove to the hospital, where she left me in the waiting room, going off to find out what was happening. When she came back, she was pale, her lips pinched tightly together, as though afraid of what might spill out if she opened them. I’d never seen Mum like this; the strict disciplinarian had been subsumed into a real person with her own frailties and fears
‘The cancer had spread further than they’d realised. They’ve had to take out two thirds of his lung instead of one. He was in the operating theatre for six hours instead of four, so he’s not ready to come home yet.’
Twenty years on, I’m convinced that she didn’t blurt out the news quite this bluntly and I have no recollection of whether he came home that night or if we had to collect him the next day. It didn’t matter – I had no reason to imprint any of this on my mind; he’d survived and eventually was given the all clear, so the details were of no concern. He’d live. That was all that mattered.
Love you Dad xxxx