When I was eleven years old my world fell apart, as I witness my Dad dying of cancer, and then he succumbed to death.
For a child it was hard to watch the man who was my hero become frail and weak.
Initially my parents tried to protect us by playing things down, but you cannot hide everything from curious children. The throwing up randomly and frequently made us wonder what was going on. Then he got taken away to hospital in a private ambulance at the end of the summer, the day before I started secondary school.
Then at some point, I can’t recall whether it was a few days later or weeks my Mum told us the news that our Dad was dying. I recall that moment well, sat in a little side room at the hospital eating a packet of mini Chedder crisps, and not knowing what to say or do, other than to eat my crisps.
My Dad stayed in hospital for a few more weeks, then came home. At first he was able to take part in activities at home, even if he did tire easily, but then he became more weak and spent much of his time in bed.
I recall going into my parents’ bedroom after school to chat and tell him about my day. I don’t know if he knew that I struggled at school, and would sometimes have to leave lessons because I couldn’t cope with being there, knowing my Dad was dying.
Not long before my Dad died, I recall breaking down in class as someone said that another of my family had gone home, and I instantly thought the worst has happened. My teacher a lovely kind and gentle man took me aside, allowed me to cry and then asked me would I rather my Dad live in pain, or die. I recall saying that I didn’t want him to die, and I would rather he was alive and not in pain. But my teacher shook his head sadly and said that wasn’t going to happen, and that my Dad would either live in pain or die. He went on to share his own personal experience of losing a family member, and said that he understood exactly how I was feeling.
That teacher was the first adult to be totally honest with me and not attempt to tell me that it was all going to work out fine. He helped me to acknowledge what was going to happen, and didn’t sugar coat it.
A few days later on Monday 7th December 1987 my Dad died at home. We were in the room when he died. I recall him taking his last deep breath, and all of a sudden it seemed really quiet. You could have heard a pin drop, it was that quiet, and so peaceful. One minute he was there, the next gone.
At first none of us were sure if he was really dead. It seems absurdly comical now when I look back, but we were trying to watch him to see if he was breathing, until one of the family hit on the idea of using a mirror to see if his breath would make it foggy. Tea got burnt and we ended up having a chip tea, not that any of us were very hungry.
In the days, weeks, months and years afterwards it took time for me to recover from the loss of my Dad. Even now I get the odd moment where I feel such a sense of loss and sadness. But what I do know is that my Dad loved us, and that he was strong in spirit right to the bitter end. He instill in each of us his passion for life and a stubborn spirit. He shared his wisdom with us, and created memories which cannot be taken away, but cherished forever.
My Dad died, but he lives on in spirit in each of his children, and we pass on what we learnt from him onwards to the next generation.