Last year totally unexpectedly, I had a phone call from my mum saying there was something wrong with my dad and I had to go to their home immediately. I knew this was something awful, in my gut, I knew it was the worst thing. The kind of phone call you never want to receive but because I had spoken to my dad the day before and because we had spent a family break away the weekend before, my brain kept saying "no" over and over.
However, when I got to my parents home, an ambulance was outside and I was greeted by a very sad and sorry neighbour who simply said "I'm so sorry" I pushed past him and ran inside to see my father dead on the floor of their living room and my mum sobbing over his body.
A scene which I desperately wanted to wake up from but one which was glaringly real.
My father was 73 and was very proud of the fact that he was slim, healthy and looked after himself. He had never smoked, exercised and ate fairly well. He loved that people always told him that he didn't look his age - and he certainly didn't act it. Unfortunately though, despite how healthy he seemed, he had suffered a huge heart attack in his sleep, a heart attack which is nicknamed 'the widow maker'.
There was a lot of comfort in knowing he probably had not even woken up and had died in his sleep, for him that is exactly what he would have wanted. For the people he left behind though, it was the biggest shock and something which can still take my breath away.
I could write an entire book on what my dad means to me, we had a special relationship. He was funny, intelligent, wise, annoying and playful. He was the man who I knew would always protect and look after me and the parent I always wanted to impress - although I did not really realise that until after his passing. Losing him has been a huge wrench from my heart that sometimes feels as physical as it does emotional.
As soon as he passed, well meaning people would say things like "You'll never be the same again" or "The pain never really goes" or "Of course you have all the 'firsts' to get through". None of this helped all it does is create an expectation of everything being painful and difficult when you are already floundering.
I found the first Father's Day the hardest of all of those dates. I felt as if the whole world was celebrating that they had a dad - social media full of pictures, adverts telling you to send him a card etc and I also felt like the whole world then knew I no longer had my dad. I asked friends to not text me messages that day asking how I was and I spiralled into grief for a few weeks.
Of course, those well meaning people also say things like "Time is a great healer" which I also found really annoying. So what I would like to share is some of the tools and wisdom I've picked up in going through my own grief.
1) Father's Day isn't a day I want to celebrate but my husband is a fantastic dad and deserves to be celebrated. As he has also lost his mum and feels similar about Mother's Day, we decided as a family that we will set our own mothers and fathers day 6 months after our birthdays. This just takes some of that pressure away.
2) The best description I know of grief is that it is like the sea. In the early days those waves are constantly crashing, knocking you off your feet and taking you under. Eventually, those waves start to calm but now and again, out of the blue, a big crashing wave can still knock you off your feet. I've learned that the more I ride the wave and accept it, the less it takes me under for a long period of time.
3) When someone you love dies, everything is abnormal so it is totally normal for you to behave abnormally too. Accept that for a while there is no normal and when things do get calmer, you wont ever have the old normal again, and that is okay.
4) Confront your triggers. Doing the job that I do, I could understand what was happening in my brain the whole way through my grieving process - not that it made it any easier but I knew that I had some PTSD, I knew that I was in fight or flight etc. I therefore knew that it was important for me to confront any triggers as soon as I felt strong enough, I didn't want to avoid certain songs or places. Yes they can still sometimes make me cry but by facing them it stopped me living in fear of them catching me off guard.
5) A date is just a date. There felt like a huge expectation on me to be sad on particular dates and yet as time went by I realised that I could be sad on a random date so expecting to be sad because it was a certain anniversary again felt like I was setting myself up to be unhappy on purpose. My dad's birthday was not that long ago and I felt happy the whole day, thinking of lovely memories but sometimes on a random Thursday afternoon, I feel really sad. That's okay too!
6) "We are all children until we stand at the grave of a parent". Someone far wiser than me gave me this quote when I was grieving and it hit my like a lightening bolt, I realised that part of the grief of losing a parent is that safety net you have always had is pulled away, your whole identity goes into turmoil - who am I without them?
With Father's Day coming up this Sunday, I really wanted to reach out and share some of my story in the hope that those grieving a parent may feel strengthened in knowing that they are not alone. Nobody knows exactly how you feel, we all grieve differently and all have different relationships with parents but for those who are struggling right now with loss and feel scared of any pending dates, I say that I am with you and sending you love. Ride that wave.