Updated: May 7
If you had told me a few years ago, that I'd be writing a blog about losing my dad at 13 and what it has taught me, I would have laughed. But guess what, here it is and Jesus has it been a difficult one to write. It seemed like a great idea last week, right up until Monday & that wave of grief hit me like a tsunami all over again.
You see, on 17th February 1996, my dad passed away and so it was the anniversary of his death on Monday just gone. To say his death was a shock would be an understatement. He literally went to work one day and never came home again. He collapsed at work after suffering a subarachnoid haemorrhage on a Monday and passed away the following Saturday. I guess the good news is that at least he was surrounded by cars which were one of his Joy's and I guarantee he had a fag in his mouth or hand when it happened.
At the time I was 13 and youngest of three girls. The world suddenly seemed like a cruel and unforgiving place. Until then, my biggest worries had been whether someone had been talking behind my back, if Will Cantlie wanted to be my boyfriend or if my history homework was good enough. At 13 I was yet to ponder the fragility of life, the human condition, the meaning of it all or the psychology of humans but damn did I get a crash course, and my word was I angry about it. My favourite CD on repeat for around a year was Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill and it was played loud.
That album was played as the funeral directors came to the house. It was played when people wanted to talk to me about how I was. It was stuck on repeat. Is was as if Alanis had looked into my future and written an album only a year before, soundtracking and releasing my grief.
Seeing dad again.
As if the shock of losing your dad wasn't enough, I had always had a knack for seeing and knowing stuff I apparently didn't know before. I know now it's called intuition and clairvoyance but at 13, all I knew was I really wanted this whole thing to be a nightmare and for me to wake up from it. So when I heard my dad coming in the back door, checking the microwave for his dinner, opening the drinks cabinet to grab a John Smiths and physically hearing the can open as he approached the living room- I thought my wish had come true. It had all been a bad dream!
Alas, this was not the case and instead, I had experienced my dear old dad trying to show me he was okay from spirit. I was not amused as you can imagine and thoroughly freaked out! I chose to believe I had wanted to see him so badly that I had imagined it and I pushed those abilities down into the darkest corner of my being that I could. I chained the box I put them into, double padlocked it and forgot where I put the key for about 10 years.
I went to school, where naturally everyone was sad for me but couldn't really relate. It's amazing how everyone can feel so devastated for you while never really understanding. Grief is such a personal thing after all and although everyone was lovely, over the weeks it quickly became forgotten and people moved on and back into the comfort of their teen dramas and personal end of world scenarios over make up and having to be home early because they were late the day before.
It would be my first lesson in how you really don't know who is truly there for you until they're not. It was also my first lesson in becoming my own best friend, and what happens when you aren't. Although I didn't know it then. I still have 2 friendships from my childhood that I value deeply and we've seen each other through everything you could imagine. Although not in each other's pockets any longer, they are the people I know I can call at 2 am even now and visa versa.
Two other people who will always stick in my memory from that time are My RE teacher and my Tutor. I still have a letter that my tutor wrote to me telling me how amazing I was and how proud my dad would be of me. My RE teacher I will be forever grateful to, for his patience and care while I found my feet in this new world of having real-world experience of the hypothetical situations he would suggest in his teachings to our class. I so desperately wanted to make sense of this new world I had been thrown into. A world full of questions like where we go when we die, whether heaven and hell exist, who God is. But the more I sought the answers, the angrier I got. What kind of God would take a father away from his children? What kind of person must I be for God to punish me in this way?
This wonderful teacher listened with love seeing through the angry child and allowing that pain to be there, never wobbling in his own belief and faith, while keeping strong boundaries about not allowing bad behaviour from me in the process. It was the first of many lessons in compassion.
Around the time that my dad passed away, I began to get ill.
I started to suffer from migraines and pain in my body. Pain that would become a daily companion for many many years. I was diagnosed with so many various conditions that I rattled when I walked from all the medications. It would take years to learn that trauma has a way of showing up in your body and it can be released. I started to rebel against the world. Which is something we all do as teenagers, it's almost a rite of passage into adulthood right? But I raged at it. I threw my middle finger up to God and I took the idea that today may be your last to the extreme- risky and dangerous situations becoming my way of pushing the boundaries of our mortality every day. Making each day my 'best'. In truth, they were my worst.
I have to say I was more than a bit of a dick and I'm sure my mum has a lot more grey in her hair thanks to it, but one thing it taught me was how we can all smile on the outside while dying inside. It taught me to see through the fakeness of the masks we each wear and to see the beautiful soul of each person I met.
It would take me 16 years to finally realise that it wasn't God or life I was angry at. No, I was angry at the one person it wasn't okay to be angry at, my dad. So much anger with no place to go, led to some pretty hefty anxiety, depression, restrictive mindsets and illness, a lot of illness and my word has it been a long and interesting road, releasing that anger. Allowing my grief to be a thing, loosening the burden of understanding mortality, letting go of the life I wanted to have had and embracing the beautiful one I have been able to have.
You see, 24 years without my dad has taught me that I wouldn't be where I am now, I wouldn't be who I am now if he hadn't died. The reality is, his death made me who I am now and so has every other experience I have had before and after, his death is just one part of my story. We run the risk, in our grief of making our loved ones the starring role in our lives and living for them, instead of for ourselves. Sorry dad, you aren't the star of this novel and after 24 years, its time I stood and owned that this is my story instead.
Because death has taught me that we have to be the hero of our own story.
Its taught me that life is so very precious and yet we seem intent on being as busy as possible for most of it, trying to squeeze as much in as possible, forgetting what is truly important.
Its taught me that living every day like it may be your last, is actually about being present in it all rather than blurring it out.
Its taught me that life is full of the entire spectrum of emotion and it is impossible to aim for happiness and joy all the time. But we can learn to suffer less by allowing ourselves to be with those emotions and let them flow.
Its taught me that the pain of grief and anger is made physical in the body if we aren't able to release it and that we must allow ourselves to experience all emotions equally, instead of striving for just the ones that feel good.
It's allowed me a rich and deep experience in the intimacy of loss and therefore, love. With every loss that has come since (and there has been many), I have learnt to allow that pain to crack me open to more love, rather than to grow cold and bitter to the wonders of life. Because my friends, with life, comes physical death.
Death happens to us all, so I've learnt to stop trying to achieve the impossible task of beating it and instead accept my mortality with the beauty and strength and joy that surrender brings.
24 years without my dad has taught me that mostly, we like to think everything happens for a reason because it gives us a get out. It stops us having to be responsible for the life we have. It means someone else 'up there' is in control.
For me, I'm not sure if I believe everything happens for a reason. I certainly know I chose to incarnate. I know I chose my family and I know I wanted to explore a theme of some kind in this lifetime. I know I chose my closest soul family to experience this life with me and I know I chose them for a reason, but the exact details of how this life would be experienced is not something I think happens. The universe is, after all, chaos itself. So maybe we choose important people to feature in our lives for a reason, I like to think so.
It reminds me of a quote in a favourite film I watch when I need a good cry, 'What dreams may come'.
"If I was going through fucking hell, I'd only want one person in the whole goddamn world by my side"
Maybe that's why we choose who we choose.
What I do know, is that I am thankful for it all and for the work I now get to do with others thanks to the experiences I have had. Maybe trying to answer whether everything happens for a reason is the wrong question. Maybe asking what we will choose to do with those experiences regardless is a better one.
Because you are not the sum of what happens to you, you are what becomes of allowing life to happen through you.
And for that little piece of knowledge, I thank my dad.