Thirteen years ago, on 21 March 2003, I lost my wonderful dad to cancer. He was 57.
Over the years, I’ve processed feelings I didn’t know I was capable of, a thousand times over. I still get angry at the unfairness of it, I feel intense sadness for my darling mum who lost the love of her life and her soulmate, I still have days when I want to punch people who don’t how lucky they are to have all their family members alive and thriving. Then there are the times I feel so lucky, even guilty, to have had such a wonderful dad in my life for 23 years, when others lose their parents so much younger. Or they lose a child. Or a spouse. Then I remind myself that grieving isn’t a competition.
I don’t miss him on the anniversary of his death more than I do any other day. Obviously. But I can’t avoid the poignancy of it, just like his birthday, Christmas, Father’s Day and so on – the occasions that back you into a corner and force you to think about what you’ve lost just that little bit more. It’s just the way it is. I just search the memory banks a little more deeply for happy thoughts to get me through it.
Over the last few days I’ve thought a lot about the things I’d say to him and the stuff we’d do together if he was still here now. Even for just one day.
Aside from the obvious big thing which would be to spend it with his grandchildren, who he never got to meet, it’s more about the little things – the everyday stuff I’d no doubt take for granted if he was here still.
So – Dad, if you could be here for one more day, it would go something like this:
- First of all, we’d have to get up early (he was a morning person, I’m not, but I’d make a special effort) and take our Jack Russell for a walk on Exmouth beach to watch the sunrise at Orcombe Point (one of his absolute favourite places and where we scattered his ashes). We always had a dog growing up and he used to love getting out for a walk whatever the weather.
- He loved his food and always used to bang on to me that breakfast was the most important meal of the day so next I’d take him for a fry-up at our favourite cafe.
- We’d then take the little people swimming. Dad was a brilliant swimmer, he taught me to swim and spent hours on the side of a pool cheering me on when I swam competitively as a kid. E would show him how she can swim 25 metres and I’d dunk V underwater like we do at his baby swimming classes. I know he’d be so proud of them both.
- As an ex-RAF engineer he was bloody brilliant at fixing stuff so next up I’d put him to work to sort out some annoying jobs at home. There’s a dodgy light switch that needs replacing and our bathroom door hasn’t shut properly for about three years. Oh and a spot of painting. He was always happiest tinkering with stuff so I know he would enjoy getting stuck in.
- At some point, he’d probably get into a long discussion with the other half about music, which is something they could both talk for hours about. I’d leave them to it and go and find that drying paint to watch for a bit.
- If I could shut him up about music I’d sit down and spend a good couple of hours picking his brains about when he was younger. He led a pretty interesting life, his family moved to Devon from their hometown of Sheffield when he was seven, he joined the RAF as a boy entrant at 15 and was posted to some far-flung places like Canada and the Middle East. I’ve got photos but I want to know all of the stories behind them.
- I’d show him the photos of when Jim and I got married.
- We’d round off the day by going for a pub dinner with the whole family. He would have a steak washed down with a pint. Or two.
- Finally, I’d get him to read his grandchildren their bedtime story. He was the best bedtime story-teller ever and would always get into character and do silly voices. He’d read one of his favourites, which would be something by Roald Dahl like Revolting Rhymes or The BFG.
In my head, I can hear him reading it now.
That will get me through today.