It's Father's Day here in the UK. I wrote the following for a competition ages ago.
Ordinary Special Man
I wasn’t there when my dad died, but that doesn’t matter. I
was there when he was alive: vibrant, busy, diligent, always with a project on
the go; strong, loyal, full of integrity, a Christian but not a church-goer;
opinionated, irritating, stubborn, occasionally sulky; but always loving.
Before he went into hospital for his operation, I’d kissed
him and told him I loved him. I wish that had been the last time I’d seen him.
But days later I sat by his bed as he lay there unmoving save for the work of
the clunking ventilator.
And then he died. People were sympathetic, of course. But
unless it’s you that’s grieving you don’t really know how it feels. They said
they were sorry for my loss or that they were sad to hear my news, but then moved
on with the business of their own lives. Why wouldn’t they? He was special to
us, but not necessarily to them. Death is ordinary.
Many asked how he had died, as if some illnesses or
circumstances are worthy of more sympathy than others. Dad was just shy of 75
and had developed ailments that could in part be attributed to lifestyle. It
doesn’t matter what they were. It wasn’t a tragic accident or a young life cut
short. It was just a regular, pensioner death. Unremarkable, just sad.
I was in the middle of a busy family Saturday when my
brother rang with the news. A couple of hours later normality had been
suspended, and I was sitting on a train travelling north. People around me were
reading, chatting, planning. I wanted to tell them why I was making the
At home, my mum was sitting with my brothers and their
wives, looking calm but shaken. This was the moment when, at age 44, I suddenly
felt like a grown-up. I wasn’t there to be comforted by her, as I had been so
many times in the past – for dramas at primary school when I’d fallen out with
my best friend, teenage tantrums over boys, issues over wedding plans,
confrontations with in-laws. Roles were reversed and now it was my turn to look
after her. I had lost my dad, but she had lost the man who had been by her side
for over 40 years. She was predictably strong and practical, but also willing
and able to lean and take the help that was offered.
We held a service at the crematorium for family. Nothing
special, just dignified and functional. But afterwards I cried and clung on to
my husband. Friends had advised me not to take my young sons with me and I was
glad I had heeded their words. I wept uncontrollably. Mum went through the
motions and kept herself in check.
Then it was on to church for a funeral service with friends
and all-comers. Having sobbed so hard, I was now calm. My sons rejoined me. On
the way out we stopped in the church doorway and turned back to look at the
huge congregation. I told my boys that all these people had known and loved
granddad and we should be glad for that.
In the pub afterwards – how he would have approved! – people
I didn’t know revealed aspects of my dad’s life that were unfamiliar: friends
from his childhood, colleagues, fellow golfers in their club blazers, relatives
I hadn’t seen for years and didn’t recognise. Even at the time I knew that I
was, bizarrely, enjoying the occasion.
I haven’t visited Dad’s grave. Why would I? He isn’t there.
But there are traces of him everywhere else: in the house where his DIY efforts
still hold things together; in the garden where he worked so hard to get the
front lawn green and weed free, and never quite managed it; in the CD rack
where his taste in jazz and swing music is still evident; in the eyes of his
grandchildren; in our conversations and in our hearts.
My dad is dead. He hasn’t ‘passed over’ or ‘gone to a better
place’, he has died. We thought we’d grieve forever. We don’t.
But we miss him.