My dad died 5 years ago today, and so I thought I’d write down a jumbled mess of thoughts, because I’ve personally found it really helpful to hear other people’s experiences (so, please, do dive in).
We don’t have a healthy vocabulary when it comes to death: we often don’t even know what to say when it happens, which is why sometimes we quite literally resort to the phrase “I don’t know what to say”, or fall back on sentences involving “sorry”. Losing a parent is a very particular type of bereavement, not least because as children we see them as immortal deities. That itself deserves an important caveat: I have at least two friends who lost both their parents in their childhood, an experience I can’t even imagine — losing a parent as an adult is sad, but nothing compared to that level of tragedy.
The most surreal side of it, for me, is how someone you never stop regarding as a main character in your life recedes ever further into the past. For some reason, I sometimes visualise this as though I’m a passenger on a bus on a lonely country road at night, looking back at my dad by the side of it, hurtling into the distance as the bus speeds away.
Half a decade is a long time, and yet his presence still seems so vivid in lots of ways. I’m not sure how common it is, but it’s often specific mannerisms I remember: how he’d pace around clicking his fingers and clearing his throat when he was collecting his thoughts; his sometimes gruff and impatient manner, particularly when you phoned him when he was eating or watching the news; how his eyes would well up whenever he passionately discussed something he cared about how he’d often call me “love” in a gruff northern accent, a habit he picked up from living in South Yorkshire for so long. I can ‘hear’ these in my mind almost as clearly as if my dad was still speaking.
Then there’s the aspects I’ve inherited, where my own behaviour conjures up my dad in my head: like being a bit of a worrier, or endlessly repeating the same anecdote to people who’ve heard it before. There’s also the acute differences and similarities: my dad was 6 when his sailor father was buried at sea, somewhere near Cape Verde. Brought up in a Welsh Methodist household, he didn’t even start speaking English until around that age. It’s a reality completely different from…