You may (or, indeed, may not) have noticed that this blog has lain idle for well over a month now and I have a mountainous backlog of posts to write, including a number of books I have kindly been sent for review (and to those who’ve sent me books, I can only apologise for the delay).
This time last month, it was a sunny Sunday afternoon. Mrs Falaise, mini-Falaise and I had been out and about in the morning and had come down to our local in the late afternoon to meet friends for a drink and then to have an early dinner. Our food had just arrived when my mobile rang, showing my parents’ number. I assumed it was one or other of them relying to my text asking them to babysit mini-Falaise later that week so we could go to her parents’ evening at school.
So, I answered it cheerfully only to be met by my mother’s shaking and near hysterical voice:
“Falaise. It’s your Dad. He’s collapsed. He’s not breathing. He’s turned purple. The paramedics are working on him now. I think he’s dead.”
Now my mother has been known to overdramatise before and so, although I was perturbed, I tried to soothe her and told her to call me when things were clearer. I suppose I thought that he’d probably had a heart attack and that the paramedics were stabilising him before taking him to hospital. So I carried on with my dinner, distracted and numb to its taste.
And then, a few minutes later, the phone went again and I heard her say:
“………I’m sorry, Falaise,………….he’s dead……….”
And with those words, the world changed.
The rest of that evening is a patchwork of dark impressions. Having to tell my little sister that her beloved father, on whom she still depended for so much, was dead. Phoning to inform my aunt that her brother was gone. King’s Cross station in a gloomy twilight. Trying to find a funeral director to collect his body from home. My mother, utterly bereft. His body, lying on his study floor, his face surprisingly relaxed, the suspicion of a smile on his face. Covering the bloodstain on the floor where he had fallen. Kissing his cold forehead and saying goodbye before he was taken away. Telling him for the first time in oh so many years that I loved him, just when he could no longer hear me.
The next few days were even worse as the shock and numbness wore off to be replaced by raw grief. There was a succession of appalling moments. Sitting mini-Falaise down to tell her that her adored granddad was dead; knowing that I was about to break her heart and then doing it anyway. Taking my mother to the funeral directors’ to discuss burial or cremation and types of coffin. A whole string of people and organisations to inform, each one requiring me to have to say, “my father died on Sunday” and to reply appropriately to the routine expressions of condolence. Watching my mother struggle against overwhelming pain and loss as over fifty years of marriage vanished overnight has been almost unbearable.
And then the funeral. Seeing the coffin, peculiarly small for a grown man. Forcing myself to give the tribute whilst seeing family members sitting there in tears and, worst of all, watching his coffin being lowered into the grave forever.
In short, it’s been grim. With the additional responsibility of sorting out his affairs, I’ve had little time to sit down and deal with my own grief. I find myself veering from acceptance to sadness, regret and occasional anger, sometimes in a matter of minutes. I think I’m most upset that mini-Falaise and her cousins won’t get to spend more time with him and that he will miss out on the rest of their childhoods but I’m also appreciative that each of them got to know him and spend time with him.
He was 72 when he died - old enough for it not to be freakishly young, but young enough for me to feel somehow cheated. Maybe it shouldn’t have come as such a shock; after all, he had undergone a triple bypass in the late 1990s but it was nevertheless a bolt from the blue. However, he went painlessly and quickly whilst still sound in mind and body, sat in his study on a sunny Sunday, having just watched his football team win and he will never suffer the torments of dementia, stroke or any other debilitating illness, which he would have hated. For this, I will be eternally grateful.
But his death has had a huge impact and in some unexpected ways. I seem to be totally unable to concentrate for more than a short space of time. I don’t sleep. I can be getting on with things when a stray thought or sight can have me wanting to slump to the ground in a damp puddle of tears. The other day, mini-Falaise asked me about his birthday. I said that he wouldn’t be having any more birthdays but that we could think about him instead. She replied, “that’s OK, Daddy, he can have a thinking birthday then.” And it took every bit of strength in me not to break down in front of her.
The two strangest feelings I have though are of liberation and adulthood. My father was very much the patriarch of the family. He wanted me to have a very conventional professional career and I suppose I’ve also always sought his approval. So, now he’s no longer here, I feel a strange sense of freedom - that I can be more of my own man, that the only approval and acceptance I need now is mine and those of Mrs F and mini-Falaise. Above all, though, is a feeling that I have now really grown up. It may seem strange - after all, I’m a 44 year old with a family of my own and a responsible job - but I guess I must have always had a feeling of comfort in the back of my mind that he would be there if anything went wrong. He’s no longer there and this new feeling of adulthood has given the lie to my previous belief that I was all grown up.
I miss my father immensely but I know that things will work themselves out. I’m not depressed - I’m sad but for a perfectly sound reason and thing will get better with the fullness of time and I have the consolations of a host of happy memories of him to comfort me and the knowledge that he lived a full and satisfying life.