5 Things I Learnt From My Dad’s Death 

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1. People Die

Even dads. With clear eyes and strong voices saying lucid, dad-like things. In retrospect, what’s really crazy is that we didn’t see it. Or saw it but refused to believe it. In truth, my dad had been dying for a long time, his chronic arteriosclerosis making walking increasingly difficult as the years went by. We saw him grow pale. We watched him get tired and lose interest in food and TV and just about everything, but he was my dad and therefore immortal. The power of denial is immense. Even when he told us, a few days before he passed, about the white feather that landed out of nowhere at his feet, we refused to listen to what he was saying and accept the inevitable – that he was old and sick and his body was finished. And because we pretend to ourselves and each other that we’re all going to live forever, when that doesn’t happen it comes as quite a shock. And I realise, as I speak to people around me, that making it all the way to 45 without having suffered a big loss makes me pretty lucky. Because people die all the time, every day, every minute. So we must love our people a lot.

2. There is No Such Thing as Death

I always kind of knew this, but the ways in which my dad has made his presence known to us and how, in the early days, he never left my mom’s side have banished my last remaining doubt, and my feeling around this whole issue is that it takes a very determined type of closed-mindedness to believe that what we see in front of us – this table, that cup of coffee – is all there is. It’s not my job to preach or judge or to convert anybody, but I can say emphatically that when people leave their bodies they do not cease to be. You hear this time and again, and I’ll say it once more for emphasis. When you look at the deceased body of a loved one it is not them you’re seeing. It might have been his face and his feet and his familiar white beard, but the body lying lifeless on that hospital bed was not Errol Hayden. The spark, the energy, the individuality that makes up the human spirit had left. This was the vessel that had housed his soul during his 77 years on earth and now it was empty and ready to be disposed of. Without question my dad was in that room that day, but he was standing beside us with his arms around us.

3. Grief is a Lonely Journey

I understood, in those first weeks, why couples who lose a child often end up divorcing. You would think grief, especially shared, would be a unifying experience which ultimately cements your bond. In reality, it is a road you walk alone. The path is different for everyone, and maybe this is why it’s impossible to explain what you’re going through and truly share it with the people who love you. Sometimes you get impatient with their well-intentioned probing. Sometimes you can’t believe the level of insensitivity. But it’s not their fault; they aren’t mind-readers. At times I would be fine and making spaghetti and then, out of nowhere, I’d be hit with the reality that I no longer had a dad and barely managing to hold it together and my husband would choose that exact second to ask if we had ice. And I’d want to say, DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW FEW FUCKS I GIVE ABOUT ICE AT THIS MOMENT IN TIME? Instead I would just cry and he’d apologise and put his arms around me and I’d apologise back and that’s the nature of this beast. For a while living is profoundly kak and nothing can make it better.

4. We Don’t Know How to Mourn

My parents are (and I speak in the present tense because my dad is more alive and well than he’s been in years) deeply spiritual but not religious people, so the idea of having a funeral in a strange church and someone who didn’t know my dad talking about him felt wrong. So we opted for cremation and a memorial of some sort. The cremation has happened but the memorial hasn’t, and I don’t really know why. Maybe we just aren’t ready. But I was made aware of the fact that having no ritual for death makes things difficult. You simply don’t know what to do, and no-one else does, either. In despair, I googled rituals of mourning in Judaism. I’ve always had Jewish envy, but now it’s really a thing. They have such beautiful, humane guidelines about what to do during this time. It’s discouraged for the mourner to leave his or her house, for example. Loved ones and members of the community are welcome to visit, but it is stressed that the mourner cannot be expected to play host and it is unthinkable that they would go out into the world and behave like nothing has happened. People bring food, they enter and leave the house quietly and pay their respects in the gentlest, most practical way possible. I found – other than a handful of dear friends who did everything right – I was having to make people feel better about my loss. I was expected to ‘get on’ with things long before I was ready. I’m still not ready. We are all different, but for me – and this holds true 6 weeks later – I want to be left alone. Don’t call me, don’t try to make arrangements, don’t ask me why I haven’t answered your messages. Just leave me under my rock.

5. The Sadness Never Ends

It is early days, but I think I can say with certainty that I’ll never ‘get over’ my dad’s death. For the rest of my life I will hear songs, taste food, see things that remind me of him and feel the deepest sadness that I’ll never see his face, hear his voice or feel his hugs again in the way one does with the humans of this earth. I know we’ll be together at some point down the line but it will be in a long time and in a different way. For now, I must adapt to the strange, new reality of not having a father. I don’t have a choice. I worry that my mom will be okay, alone for the first time in 54 years. I worry about what I’ll do when I lose her, too. I regret that I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to him in words. It all happened so quickly. We thought we’d be bringing him home to watch the cricket. I thought I’d have lots of time to say what I needed to say – that nothing in the past matters, that he was a wonderful man, that I felt his love even when he didn’t know how to show it to me. A while back I said all of these things to my friend Emily and she answered with four simple words that have brought me great comfort: he knew your heart. He did. Bye for now, Dad.

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74 thoughts on “5 Things I Learnt From My Dad’s Death 

  1. Wow ! Wow ! is all i can say …… I have been mourning/suffering the death of My Mom/Best Friend and I really needed to read this today. It has been 9 months and the pain is still as raw as ever….i wonder if I will ever be the same again…..Thank You Susan and much love and light to you and your family in this difficult excruciating time…….. <3

    1. So sorry about your mom’s death. I am so grateful to still have mine and already fear the day I don’t. Sending you a big hug and reminder that she is watching you and protecting you xxx

  2. So sorry for your loss. Your words brought me to tears, and I’m one of the lucky ones that still has my Dad here. Grieve in your own time, the way you want to. Things will get clearer.

  3. So appropriate for me today. It is my fathers birthday and he passed away 5 years ago. Still feels like yesterday, and I miss him more now than then. Lots of love to you.Lovely post.

  4. Thank you for these beautiful words. They have truly touched my soul and I am so sorry for your loss. We lost my father-in-law about six weeks ago as well and I thought I was doing fine and “getting on with things” but my tears flowed as I read your post and I can feel your sorrow and your pain. Thank you for being brave enough to share it. Sending love to you and your family

  5. TRULY BEAUTIFUL. The loss of a parent teaches life lessons unlike any other experience and it’s really difficult to put into words, but you have done an amazing job. Grace and peace to you as you travel this road of grief and understanding.

    1. Thank you! It’s so sad but there is also a gift in the pain as I am much more probing lately and am seeing the world quite differently. My dad’s gift to me in his passing, I guess. I feel him and his love around me xxx

  6. Susan these are beautiful words, well the ones I managed to get through while the tears came. I will need to re-read a few times………… but first I am gonna phone my dad !! xx

  7. So sorry for your loss, Susan. I lost my dad 7 years ago. “Time will heal” is the biggest load of bullshit anybody can tell you. Time doesn’t heal. Nothing can heal or fill that void you have inside you. But I can tell you that it gets easier with time. You will laugh again. You will be able to think of him without it feeling as though somebody is ripping out your heart. You will always miss him. You will always think of him. There will be a day that you don’t think of him and you will feel guilty, even though you don’t have to.
    There is no “Grieving for Dummies” book. Nobody and nothing can prepare you for it. Or tell you how to grieve. Do it in your own way. Cry when you want to cry (I once burst out in tears in the middle of PicknPay). Even now – 7 years later – I still get my moments. It still hits me hard sometimes. But it does get easier. And less painful.
    I haven’t visited my father’s grave since the funeral. I just can’t get myself to go there. Because, as you said, it’s not HIM laying there – it’s his vessel. So take your time with the memorial. Take your time with everything. People who have not been through it, might think that everything is ok now after 6 weeks. As if there is some sort of grieving period deadline. There isn’t.
    Thinking of you xx

    1. Thank you for these kind and gentle words, Hester. Today was a good day but reading and answering these comments have made me a little tearful. I so appreciate all of you who took the time to write to me. You have all helped me heal. Big hug xxx

  8. So beautiful and profound and sad and true… i was really scared when i lost my best mate just over a year ago that i would forget about him too quickly cos i never really believed that ‘i’ll think of you ever day’ nonsense, but it has been so super comforting to see just how much i do remember him in the things and the sounds and the moments and the songs and so i’m sure you’ll be absolutely fine there… thank you for sharing with us… strength and love and protection from the shtupids!

    love brett fish

  9. I like your bolg.

    I am writing my autobiography.
    May I use your blog. Instead of me “inventing the wheel again”

    Thank you.
    So true.

  10. I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my father in 2001 after an unsuccessful trip home for Christmas where my husband and children went down with flu. My dad had heart problems so we cut our trip short to avoid passing the bug onto him. He had a heart attack on New Year’s Day, the day after we left, and went into a coma. I flew back and the following week took on a surreal turn, his final moments in ICU were like a scene from Black Adder – a truly Irish passing with his entire family, brothers, sisters, wives and husbands, cousins and my mother and my brothers gathered while everyone said the Rosary. It was oddly comforting. I get exactly what you mean in point 2 as we watched the essence of him leave his body, leaving the earthly shell of the man behind. Later in the funeral home the body in the coffin was not him. He was well and truly gone.

    My dad and I had a difficult relationship.I too thought we would at some point say what we both needed to say but that never came. I never got the chance to tell him I Loved him or hear from him that he loved me. The following weeks I too, as I’m sure is the case with most people, found myself dissolving at unexpected moments in howls of grief. Then one SUnday, I went to a Quaker meeting where you sit in silence for an hour. Once again I was consumed with grief and then suddenly I felt enveloped in the strongest sense of love and peace. I knew he was there. He was there telling me he always loved me. HIs presence was so strong I knew there was never any need for words. He is right here as I type this. Yes, he is gone in the flesh but he is right here in my heart and always will be.

    1. What a wonderful story, thank you for sharing! Yes, he was most definitely with you and I’m so glad you felt him telling you he loves you. Men of that generation had such a hard time expressing themselves in words. I’ve had so many conversations with my dad since he passed. Sometimes my logical brain takes over and I think I’m crazy, but I felt he ‘said’ to me yesterday (because when I feel him I look around the room), ‘stop looking with your eyes, look with your soul.’ Standing in the bathroom a few weeks ago there was a sudden flash of light behind me, like an old-fashioned camera with a flash going off. I looked out the window to see where it could have come from, maybe a ray of sunlight bouncing off something but it was a cloudy day. I really think it was him. So grateful he came to say hello :-)

  11. 19 years ago to the day was when I lost my dad – it is something you learn to live with but the loss is always there. Sometimes the grief comes back and is just as painful and at other times it’s almost like a peaceful thankfulness. Thank you for sharing……

  12. It is almost 10 years since I lost my mom and 5 since I lost my dad and became an orphan. It has been the most profound shift in my existence- more than immigration, more than divorce. However, in time I came to realize that with both my parents, nothing was unresolved. Everything that needed to be said, had been said. That is deep comfort. And they are with me everyday and I still think about them constantly. Your father will become part of you that you carry lovingly in your heart. Sometimes the memories even manage to fill the hole.

  13. So sorry for your loss. Beautifully written. My dad passed away mayn years ago and my mom 8 years ago. I find that I am continually thinking about them and talking to them in my mind, wondering what they would say, asking them questions etc. In a way it is very comforting.They are never really far away

  14. Been there and know your pain. It’s hideous and you always think you have enough time to do and say the things that matter. I can promise you this, one morning you will wake up and go about your day and half way through it you will realize that it’s a teeny bit better than the day before. My wish for you is that when it happens,you will think of your dad and feel good and great .

  15. My sincere condolences to you and your family. It is tough losing one’s parents, So much is taken for granted and often you only understand their true value once they are gone. Grieving is so personal and precious and we each do it differently. Grief in your own time. “Sometimes a memory comes into my head, fills up my eyes and roll down my cheeks”. I lost my mom 16 years ago and my dad in August of last year. How I wish I could have said or done more. My dad developed dementia and the last 2-3 years of his life was very difficult. It was hard seeing him like that and when the songs/melodies play, he would sing with his very powerful voice.
    I send you light in this difficult period. : )

    1. Thank you for these words, Tish. I can just imagine. Try not to remember him like that, but when he was young and vibrant. That’s what he wants you to see in your mind, and that was the true him. He is around you.

  16. I was drawn to this blog because of the word Dad. I loss my dad three years ago. It will be four years this year…but whose counting . ME. I can relate to you when mentioning your dad being immortal. I always thought that even as an adult until I saw him fading. Like your dad, he didn’t really eat, and wasn’t the jokester he used to be. You’re right. The sadness never ends. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Thank you for this. My Mom passed away nearly 5 years ago and I miss her so much, but at the same time I know she is still with me in a way. Take your time and grieve the way you need to. x

  18. My thoughts do not go there, to this inevitable thing which will happen to and with all of us.. i ” will deal with it later, when time comes”… i will then refer to this reading…xxxxx

  19. thanks you – you are able to put into words what I often feel but cannot express. I am the same age and have lost both my parents – my mom 20 years ago and my dad 13 years ago. Time doesn’t heal and i think of them often wishing i could remember more about them and share them with my children. Wishing you happy memories x

  20. So poignant and so true Susan. I lost my father 3,5 years ago, and this has brought back so vividly those emotions from the early days. What you said particularly about grief being a lonely journey is so very very true. Wishing you strength as you negotiate this journey.

  21. I’m a big fan of your blog but I’ve been putting off reading this one because I knew it would hurt. My dad died 5 months ago. I was right, it did hurt and reading this made me cry. But it’s comforting that you and so many others feel how I’m feeling. Thankyou for your words, be brave and enjoy your memories with your dad x

  22. Beautifully written and presented and resonates… difficult for those of us who have ‘lost’ so many of our nearest and dearest. It doesn’t get better, or easier, but more manageable… with time. Wishing you long life (yes I’m Jewish) :), with big hugs.

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