Written by Alex, a Winston’s Wish content creator
This is my version of what happened. I know those around me will remember it differently. Some things I will mis-remember on purpose, some without even knowing, and some memories will change again as I change. My memory is never amazing when it comes to detail, but I remember a feeling like it’s happening right now. Forgive me if I leave questions unanswered, or details are blurry, but then maybe you’ll relate to my feelings.
“I loved my dad”
Ask me about my childhood and I’ll answer ‘happy’ and maybe even ‘idyllic’. That’s honestly how it felt. In my head: a loving family, tiny village school, fabulous friends, and doting pets. On paper: single parent family, council house, different surnames to Mum and siblings.
I can’t remember ever living with my dad because he and Mum split up when I was a baby. I grew up ignorant of their violent rows – I just saw respect and a deep friendship. No schedule. No regular maintenance, but somehow, they made it work. As an adult, it’s hard to trust my own memory, but that’s the narrative my emotions have chosen.
I loved my dad. I especially loved that he was ALL MINE. Dad travelled a lot. He was a forever bachelor, unable to really take care of himself. I particularly remember hearing him have adult conversations about pneumonia, asthma and possible tropical diseases caught on planes.
“Every time I worried it would be the last visit”
Dad had to move out of his top floor flat as he could no longer take the stairs. He was barely 40. When I was 14, he was 45 and living in a bungalow designed for the elderly, usually to be found sitting and smoking on his front doorstep.
Rapidly, I heard how he hadn’t made it out to his porch… to the living room… out of bed. It was fast but gradual, sad but normal, in the same weird way. Maybe I didn’t notice. Maybe I chose not to, maybe I cried myself to sleep about it, but I can’t remember now.
By the time I was 17, it was quite usual for him to be in hospital. Every time, I worried it would be the last visit, but it wasn’t. Home he would go. Oxygen bottle in hand, roll up cigarette in the other. For my eighteenth, he put money in a Christmas card saying, ‘not long now’, trying to be funny.
A few weeks later, Dad was in hospital again, but two weeks after, Mum called me in the middle of the night to tell me, “Alex, your dad has died.”
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“Do we ever see grief coming?”
I didn’t see it coming. I felt stupid for this. I was angry. I had so much left to tell him. To ask him. To discover. Two days later, I picked up my A-Level results and sobbed. Friends thought I had done awfully. I hadn’t – I was so proud of myself but so sad I couldn’t just pick up the phone and tell him. I was also terrified. All my plans were changing. I was meant to be following Mum’s footsteps and go to Uni in Wales, near Dad, but what was the point now?
Reflecting now, maybe I didn’t have time to grieve. Physically.
The next thing I knew, my boyfriend was driving me to my first day at a completely different Uni and I was staying at home with Mum. We quickly planned a funeral that my poor mum had to pay for. We all had to guess and make decisions. Again, hushed conversations over my head, “he must have seen it coming”, “why didn’t he leave plans, wishes, some money?”
So, this is my version of what happened. Even when we know death is coming, do we ever see grief coming? And would it change anything if we did?
“I’m grateful for my dad – these experiences shape us”
Over the past 20 years, I’ve learned to let people in, let people help and remember that it’s okay to smile. It’s also okay to be sad. It always seems unfair that the world just keeps going and there’s no time to just step off for a while, but maybe that’s to help us all keep going.
I’ve learned to say ‘yes’ to doing things with friends, even when I haven’t felt like it. Don’t be hesitant to talk about who you’ve lost and how you feel; it may be hard to do, but worth it. Seeking support definitely helped me too, but more so my friends that allowed me that safe space and open ear. I’m a teacher now and inquisitive students (as well as my own children), asking innocent questions gently force me to think, reflect and talk, and that’s okay. I’m grateful for my dad – these experiences shape us, and no matter how you feel, it really is okay.
How to get help
If you’re struggling with grief right now, Winston’s Wish is here to help and here to listen. Winston’s Wish provides support for grieving children and young people (up to the age of 25). We offer one-to-one and group support sessions. We also have lots of online resources and a Helpline and email service where you can talk to bereavement professionals.
If you need urgent support in a crisis, you can contact the 24/7 Winston’s Wish Crisis Messenger by texting WW to 85258.