The phone rang at 5 one morning. I woke up and got out of bed, feeling disorientated. It was my brother. I remember wondering what on earth he was phoning me for at that hour of the morning, and then he said it: “I’m afraid Dad is dead”. I stood, silent, still. Then I spoke very forcefully: “not my Dad!” I willed it not to be true. Then I heard my husband groan behind me, and I knew that it was real. My father was dead, and I was no longer Daddy’s little girl. I sat down and wept. I wept for the loss of my father, the one man in my life who had always loved me unconditionally; I wished I had not picked up the phone. If I hadn’t answered it, he would still be alive, at least to me.
I drove to my Mother’s house alone. I had to go immediately, and I had to go alone. I couldn’t wait for my husband or my children. Actually I didn’t want them with me I didn’t want to have to deal with their feelings. At the moment there was no room in me to give thought to their pain, my own was so overwhelming.
When I saw my mother, my heart just broke; I felt it crack. I knew something had utterly changed inside me forever.
I wanted to see my father. He was in the living room. He had died in his comfortable chair, with his feet up on footstool, a glass of whiskey at one hand, and the ashtray in the other. I am glad I saw him as he was, because it made me truly see that my father was gone. It comforted me to see how peaceful he looked.
Then the funeral car arrived. The men who came into our house were calm, big, dark presences. They seemed to know what to do, so we just let them take my father out the front door and put him in the back of the black car. That was unbearable. We just stood and allowed him to go. I thought there would be some sort of sign, but they just drove away.
I don’t know how I got through the funeral. Afterwards there was the drive to the grave, a strange, surreal experience. My mother and I kept talking about how lovely the service was. It didn’t seem real.
The burial was very difficult for me. It was a cold day, and I did not want to see my father lowered into the ground. My mother looked tiny, perished and frail, and I left the graveyard as quickly as I could.
Looking back, I feel everything was too rushed. I wish we had waked my father in the house, because he was a countryman, and it would have been fitting. But we left all the details to the funeral director, because none of us were capable of making decisions at the time. I remember feeling that we were very much alone in out loss, even though the family spent days together in the house. We talked and comforted each other as best we could, but each of us was in our own hell. My older brother had to make all kinds of decisions such as dealing with the finances. My younger brother had to fly in from England to find his father dead in a funeral home.
I got through the next few days with help from friends and family. People called to the house and offered words of comfort. Many of them did not know what to say, but I really appreciated their coming. Now I understand the importance of the small gesture, the practical gifts and the kind word.
During the first six months after my father’s death, I went to my mother’s house for breakfast every day. This was a small, but important, thing. I know it helped her to get past the gut-wrenching lonely feeling she had on awakening each morning to the knowledge that her husband was dead. Being in one another’s company helped both of us to get through those first shattering months.
Over time the intensity of my grief has eased. The beginning I would wake at night, weeping. I missed my father so much. My heart jumped when I caught sight of an older man walking ahead of me on the road, wearing a trench coat so like my father’s. I wanted to stop him and talk to him.
One morning, 6 months after Dad died, I found a letter he had written to me when I lived in America. It was a fantastic, terrible gift. I read it over and over, and found myself crying at intervals thorough out the whole day.
My father death changed me in ways I could never have imagined. There are days now when I do not think of him, and other days when I am overwhelmed with sadness that his is not here to share our lives. I have learned that life is precious and can be taken from you suddenly, without warning. Because I know this, I celebrate the very act of being live. I choose to enjoy the many gifts that life has given me-now-at this very moment. I say the things I want to say to those I love. I grasp the opportunities that come my way and face whatever challenges each particular day brings. I am thankful to be alive.
These stories were contributed by the Irish Hospice Foundation and are published in their book, Irish Stories of Loss and Hope, 2007, edited by Dr Susan Delaney. Many thanks to the authors and the Irish Hospice Foundation for permission to reproduce their stories on this site. Further information on bereavement, including downloadable leaflets and audio recordings on grief, may be accessed on the website www.bereaved.ie