My dad is dying. This hasn’t exactly come as a shock. He has diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer, so we knew it was coming. He is only 71.
It all started about 5 years ago, he seemed to be getting forgetful. He’d gloss over it, but soon it became apparent that it was getting worse. Then they took his driving license away and he was uncharacteristically incensed, it seemed like the beginning of the end. But in the last few years he accepted it, and this made the difficult situation easier, I think.
The cancer came in 2019. It was treated. Then came back.
Stoic as always, his favourite saying is “I’m not dead yet, there are people out there who have it much worse.” Even now he’s grateful that he’s not in any pain.
This week he has been taken into a care home from which he won’t return. I haven’t seen him in over a year due to Covid, but I have finally, thankfully, been told that I can visit him this week. This will likely be the last time I see him. They have said he has less than a month to live, so I am now in the stage that they call anticipatory grief. Which basically means that my brain won’t fully allow me to officially grieve, but I’m in a grief stasis that means I’m crying at everything one minute and getting on with things the next, but my dad is constantly in my thoughts. I’m exhausted, and everything I do and think feels selfish, hence me coming here to vent.
My dad has never been a doting dad. I was never “Daddy’s Little Princess”. I was often a bit jealous of the girls who had over-protective dads, the kind who showered their little girl with gifts and affection and never let them lift a finger for themselves.
Nope, my dad was more the: “you better sober up before you go into your mum” kind of dad. The: “this is how you do it, now go off and do it yourself” kind of dad.
He taught me how to make a bow and arrow out of hazel. He taught me how to use most tools. He taught me how to be silly and not care what people think. But most importantly, he taught me to accept the things we can’t change and focus on the things we can.
I used to scratch his back when he came home from work, my little nails probably not making much of a difference through his non-iron shirt. Then I’d get him to scratch mine. Sometimes, I’d comb his moustache and bushy eyebrows and put clips in his hair. He didn’t really read to me, instead he’d occasionally make up weird Monty Python-esque stories, and his answer to any enquiry about food was “kippers and custard”.
He reassured me when the scale of the world finally dawned on me. When the cold war was announced and I told him I was scared, he said “Many of them are idiots, but you must trust that someone in power knows what they’re doing, otherwise you’ll drive yourself mad. And always vote, that’s you having your say.” This optimistic acceptance has defined me as an interested observer of politics my whole life. And yes, I always vote.
When him and my mum split, I was an entitled 17-year-old and it was brutal. The family divided and I was stuck in the middle, completely alone. Our relationship changed and we ended up on an unfamiliar and distanced footing. It suddenly being just the two of us when we met up for lunch made it all feel so formal and a world away from the ease we’d had when I was growing up. I’d fill him in on what I was doing but we lingered more on current affairs than meaningful anecdotes about our lives. Occasionally he’d awkwardly pass me a wodge of notes, muttering “get some food or pay a bill or whatever” and I’d take them, embarrassed, but both of us grateful for this small opportunity to remind ourselves that we were dad and daughter.
When my kids came along, our relationship changed again. The little girl scratching her dads back when he came home from work was now completely gone, as he watched me navigate adulting, and some really tough times by myself, unable to help due to physical as well as emotional distance. But the reassurance was still there in the form of the stoic acceptance of the shit bits of life that he constantly modelled. “You can’t change it so you might as well get on with things” “You can only keep going”, “still, better off than lots of people”, and “things will get better.”
Things will get better. This is the piece of advice that has seen me through my darkest times.
When things are hard, I focus on the hope. Even if it’s the tiniest chink of hope, it’s always been there to get me out of bed, put a smile on my face and put one foot in front of the other. Tomorrow will be better, just hold on for tomorrow.
But now all hope is gone. And it feels like giving up. Admitting defeat. This is not something I have ever done before.
I know he’s never getting out of the care home he’s now in. We’ll never go out for lunch and moan about Trump again. He won’t ever help me fix my dishwasher again. He won’t order a pint of Fousty Ferret or some equally weird sounding beer again.
There is no hope for tomorrow with my dad.
Yet I can’t bring myself to believe there is nothing to cling on to. My entire approach to life is built on focusing on the positive. I keep desperately searching for the hope, but everywhere I look there is none.
This is the hardest pill I’ve ever had to swallow. I’ve had a few times in my life when the world has fallen out from under me, but I’ve always managed to claw my way back to the light by focusing on the hope.
But this time I can feel the dark dragging me under and I can’t see the light anymore.
I lost my father-in-law 6 months ago and my grief is still fresh and raw. To be losing my dad now, having not been able to see him for so long, during such a difficult year for myself and the rest of the world, seems the cruellest torture.
But I refuse to give up. So, I have been meditating on the lesson, and the lessons that dad taught me. And now I realise that there IS something I can cling onto. With his focus on blessing counting, and “there are people who have it much worse”, he himself has prepared me for this very time in my life, for which I couldn’t be more grateful.
In the absence of hope, gratitude becomes the light.
I’m so grateful for my dad. He wasn’t the doting dad, I wasn’t his little princess, but by god he was the very best dad for me, and I’m so grateful he was MY dad because he taught me to get on and bloody do it.
The times when I have found myself lost and alone, I already had the tools to not just survive but thrive. I‘m not a wallower, Dad taught me to get on with it. If you can’t change it, then accept it and focus on the stuff you can control. These are the lessons I am now teaching my kids. I am grateful I have these tools to pass on.
I am devastated. Surviving daily life right now feels hard with no hope to cling to. But breathing in the immense gratitude that I have for having had the best dad ever is my chink of light to focus on.
And one day, not too far away, I trust that my hope for tomorrow will return (bigger and badder than ever before, so look out world).
If you feel that all hope is lost, just focus on the gratitude until the hope comes back. Because it will. It always does.
Happy Valentine’s Day to the best dad ever. Thanks Dad ❤️❤️❤️ xxx