On this day two years ago, life for my family and myself changed forever. 12th August 2017 was the day my Dad died of the illness he had been battling for four years.
When I think back to that day, I have confused emotions. Those last few weeks kind of all merge into one. It’s strange how your brain’s whole perspective changes in an instant when something so huge happens in your life. I use that day as a marker in my life, and everything that’s ever happened to me is classified as either ‘before’ or ‘after’.
Everything feels so different now that I struggle to even recognise life before that day as being my own. One thing is for sure though, going through those four years when cancer was a part of our lives every day taught me a hell of a lot, and changed me profoundly – which is what I want to reflect on today.
This post has been very hard to write, not even emotionally but practically, because a lot of the things I feel are extremely hard to explain in words, unless of course you have felt them yourself. But I’m going to do my best.
First of all, I learnt that quite simply, life is precious. I know it’s is the most clichéd thing ever, but it really is true. It’s one of those things that in the back of your mind you always know, but you don’t really understand until you’re forced to stare mortality in the face. You truly never know what is around the corner. My Dad was a perfectly healthy person, but he still got that diagnosis and four years later, he was gone.
It shifted my perspective on life in a way I didn’t think was possible. Life is short, and nothing is guaranteed. So do what makes you happy, stop caring about what other people think, and live your life exactly how you want to. We hear it all the time, but actually do it. Tell people you love them, start that side business, stand up for yourself and live your life unapologetically. Life is a gift and it’s not guaranteed, so don’t waste another second being put down, treated like second best or doing something you don’t like.
The second realisation was that grief is not linear, and it’s not at all what you expect it to be. Firstly, as my Doctor once explained to me, when somebody has a terminal illness, a lot of grieving actually happens before the person dies. This was definitely true for me. The majority of the crying and the heartache happened in the weeks and days leading up to his passing. It’s hard to admit that on the day my Dad died I actually felt an element of relief, but it is very common and it’s ok to feel that way. Because what you’re feeling isn’t relief that the person is gone, it’s relief that their suffering is over.
Grief to me since my Dad actually died has never been crying or feeling upset, even in the beginning. Grief to me is predominantly weird dreams and anger. Anger at the people around me for not understanding, for moving on, for getting upset or mad over ‘stupid things’. None of which is reasonable, and none of which I actually, deep down believe I should be angry about, and none of which I would ever openly get annoyed at someone for. But I imagine that when you have lost someone in traumatic circumstances this is probably quite a common reaction. Even now, I still get this feeling a lot, but I’ve learnt to accept and be ok with it.
My first experience of this was going to the cinema with my Mam about a month after my Dad died and having a man storm up to us, raging that we were sat in his seat. I remember the anger that consumed me as I thought “I have just watched one of the most important people in my life die in front of my eyes and you’re really this pressed about a chair in the cinema.” In a way, I think it’s jealousy, and wishing that something as trivial as that was my main concern in life. And I know that is a very self-centred and illogical thought process – what’s to say this man wasn’t angry over something small because he had bigger things going on in his life? But if you’re feeling this way, you have to be gentle with yourself and know that it’s ok. As long as you try not to take it out on other people, it is actually fine to be a bit self-centred, because you have been through a lot of things that a lot of people don’t understand.
It’s a difficult feeling to deal with because it can leave you feeling very lonely and disconnected from the people around you. One thing I struggle with is that I don’t talk about the whole experience a lot, simply because I don’t want to burden anyone else with what are quite uncomfortable memories. And because this is the biggest thing that’s ever happened in my life and something I find myself thinking about multiple times every day, and yet not even my closest friends know much about it, it can leave me feeling a bit disconnected.
For all this post is a bit of ramble and kind of sad, it’s important for me to mention that I am actually doing really well. Grief comes in random waves and creeps up on me suddenly and always when I least expect it, but I accept it and roll with it, and my life is in a good place. Let me know if you can relate to any of these feelings I’ve described or if there’s any other unusual effects grief has on you. It’s so important to talk about these things because let’s be honest, the simplistic “five stages of grief” model is for the majority of us, pretty useless.