I was wondering if I’d ever find the right time to share this post. But in the week that we have lost both David Bowie and Alan Rickman, both born the same year as my father and cancer taking them all, I’m sharing this very personal post on my experience of loss.
Loss of a moustachioed Papa
The funniest and most challenging man in my life died 3 years ago. It was one hell of a short-sharp-shock and I bloody miss him. I’ve started blogging from his old laptop. Is it weird that I like the idea of his soft sausage fingers pecking away at this keyboard? The same keys that have just issued an EBay refund (Whistles blouse with alleged holes in it) and ordered Santa’s grotto tickets. I haven’t cleaned it, I fancy there are remnants of cheese and pickle sandwiches and stray lemon sherbet lodged in the keys.
He died unexpectedly on a grey Monday in October, at which time he was Grandfather “Papa” to 3 in the world and 1 in the womb (gumdrops). It’s a comfort that I told him I was pregnant (at 5 weeks), I can’t tell you his crude response about the conception!
He was on the kids’ level, he called them “Puny earthlings” (Ming the Merciless, Flash Gordon), told them to “kneel before Zod” and pretended he had a parrot on his shoulder. That was just him, but the kids allowed him to unleash the silliest and very best of him.
I have a secret – I keep his soft navy M&S scarf in a shoebox at the back of my wardrobe. When thinking about him just isn’t enough I prise open the lid and bury my face in the bobbles and the must.
The Bear was 18months when Papa died. He saw mummy crying a lot, the house looked like a florist. He knew something was up. Children are alarmingly perceptive and the bear has the memory of an elephant. We’ve kept Papa alive for him by showing him videos and photos of them together. The Bear has asked lots of questions over the years and they were getting more bizarre. He kept asking if we could go and visit Papa at his house and why didn’t Papa want to see us anymore. It broke my heart. We agonised over stealing his innocence, but picked our timing and decided to tell him the brutal truth “Papa died”.
6.45am Bear bouncing on my bed “Papa’s dead isn’t he?”, “you miss him don’t you”, “we’ll never see him again”. These outbursts have become scarily normal – over Weetabix, in the car, at parties. He shocked me at traffic lights once saying that Papa was fishing and that he knew where he was now <hold breath and tears> at the station. In fact, the bear chose his moment at a play date to tell everyone “Papa died <self-consciously maudlin face> mummy gets very sad. He got old and the doctors couldn’t save him, so he DIED” (smiling over chipolatas and waffles with mini milk chasers). It’s probably a blessing in disguise … desensitisation is free.
My greatest sadness is that he didn’t meet gumdrops. I was 10 weeks pregnant when he died and my 12 week scan was the day after his funeral. Sitting in the Relatives Room of the hospital, 10 minutes after I said goodbye to him a well-meaning relative called me to say “try not to get too upset, think of the baby”. Well, I think you can imagine how that advice was received as I sat less than 10 metres away from my recently passed dear Daddy.
But amazingly, I did manage to grieve and keep hold of my feisty little Gumdrops and oh how he would have adored my curly-haired ferocious diva.
We have his picture around the house and talk about him and his mighty moustache all the time so Gumdrops thinks she knows him. I salute magpies and greet them with “good morning Mr Magpie, how’s your wife and family?”. It hurts less. I feel very lucky to have had him for 32 years, I just wish I could have borrowed him for another few to love my Gumdrops and the Bear as I do.
So Papa, it’s like my pal e.e.Cummings says “i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)”.