About four months ago, my Mum noticed that my Dad had been a bit absent-minded – more than usual, anyway. Asking what day it was, ignoring a leaky kitchen ceiling for a few days, forgetting to play golf one day. That was the real warning sign right there – my Dad’s life pretty much revolved around golf, so for him to forget to play was simply unthinkable.
After several days of trying to convince him to go to a doctor (he was a stubborn man), he finally relented and allowed my Mum and my brother to bring him to the hospital. He was admitted immediately and was eventually diagnosed with a brain tumour. They thought it would be treatable, and Dad, our “Indestructible Man”, had bounced back from a number of health issues before, so, while concerned, we remained positive and didn’t necessarily fear the worst. Delays in getting the biopsy completed meant that it was another few weeks before we finally got the news every family dreads – the tumour was in fact an aggressive and terminal form of brain cancer. We were told he had months left. As it turned out, he only lasted another two weeks.
I had moved from Thailand to Bali while all this was going on. Before we knew that this was to be his last fight, my Mum and brothers assured me that there was no need to rush home, they were all doing okay and supporting each other, and would keep me posted on what was going on. When the news came in, late on a Friday night in early June, that this tumour was incurable, I immediately booked flights to come home to Ireland to spend time with him and the rest of my family.
I arrived on a Thursday morning to shared hugs and tears with Mum, as she broke the news that there had been a further setback. As if terminal brain cancer wasn’t bad enough, it was a fresh blow to hear that while I was travelling the tumour had caused a bleed in his brain, which knocked him into a deep sleep he ultimately never awoke from. We went straight from the airport to the hospital. Seeing him lying there, pale and unconscious, was a jolt. I had had some idea of what to expect, but seeing him in front of me was something else. It is such a helpless feeling to sit by the side of someone you love, holding their hand and hoping they are aware on some level that you’re there – but completely unable to halt or divert the course that they’re on.
He was moved to hospice on Monday morning. The very fact of that was jarring in itself – hospice is for dying people, so yep, that means he’s officially dying. Even though we knew this, every concrete reminder came as a shock all over again. The fact that he wasn’t receiving his usual medication for his pre-existing diabetes and heart condition. There was no point. The removal of his feeding tube was particularly difficult, and had to be explained several times before the truth sunk in that his body simply didn’t need and couldn’t process sustenance any more.
He died on Friday. He spent that last day completely surrounded by and enveloped in the love of his family. His own brothers and sisters, my Mum’s siblings who loved him as a blood brother, and of course Mum, my brothers, and me. We all knew that the end was near and wanted to spend as much time as we could by his side. In the afternoon, my Mum asked for some quiet time with him, so everyone said their goodbyes and headed away with the promise to come back and sit with him in the evening. My brothers also had some errands to run, so eventually, it was just me, Mum and Dad. As Mum said later, he must have waited for when it was just him and his two girls. At around 4pm, only about half an hour after everyone else had left, we noticed that his breathing was changing, becoming slower and deeper. We called a nurse who confirmed that this was it, he was taking his last breaths. We held his hand together, telling him we loved him and that everything was okay, even through our own panic and tears, as his breathing got slower and slower, and eventually stopped.
And just like that, he was gone. It’s amazing how, even when you know what’s coming, the finality of death comes as a deep, earth-shattering shock.
Seven weeks after going into hospital, we brought Dad home for his wake. In a particularly heartbreaking twist of fate, it also happened to be Father’s Day, a fact I steadfastly shoved to the back of my mind throughout the day. It was too painful to acknowledge that we should have been celebrating him as our larger-than-life Dad, standing in front of the fireplace with a G&T in his hand, regaling us all with his latest riveting golf or snooker tale. Instead, that spot in front of the fireplace was taken up with a coffin, with our dearest Dad reposing inside.
Every time I’ve tried to write a post about this, I’ve reduced the story down to something along the lines of “my Dad died”. Short and simple, there you go, that’s what has happened to me. I’ve also tried to write with a positive slant, of how I’ve managed to deal with the searing wound of shock and grief, how I’ve gotten through this ordeal. This is a Happy Chanter blog, after all, so surely all my posts need to come from a happy-place! I’ve started, struggled with, and eventually scrapped about 6 or 7 drafts along those lines so far.
Sitting down today, it was only when I started telling the story, and bringing all those painful memories to the surface, that the words finally started flowing, even alongside the inevitable resurgence of tears. I realised that skirting the details doesn’t do justice to the enormity of what has happened. I needed to tell the full truth of the story. Not only the details (the cathartic articulating of which is more for my benefit then yours) – but also to admit, and accept, that I’m absolutely not through it yet. Not even close. I’m still somewhere along the early ascent of that journey, and I see now that it will take another while to get over the hump.
I’m really only reaching the point now where I can accept that grief is truly an overwhelming and lengthy struggle. That might sound a bit obvious to most, but it has honestly come as somewhat of a surprise to me. You all know that I have a spiritual outlook on life. I believe that we are all interconnected as forms of one big ball of energy. I believe that death is just a transition to another form within and of that same energy. Death is not the end for any of us, just the start of a new chapter. It is the most natural process in the world, and should not be feared.
As it turns out, even if all of that is true, those beliefs really don’t do much to fill the gaping hole that is left behind in the lives of those of us still living on this earthly plane. I do believe that Dad is in a warm and loving place right now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss him. Or that it doesn’t hit me like a punch in the gut when I see a hearse on the street, or watch a father walking his daughter down the aisle in some TV show (something mine will now never do), or get a random unprompted flashback in my mind when I’m doing my grocery shopping, of his body lying in that hospice bed, still warm but thoroughly empty. The process of grief is real and raw, the reservoir of tears seemingly infinite, and there are no short-cuts through the journey to acceptance, no matter how sincere your faith may be that “he’s in a better place”.
Don’t get me wrong – I really am mostly okay in the day-to-day. I have fun with friends, I hang out with my gorgeous nieces and nephews, I smile and laugh, and genuinely so. Moreover, I KNOW that I WILL get through this, learn to live with his absence, and that all will be well in the end. That’s the way of life. We come through the hard times even stronger than we were before, and go on to even better times. But I’ve come to realise that knowing this doesn’t really make the hard times not-hard. And that it’s okay to feel like shit when times are shit. As the saying goes, we are spiritual beings having a human experience. Experience. Turns out the wide range of human emotions that our souls want to experience includes those of grief, sadness and despair. My own soul is on the low arc of that rollercoaster right now, but that’s okay. What goes down, must go up. This, too, shall pass.
The purpose of this post isn’t to come to some happy conclusion or offer any spiritual insights. Like I said, I’m not there yet. It’s more of a therapeutic exercise for me to finally get all this down in writing, and to let you all know where I’ve been at these past quiet weeks. On a more practical note, this upheaval has also left me a little out of the writing loop, so I hope you’ll bear with me while I find my feet again. I’d like to tell you more about Dad himself, the man, the father, who he was, what I’ve learned from his life and death – but I’m not ready for that yet. That day will come, but for now, I just want to get back to basics and focus on more “general” musings about spirituality and well-being. Doing that will not only nurture my soul at a time it is sorely needed, but will help me to get back into the writing groove that I’ve fallen out of. It already feels good to be dipping my toes back in the water, and I look forward to reconnecting with you all as I find my way through this mire.
21 thoughts on “A Daughter’s Grief: The Death Of My Father”
Thanks for sharing. The people who we really love, they just will stay among us even after death! I believe, even his body went away but his soul still around all of you. Be happy and strong as you always do as you know he is always with you. Xoxoxo
A wise man once said “Perhaps the extremity of the grief never lessens. One just becomes more comfortable with it”. At least I think that’s what he said.
Lovely post Jess.
Jessica, read your piece about your dad and cried. Remembered all the happy days and evenings we had in Donabate while you and the others played til all hours in the field. All the walks in the mountains and weekends away.
Your dad was so full of fun and such great company. Our all time best holiday was the week the four of us spent on the nile where your mum and dad led the entertainment every night
When they bought a boat on the shannon we had to buy one too to continue to enjoy their company
Can only guess how much you and all the family must be suffering and all our love and best wishes go with you
Catherine and Pat.
I only heard about the death of David when your Mum forwarded your post to me. I went to school with your Mum and knew your Dad even before she did as we were neighbours growing up. And I remember him well. He was great fun, full of mischief and laughter. I was at their wedding and we have met from time to time over the years, the last time was last year when they called to see me in Dunmore East.
It is really extra hard for you Jessica not to have been able to have a few words with him before he went into a coma, but I feel sure he must have been aware of your presence and was grateful for it. There is always something special about Dads and their girls!
I wish you the best Jessica,
Eithne Earle (Folan)
Jessica, what a moving and beautifully written piece. Dave was a very good friend for nearly 40 years and I miss him a lot. I was lucky to play his last game of golf with him on April 27th and to talk to him on his last day of consciousness on June 7th. While both were very poignant occasions, the memories of the happier times, across several countries, are what will never fade from my memory.
He is looking down on you, your Mum and brothers and I am sure he is watching over you all.
A beautifully written and moving piece Jessica. We miss David so much and still cannot believe that he is gone but we know that he is in a better place and will still be taking care of you all. Well done Jessica. lots of love auntie Mary.
Grief so clearly and so beautifully expressed. Keep writing.
Jessica. You are an inspiration. Your words are beautifully written and so moving. The trauma you have experienced in the last few months has not affected your ability to articulate your emotions in such a wonderful way. Your Dad would be so proud of you. I look forward to reading your (as you put it) “general musings about spirituality” as you get back into the mode of writing regularly and become, once again, a HAPPY CHANTER.
Thank you for sharing. I send you love and light.
Oh jess that was beautiful we all miss him so so much but. At least we know he died with love, kisses and hugs and knowing that we would miss terribly and he loves us with his heart
Thanks for sharing both the sorrow and the joy of life. You write beautifully about your dad who no doubt lives on in you. Sending you lots of hugs and strength from afar.
Thank you for this Jess. I hope you continue to work through your grief in the way you obviously are.
I’ve my own struggles at the moment and reading this gives me strength.
Lots of love. X
That is so lovely Jessica. My heart is breaking for you. Love to Bernie, Stephen, Eric and Kevin, and all xxx thinking of you xx
Lovely to read your words so beautifully expressed. Memories are what will keep your beloved Dad always in our minds and in our hearts. Thinking of all the family as your Mum and each of you go through the grieving process in your own way.
Oh Jessica, that is just so beautiful! I am in tears here! I still can’t believe that our kind, fun-loving, amazing Uncle Dave is gone! He was the heart and soul of every Downer family gathering! He always managed to light up a room and make everyone smile! He would be so proud of you for writing this! Hope you are doing okay. See you very, very soon xxx
that was beautiful Jessica…..it brought tears of course but also a reminder of what a happy, laughing, full of life person Dave was. Nothing ever got him down. I still think about arranging lunch with him and can’t believe he’s not with us any more. He told me about your blog and how proud he was of you. We all miss him so much.
Love to you all and thinking of you tomorrow 3 months on.
Keep chanting xx
Oh Jess that was lovely
I too find it hard to believe he will never again answer the phone and and share a laugh with me before passing me over to your mum We knew each other for 50 years and it has gone in a flash. Your dad left you a wonderful inheritance by example live life to the full and enjoy it as he did and helped others to do. Auntie Jill
Thanks so much Jill. At least the lasting memories we have are of laughing with (and sometimes at) him. Love to you xx
Thats so buetiful Jessica I love this so much i miss him so much as well from your nease Amelia
Thanks so much darling, he was a great Grandad and loved you so much. You can always send him your love and a smile, especially whenever you have a pack of Smarties! I’m pretty sure he’ll be smiling back to you xx
I’m really really sad that he died and it was the saddest time of my life I miss him so much I wish he was still here with us now