I was in a well-known hardware shop last week and I saw a girl who was probably about 3 or 4, being pushed around on one of those trolleys you only get in big hardware shops (they’re sort of like a platform with a handle, rather than your standard shopping trolley) by her Dad. It prompted such a clear memory of doing the same with my Dad… only instead of it being one child it would normally have been two or three. Saturday or Sunday afternoons, being pushed on one of these trolleys by my Dad, feeling like I was on Aladdin’s carpet. Everything was right in the world, I was safe with my Dad buying something exciting like wood and then we’d go home and have tea, have a bath, and go to bed listening to The Archers play on the radio in the next room.
My relationship with my Dad has got buried somewhere in Mum’s illness and death. It got put on pause on February 8th 2014 when he text me to find out where I was (I was living at uni at the time), came and picked me up, and told me in the car that my Mum’s cancer had returned and that there was no cure. I don’t know how he ever found the words to tell me, and then to tell Mum’s’ family and friends, but he did.
Mum became ill for the first time when I was 18. Dad brought my brothers and me into the kitchen and told us about Mum’s cancer. He told us Mum had caught it early and that we shouldn’t be overly worried. We cried and hugged each other, but we were calm. I went to work that afternoon. Mum bounced back from cancer round one, and wasn’t diagnosed with terminal cancer until around 9 months later.
Once Mum was diagnosed as terminal, Dad would drive me backwards and forwards to uni, clocking up miles and miles, allowing me to continue my education as well as spending valuable time with Mum. It was Dad who learned all the biology behind Mum’s condition, Dad who learned how to care for her at every step, and Dad who became fluent in doctor-speak. It was Dad who managed all of the visitors coming in and out of our house, Dad who spent hours every day on the phone to people updating them on Mum’s condition, Dad who slept downstairs next to Mum, there for her night and day. It was Dad who was next to Mum when she died, Dad who really was there ‘til death do us part’, Dad who had to ring the GP, the coroner, and anyone else you ring when someone dies. It was Dad who rang me when Mum died, Dad who spoke to me as my world fell apart in a university stairwell, Dad who gave me a hug when I walked through the door later that day.
It’s Dad who’s left in a big house, in a small village, with three offspring and no wife.
When Mum was ill, Dad and I spoke about it a lot. At the beginning of Mum’s illness, Dad asked me to explain a few bits or bobs using my A-Level biology knowledge. As Mum’s illness progressed, Dad and I would spend half an hour in the car together between uni and home at least twice a week, which was a lot of time for talking. We would talk about Mum’s symptoms, her level of care, sometimes about what life would be like without her. We rarely talked about things that weren’t in some way related to Mum.
Mum and Dad had so many plans and so much they were looking forward to, together. Without Mum, Dad’s lost more than his ‘other half’: he’s lost his best friend, partner in crime, and confidante. They had plans to travel, to do charity work, perhaps to foster after we’d all grown up and moved out. They had other plans, ideas, hopes and dreams that I know nothing about.
As for Dad and me, I’ve got to learn to become a daughter again. Our relationship paused two years ago, and in that time I’ve changed in so many ways and so has he. I’ve had to grow up quickly in a lot of ways, but in other ways I’ve got stuck in time. I’ve also not moved away from home in the same way as many of my peers. I’ve moved away from home physically, but I’ve got very used to going backwards and forwards on a regular basis and contacting my family multiple times a day; something which the majority of my peers definitely do not do.
Dad and I have had to start navigating this whole Dad-daughter-motherless-grief thing. He’s my Dad… but I don’t have a Mum anymore, so to some extent he’s been plonked in the role of Mum-and-Dad combined. Things I used to go to Mum for, I now either have to find a close female friend, or go to Dad. He’s got to do things he didn’t used to take sole responsibility for like remember what we have for birthday teas, or buy the odd bit of clothing.
There are times when it’s been really, really hard. Dad has never shied away from challenging me and my decisions, and as much as I love that and respect it, it can be hard when we disagree on something and I don’t have another parent to run to. Without another parent to mediate, it can then take a little while longer than it might have done to resolve anything like that. Admittedly, at times, I’ve felt like I’ve had to be a ‘Mum’ to my brothers. My Dad told me when Mum died that we should never let anyone tell us what Mum ‘would have wanted’, and that I was not my Mum, and I was not my brother’s Mum. But that can be hard; I remember things Mum did for me, like buying my favourite foods during revision periods, and I want to do the same for my brothers (this particular one resulted in a few kilos of milk bottle sweets arriving at my Dad’s house).
Working out how we all relate to each other as a family is just one more difficulty in the mountain of change that occurs when someone dies. I know that we will get there and I’m really glad we’re close enough to work through these things together.