So at 10:34am GMT, it will be 15 years since my beloved Dad passed away.
Time seems to be passing by so quickly now that I’m worried that one day soon, I will have to come to terms with the fact he has been gone longer than he was in my life.
I am dreading that day, even though I miss him – and he’s with me – every single day.
Last year I wrote about how I wanted to remember the good times, not the bad … celebrate his life, not the sadness I feel of him dying … and I want to continue that attitude, because that’s what he would have wanted and it’s what I need to ensure my brain is filled up with.
The temptation to focus on the loss is still so strong in my mind, it is where I naturally default to, hence it’s a conscious decision for me to write these positive stories, even though I know they are the right thing – and the good thing – to do.
However unlike the times before, where I’ve written about watching the Olympic ice skating with him at some ungodly hour in the morning or the Saturday ritual of burger making, I want to talk about something that at the time, I hated, but over time, I realised was actually a quality that is both wonderful and valuable.
When I was at school, there was a guy called Benny.
Benny was younger than me, but he was a keen musician so for a time, he and I were in a band together.
Anyway, my Dad was taking him home after practice when he casually asked what Benny’s father did.
I immediately cringed.
Not because I was scared my Dad would judge him by what his father did for a living [my Dad didn’t give a toss about that sort of thing] but because I knew Benny’s father had died a few years before.
As Benny politely explained his father had passed away, I wanted to be swallowed up by the car seat and then – after a second where the entire World seemed to go silent – my Dad said something that shocked and disgusted me.
“I’m very sorry to hear that Benny …” he said, ” …could I ask how he died or would you rather not talk about it?”
OH MY GOD, what was he thinking?
Was he trying to embarrass me and humiliate Benny?
I became so bloody angry and upset and immediately jumped in and said to Benny he didn’t need to answer that.
However to my surprise, Benny did want to answer it.
He wanted to answer it in detail.
He wanted to talk about how his Dad died … how he felt about it … how he was worried about how his Mum was coping … how he didn’t have anyone to talk to about it … how he was worried people judged him or would judge him … he talked and talked and talked as if a dam had burst and all the grief was spilling out with a ferocious force.
And my Dad stopped the car and turned to Benny and listened to him.
Listened to all his fears, sadness, grief and concerns.
And then, when Benny had let it all out, he talked to him.
He calmed him down and reassured him how he was feeling was normal.
He told him that no one would know of this conversation [which was obviously aimed at me] and that he could, if Benny wanted, talk to his Mum and the school about how he was feeling.
In short, my Dad wanted to help this poor, lost kid feel better about himself. Not by patronising him or ignoring a point that could cause upset, but by dealing with it head-on in a compassionate, considerate and empathetic way.
But more than that, he was interested in how this stranger was feeling. He wasn’t ‘going through the motions’, he was treating him as the individual he was … and while I was mortified that all this ‘private’ stuff was out in the open, I now know – years later – it was one of the most wonderful, beautiful and kind things I’ve ever seen.
The problem when a family member dies is that for that day, the family members who are left behind are smothered with support and care. However, 24 hours later, all that support basically disappears as people get on with their lives … and while that is understandable, it makes the loss even harder because time has stopped for you and you’re left behind, trying to cope.
Benny was in this situation.
Benny had spent years trying to cope by not coping.
In some ways it was even worse for him because he was only around 13 when it happened, so other kids and teachers and parents didn’t know what to do because they didn’t want to upset him or deal with the mutual embarrassment of him crying.
But my Dad had a different point of view.
While he never wanted to cause embarrassment [unless it was to me, but that’s another story for another day] he also didn’t want someone to be locked inside their own prison simply because they were frightened to express themselves for fear of putting themselves – or others – in a complicated situation.
It shames me to say it took a long time for me to appreciate how important that attitude was – which is mad, given my Mum always said I should care about what others care about but it did, which means I went through 10 years of gut-wrenching emotional pain after my Dad died simply because I’d adopted the same ‘head-in-the-sand’ stance as Benny … which is why I know how vital it is to talk about your troubles or offer to listen to someone going through their own, because it can literally make a bigger difference than you could ever imagine.
My Dad taught me that.
It’s one of the most wonderful lessons I’ve ever learnt.
And I often wonder what else he would have taught me if he was still around.
Thank god my wonderful, incredible Mum is still here.
They were quite the team and he would be very happy to know that she still flies the flag of understanding, interest and empathy … which is why today is both a sad day and a joyous one, because while I miss my Dad incredibly, it is also a reminder that I got to learn – and still do – from two of the very, very best.
Thank you for everything.
I love you both so very, very much.