For 4 weeks I sat every day next to my wonderful Dad. He was in the beautiful Willen Hospice and these 4 weeks were the last of his life. I knew that, but had actually been told when he went in that it would be 7 – 10 days at best. What I did know was that I would be there every day, all day with him. I wasn’t going anywhere.
Dad arrived and was put in a room at the back of the hospice which over looked the car park and even though that doesn’t sound that great, it was warm and cosy and private and I knew straight away that there was something special about the hospice.
I have to tell you that the previous day had been really traumatic. Dad had been coping really well at home, having been diagnosed with leukaemia, but that particular morning when I went he was still in bed. He was confused, he had a gash on his head and he kept asking where Mum was and crying. We had lost Mum in 2012 – 3 years prior. I was very worried. He had changed and I knew it was time to call in help so I phoned the district nurse. She came over very quickly assessed Dad and then rang the hospice to see if they could take him. They had a bed and the ambulance came over to the bungalow.
Dad refused to go and was very upset and when they finally carried him into the back of the ambulance he shouted at me and told me I was sending him to die. This was very tough, but putting it into perspective I knew he never meant a word.
So with Dad settled into his room I went home feeling relieved and knew that I had done the best thing for him. The following day they had a lovely room become available which overlooked Willen lake in all it’s glory. Dad thought it was marvellous and told everyone that he now had a room with a sea view! Over the coming days he also told everyone that it was the best hotel he had ever stayed in!
He ordered omelette most evenings for dinner and the lady in the kitchen brought it to him specially cooked, just as he liked it and the doctors began to be a little baffled as Dad’s days turned into weeks. At one point they did talk to me about him maybe needing to come back home, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to look after him and ultimately he was at the end of his life no matter how he was presenting himself.
You see my Dad was a force to be reckoned with. He was a beautiful energy that always showed up with a smile and aiming to please. Most mornings when I arrived at the hospice he would have a group of nurses gathered around his bed who he would be telling stories to. Dad at his best during the last days of his life.
By the time I arrived he was usually exhausted and he spent most of our time together sleeping, but I sat and chatted to him, read to him, took his bets to the bookmakers. He only bet pennies, but he liked to go every day – that was his social life after mum died. So when he was in the hospice and he couldn’t go, he sent me. He could no longer write and he didn’t talk much at this stage so I knew he was deteriorating. I said to him one day that he didn’t need to bet pennies any more, and why didn’t he put a big bet on the horses. Take a proper gamble and feel the buzz, but he was happy with the pennies and that’s how it stayed.
Having returned from the bookmakers we sat together and watched the race on the TV in his room. It was a really exciting race and his horse came in first (he often won) and it was 16/1. I knew that was good and I turned to him and said, ‘Dad what did you win?’
‘£2.87’ he said quickly and clearly. He was always a genius with numbers! That did make me smile because the whole pleasure in betting was not how much he won, but the excitement of whether he would win.
I lost Dad at 4.56am on the 2nd December 2015. Just over 4 weeks after he arrived at the hospice.
Grief is something that is a personal experience for every individual. We all do it differently and the circumstances of our grief can also be so different. I don’t write this lightly as I can’t speak for other people, but there have been a few key things that I have realised over the last four years as I come to the anniversary of losing my darling Dad.
It’s OK to cry
I stopped crying after I lost my Mum and that was a big mistake. Once I had lost Dad I realised that crying was a great release for me. It was necessary for me to feel better and actually get things back into perspective. It’s ok to feel sad and sorry as long as you don’t stay in the moment for too long. Which brings me on to my next realisation…
Don’t stay in your sadness
I watched the most wonderful TEDx talk by Holly Matthews. If you don’t follow her – then please do follow her, and definitely watch her talk here. It really resonated with me and made me think about her words. Simply put, she talks about not staying in victim mode because, whilst there, you can’t move on. It is possible to move on to happiness again and this talk really helps us to see that when you listen to her story.
Appreciate what you had
I felt that when I was at my saddest it was because I was worried about how I was going to cope and whether I could actually survive without my parents. It was all about me. What I learnt was that I can survive and I also have people around me who want me to survive. I have a purpose and I can enjoy and love what I do – more importantly Mum and Dad would have been so proud of what I have achieved. I am able to now talk about and remember what great times I had with them and how lucky I was to have them as my wonderful parents. I am luckier than many. I was loved and taught great values and lessons and can always cherish fabulous and happy memories. I appreciate what I had – it is what makes me who I am today.
You never really lose people
You may lose them physically and that’s the tough bit. We all crave the physical connection to our loved ones – the hugs, the conversation, the sharing of emotion, but my Mum and Dad left a legacy and many people who have heard me speak or even worked with me will always experience a sprinkle of my Dad – there’s no such word as can’t – one of his favourite sayings and the legacy he left for me to share with you.
Life is short and we never really know what lies ahead of us. In my TEDx talk, which you can watch here, not only can you hear about my journey, you can also hear that I truly believe that life is about the choices we make. We always have a choice as to how we react to whatever happens to us, and again I will say that this doesn’t mean that our choices are easy.
This last week was hard. I was low and I felt incredibly sad, however when I put this in perspective I feel incredibly lucky to be able to tell the world about my wonderful Mum and Dad and how they helped create the opportunities that I now create for myself.
I will never be the same after losing my parents, but I choose to take everything they gave me to live the best life I can live.
Sending lots of love to everyone who resonates with this and please do connect if you ever need to chat.
My dear friend Karen Ramsay-Smith has set up the most amazing group on Facebook for anyone who is really struggling – here is the link. You are very welcome there, and the group is called #loveYOUmore.
I hope this has helped just a few of you to know that you are never alone.
Ta ta for now