Lessons I have learned from the death of my father
On 26th August my father passed away. His death was not entirely unexpected - he was 79 and had been living with advanced Parkinsons for a long time. We didn’t realise it at the time, but his health had been slowly failing for months. However, the end seemed to come pretty quickly; I definitely thought we’d have longer to say goodbye.
My Dad was one in a million. He was introverted and hated being the centre of attention, but was always reliably there, in the background. He was an outdoor man, and painstakingly tended to his immaculate garden. He taught me about plants and birds; he recycled everything before it was part of normal life and was a creator to his core, although he lacked confidence in himself and his work, partly because he lived his whole life with a benign hand tremor that he hated. He loved rock n roll, and country music, was a musician in his youth and had a wicked sense of humour. He also went through a weird phase in the 1990s of wearing woolly hats like they did in East17. Teenage me was MORTIFIED. 40-something me knows of the exquisite pleasure of embarrassing one’s teenage kids. So, thanks, Dad... 😉
Dad’s funeral was last Monday and we are starting to emerge from that post-death fog. I have definitely learned some crucial lessons from his passing.
Say I love you now
Parkinsons robbed Dad of the ability to say the things he might have wanted to say at the end of his life. We didn’t have any of those conversations you think you’ll have - in fact, he could barely make himself understood in the last weeks of his life and, when he could, he often talked about things the rest of us couldn’t see (he hallucinated a lot of cricket balls and worried we’d slip over on them).
Say ‘I love you,’ ‘thank you’ and ‘I am sorry’ - and anything else you want to say - now. Don’t wait.
The little things are the big things
There have been tears, but a lot of happy reminiscences. I have really enjoyed sitting with my family and having those ‘do you remember when…’ conversations about Dad. My brother and I spent a whole day at Dad’s bedside when we knew that he wasn’t going to get better and we made one another laugh a lot. I think Dad would have approved. We also listened to his favourite music. When it’s my turn to go, I would want to be surrounded by people doing similar, rather than by my loved ones crying.
It might be a cliche, but the little things ARE the big things in the end. I have learned to be present with my family. I am going to try to spend a bit more time hanging out with my kids, maybe even go on the odd date with Dom. We’ve got out of the habit over COVID, but it’s time to make that change. As a family, we love geocaching, so it doesn’t even have to cost anything. Just do more of it.
Appreciate those around you
It’s easy to focus on close family when someone in the family is dying and, of course, they are super important. But I have received so much love and care from my friends and neighbours - and even from our Mrs Bee followers. I have received lovely messages from lots of people I don’t know, and I have kept them all. I really do value every single one and am so thankful. It definitely made me feel like I wasn’t alone and was a total blessing.
What I have learned is to reach out. Next time someone I know - even if it’s someone online - I will send a quick message of love. It doesn’t have to be complicated or take very long, but I now know for sure that it will mean a huge amount to the person receiving it.
Self care is vital
I confess, I am pretty terrible at self care. I love the idea, but I don’t exercise enough, I eat absolute junk (why is it so delicious though?!) and I work too much. However, during the weeks of Dad’s illness, his death and the days in between his passing and the funeral, self care became an absolute essential. It looked like: allowing myself to sleep when I needed (and not getting annoyed when insomnia kicked my butt - which it did for most of that time), trying to eat nutritiously, allowing myself time to be alone, and setting boundaries - mental overwhelm never seemed that far away (probably because of the tiredness). I also allowed myself to do things that I enjoy - some dressmaking (although only a bit - I mostly couldn’t be bothered to take on a project or even finish anything), some knitting (a way to keep hands busy and mind empty) and I spent a lot of time watering and deadheading my plants.
I am going to make it a priority to carry this on as life goes back to normal.
I have thought a lot about legacy since Dad died. I haven’t yet done half the things I want to do. I know I don’t have any control over what my legacy will be - ultimately my legacy will be the other people’s memory of me - but I don’t want my loved ones to have to rake through my life to find achievements and interests because I have put them off in recent years. I don’t think I believe much in bucket lists, because my tastes are constantly evolving and I can never really commit to definites. But that’s OK - I am going to roll with it. I am going to indulge in things that give me pleasure in the moment. I have done this with decorating recently - gone are the days of tasteful cream rooms for me. My current room has a dark purple wall and is covered with art that makes my heart sing. My sofa is not the most fashionable, but it’s hella comfy. And, when my tastes change, I will change it. No biggie.
Aside from the big things in life (I’d love to travel more, for example), I am going to indulge in all the things that bring me pleasure in this moment. And I will make mistakes, and my kids will cringe at my terrible fashion choices in future years and my embarrassing dancing at parties. But life is for living. And people are for loving. When I go, I want people to say I was kind and funny and interesting and good fun. That I cared and that I contributed something to the world. And today is a good day to start to fill that memory bank with schemes and shenanigans and successes and failures - and colour.
What do you want people to say about you, when you die?
PS: our son, Kami, played this beautiful piece of music, River Flows In You by Yiruma at Dad's funeral. I thought I'd share his recital here.