Yesterday, it was nine years since my Dad passed away. When you’re younger, you never think that you’re going to have such a short time with a parent. You imagine your Dad being there for your birthdays, graduating from school, starting and graduating college, walking you down the aisle and being there when your children are born. I only had 15 years with my Dad. What I want to talk about in this post is the importance of dealing with a parents passing. Before I get into that I’m going to give some background into what happened.
I remember the morning that he died like it was yesterday but it also feels like a lifetime ago. My Dad never drank or smoked so it came as a huge shock to find out in April 2009 that he had terminal cancer. He was diagnosed with an extremely rare cancer that one in a million people are diagnosed with that had spread from his stomach to his liver, lungs and esophagus. His symptoms had started around Christmas time in 2008 when he was suffering with a lot of indigestion and he couldn’t eat much so in turn he lost a lot of weight.
We were all so concerned because this huge character in our home had become quiet and withdrawn. My Mam pleaded with my Dad to go to the doctor but he was afraid of going. Eventually, he had to give in and go. The doctor sent him to the hospital the same day for an endoscope and blood tests, which came back the same day with the result that nobody was prepared for, cancer.
I remember my Nana collected my brother and me from school that day and it was very quiet, I could tell by the atmosphere that something serious was going on. The way I found out about the cancer diagnosis wasn’t ideal. I was being nosey and had a look at my Mams phone where I saw the words, “John has cancer”. I remember nearly collapsing in the kitchen and running into my mam and nana saying “Does dad have cancer, tell me now”. After it was confirmed, I went up the stairs to my Dad who was resting in their bed. I lay down beside him and he gave me a cuddle. I started crying but I was trying to hide the fact that I was because I didn’t want him to feel worse than he already did, if that was even possible.
He comforted me even though he was going through every person’s worst nightmare. That was the last time my Dad and I shared a cuddle. He had to go to the hospital for a week and even then when he was so weak, he was making jokes to the nurses about where the gym was and walking to meet my brother and I at the ward doors. He came home at the very end of April. The next week was spent making sure he was comfortable and being there for anything he wanted. He couldn’t talk very much because of the cancer in his lungs so his breathing was very bad.
The Tuesday night, which was the 5th of May, was the last time he was able to come down the stairs. The doctor came on Wednesday because his breathing was really bad. I tried to get him to eat some beans but he wasn’t able so I left him alone after that to rest. The next morning, we were woken early and he passed away surrounded by my Mam, Brother and me at home where he wanted to be.
We rushed to the hospital and I remember just being in shock. Family came to the hospital and I remember from the moment we left I switched into this mode where tears didn’t exist. I wanted to be there for everyone else but disappear so I wouldn’t have to have any sort of conversation about it. I use to dread when people would ask me about how I was feeling and now I realise it was because I was in some sort of denial. Family tried and tried to get me to talk about my Dad but I would shut the conversation down or leave the room. I was just too heart-broken to talk about it and to process the feelings that I was feeling deep down, so I shut them out. I got extremely sick in 2011-2012 and spent a lot of time in the hospital (which you can read about here) where I only started talking about my Dad.
There was a night in May 2012 around his anniversary were I was closing a window in my room and I looked out and saw the room where my Dad had stayed in the hospital and from then I opened up more and more. Whatever it was about that and being so sick, it was being so vulnerable that it made me talk about him a lot. It was really a healing. Now, I speak about him everyday. We say at home that it’s just like he’s in a different room. It’s so important to speak about the passing of a parent because if you don’t, it just shuts you away from people and your true emotions.
A lot of my family thinks that I got sick from the suppression of my emotions. I definitely agree that your health can deteriorate but I don’t think it’s what caused me to have Crohns. I know what it’s like to watch people with their dads and wanting to cry because you can’t do that or someone’s dad ringing them and knowing my dad will never ring me again or that he never got to see me grow into an adult or that I’ll never see him come home or give me a goodnight kiss and cuddle ever again.
My advice to anyone going through the death of a parent as a teenager or any age is to talk about it. You don’t have to always be so strong for everyone else. Don’t be embarrassed about your feelings. It’s ok to cry – you’ll feel a lot better after letting it out. Don’t feel like talking about it is looking for attention just because your friends haven’t been through the same thing as you. Your friends will want to be there to support you and of course your family will always be there to support you and if you don’t want to speak to family or friends there is plenty of other support out there for you so there’s always an option.
For anyone lucky enough to still have their parents hug them tighter, call them more, spend as much time with them as you can and tell them you love them everyday. It only takes a second for everything to change.