Friday, 16 March 2012

The greatest man I have ever met

I was a daddy's girl. I still am a daddy's girl. Even though he's been dead for 11 years.

He was my best friend for the last few years of his life. It wasn't always that way. I was the world's worst teenager (I did try and explain to my parents that actually, I wasn't. I was pretty normal really. A bit too much drinking. A lot too many drugs. But on the whole it was nothing, you know, sinister). They wouldn't have it. But I guess that's also probably pretty normal.

But after a nervous breakdown, a couple of years of therapy and a good long time off the booze, I did get my shit together in time to develop an amazing friendship with my dad.

He was intelligent, erudite, sharp, sarcastic and the single funniest person I have ever met. He was also my total champion and my believer. He believed in the instrinsic goodness in me. He knew I would be a writer. He knew me completely and accepted all of me, the good (limited, let's be honest), the bad and the fucked up.

He struggled with a long, long illness. Heart disease doesn't have the same cachet as, say, cancer, in terms of people understanding the impact it has on the sufferer and the people around them. Someone has a heart attack and they either die or they don't - from the outside that's pretty much all there is to it. And heart surgery has come a long, long way since my dad had his first heart attack. These days they would have had him in under a local and put a stent in his heart. This would pretty much have saved his life, or at least given him many, many more years. Back in the mid-80s it was a very different story.

He was 39 when he had his first. And 41 when he had his second. He was 43 when he had a double bypass - an absolutely brutal operation which consists of removing a major artery from the leg, smashing through the rib cage to get to the heart and literally bypassing the blocked parts of the aorta.

I remember the day he had it. I sat at school and I watched the clock. Four hours of open heart surgery with a machine keeping him alive. He survived it, and, although his ribcage would forever grind against itself (it never knitted back into place) he lived another 13 years.

But none of that encapsulates the fear he lived with every day. The frustration and pain. The exhaustion and curtailed activities that blighted his life, and in turn ours. I grew up aware that he had a limited time with us. As the years passed I convinced myself that he was different and would defy the doctors' expectations. But it was a shadow that hung over us every single day.

And because of our relationship he would tell me how very scared he was and how he wasn't ready to die. He also said that he knew he wouldn't live to see 60. As in so many things, he was totally correct.

My parents retired to the Isle of Wight to start a new chapter at the beginning of 2001. Less than three months later he was buried there. He was 56 years old.

He never saw me become a writer. He never saw me become independent. He will never see me get married (although, to be fair, nor will anyone else probably), he will never meet his grandchildren. And I will never get to speak to him again.

I'm closer to accepting all of these things than I probably have ever been. Grief is a long, painful, bitter, shattering process. I've come to realise that it's something that will forever be a part of me and a part of my life. The way to deal with it is to absorb it into you and to only look at it from a distance. Leave it in a box in your head and don't take the lid off. Because it'll smack you in the face with a force as strong as the minute you heard the words: "Your dad is dead."

But most of all I'm pissed off that my friends, my nephew, my niece and people who are important in my life, never got the chance to meet a totally brilliant person. So, dad, it may be 11 years later but you live on through me. You were fucking ace. I love you.

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